WPT asserts that its operations are legal under the Wire Act because online poker is permitted

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Even if casino games are covered, Thompson said, the law still might not apply to poker, which he considers a game of skill rather than of chance.

WPT asserts that its operations are legal under the Wire Act because online poker is permitted in the Channel Islands -- British dependencies in the English Channel, where its online operation is based -- and in countries such as Britain, where its customers live.

"The Justice Department has done nothing but muddy the waters," said WPT Chief Executive Steve Lipscomb. "We're out here trying to play by the rules, and now they're rattling sabers but giving no guidance about what we're supposed to do." Some companies have bowed to pressure from regulators. Major U.S. credit card companies and EBay Inc.'s PayPal service have stopped letting U.S. customers transfer money for online wagering. Many broadcasters stopped accepting advertising for online wagering after the U.S. attorney's office in Missouri subpoenaed media companies two years ago. No charges have been brought, but the move had a chilling effect on broadcasters, spurring many to stop taking ads for wagering, said Mark Balestra, an analyst at gambling research firm River City Group in St. Charles, Mo.

Where one door has closed, however, others have opened. Companies including Neteller, an online money-transfer company based on the Isle of Man, a British dependency in the Irish Sea, have stepped in to handle money-transfer services.

And poker companies have responded to advertising bans by setting up play-for-free sites with ".net" rather than ".com" addresses. That way, the companies can safely advertise such "educational" sites as PartyPoker.net and ParadisePoker.net, which drive traffic to the parallel ".com" sites where the games are for money.

Aaron Kanter in Elk Grove, Calif., parlayed a $50 buy-in at PartyPoker.com into $2 million this summer when, by playing on the website, he won his way into the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and took fourth place in that event, the richest casino tournament. At home, Kanter, who recently ditched a real estate career to play poker full time, competes in as many as four games at once on his 23-inch computer monitor. "Any more than that, it's hard to pay attention," he said.






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