Know When To Hold 'Em, Know When To Log Off

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Nov. 16 1999 3:30 AM

Know When To Hold 'Em, Know When To Log Off

How to wager on the Internet.

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Hurry! Don't miss your big chance to lose your wife and car in a game of craps. Bills are afoot in the House and Senate to outlaw online gambling before it really takes root. Though rapidly changing technology and the freebooters who run offshore casinos will likely stymie any new legislation, that won't stop the feds from trying. So, if you're interested in online gaming and/or wanton self-destruction, deal yourself in before it's too late.

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Or watch me instead. I don't have a ton of gamble in me, as the Vegas phrase goes, but I have a very soft spot for a challenging game of poker. I also imagine that I know a lot about sports, and I enjoy controlled risk-taking. In short, your average, fairly well-informed sucker. So come along, as I demonstrate how to lose scads of money in four easy steps, without leaving my desk chair or deriving any sort of tangible return.

Step 1: www.showgirlscasino.com

With at least 600 gambling sites on the Web and new ones launching every day, it's tough to decide where to burn your cash. (Online gambling is banned on a state-by-state basis, so check with your local cops before taking the plunge.) No comprehensive guide to online gaming exists, and the sites that publish casino reviews take ads from those same casinos. Consumer Reports, where are you?

I happen upon Showgirls Casino, which, unlike many other sites 1) requires no software download to play its games, and 2) posts its odds (97.8 percent payback on slots, which is great--the average slot payout on the Vegas strip is 95.7 percent). In the standard routine, Showgirls has you deposit funds with a separate e-commerce outfit; then you draw on that account to buy virtual chips at the casino. Tapping the $500 I started with, I set up a $150 account with my credit card. Once I started, there isn't much difference from a real casino. Pros: No destitute hustlers lurking about (unless you count my friends), and I didn't have to leave the house. Cons: No cocktail waitresses, and a Java applet is no competition for a blackjack table's perfect green felt. It's a trade-off--you may love the privacy and convenience, you may miss the ambience.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Showgirls (based in the Dominican Republic) offers all the usual games--craps, roulette, etc. I immediately lose $40 in video poker (if you play, learn the strategy). Then I lose $15 in roulette and another $15 on the slots. Bam--down 70 clams in 20 minutes. Click, click, broke. How quick and painless money-losing can be when it's all just numbers on a screen. A session of blackjack gouges $50 more (counting cards is useless here as the deck reshuffles after every hand). After an hour, I staunch the bleeding and ask them to mail me my remaining 30 beans. The site promises a check in a few weeks.

Net so far: -$120.

Step 2: www.slotland.com

Most online casinos offer the same games and the same software. Slotland distinguishes itself with the lowest-budget design on the Web. Also, it posts no odds. I buy in for $25 and get a $10 first-time bonus for registering (most sites do this). After losing $7 on the slots, I withdraw my whole account--at a $3 profit! Then I go back in and deposit another $25, only to double my money on a single pull. (By the way, on wins of 75 cents or more, Slotland offers a link to a cheesy erotic photo.) For bare-bones gaming, this place will do the trick.

Net so far: -$92, though I'm still waiting for the Slotland check, too.

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