In the past few weeks, a lot of sites have had coverage of BringIt.com, a new site purporting to allow you to wager on games like Halo 3 and Madden NFL 10. I've talked about some systems like this before, and one fact still seems to be lost in the shuffle: the legality of these sites is questionable at best and consumers should proceed with caution. I've reviewed the BringIt.com terms and FAQs (though I have not registered for nor tried the functionality of the site), and to illustrate my point, I'm going to use my home state of Texas as an example. BringIt.com says it is perfectly legal in my state, but a simple review of the Texas gambling statutes indicates otherwise, though the risk is much higher for the website than for the gambler. Let me again preface this by saying that this is simply my opinion on the matter, and it is possible that the purveyors of BringIt.com have received an attorney general opinion which they base their business upon in some or all states. More importantly, none of this post should be considered to defame or disparage the owners or attorneys for BringIt.com, it's simply a disinterested arms length commentary on the system in question, of which BringIt.com is a prime example.
For those unfamiliar, a good summary of Texas gambling laws exists here. On the face of it, anyone participating in the site is a gambler, and the site itself is a bookmaker. There are a number of ways this violates the letter and spirit of the Texas laws. First and foremost, by collecting bets, the site is almost certainly a bookmaker by statute. And this activity is almost certainly the offense of gambling, defined as being committed when someone 'makes a bet on the partial or final result of a game or contest or on the performance of a participant in a game or contest.' And more importantly, it satisfies the test for gambling in Texas, since the answer woudl certainly be yes when asking 'does it encourage the gambling instinct?' (see Callison v. State, 172 S.W.2d 772, 774.)
More importantly, Texas has an explicit prohibition to internet gambling, which is defined as multiple people using multiple computers to play a game and bet on the outcome. In my view, this spells out exactly what we have here, and that sentiment is clearly echoed in a 1995 Texas Attorney General Opinion. This system is no different than the third question presented, using a bulletin board to facilitate online card games.
While this may look one sided, there are often exemptions in the law. So, is there an exemption, though, that the site can rely on? The 'social game' exemption is certainly inapplicable because BringIt.com is making money on the transaction. The exclusion of awards for certain contests of skill from the definition of 'bet' basically only includes certain kinds of prizes for contests, not one on one 'challenges' that are wagers by another name.
This, of course, ignores the fact that many EULAs and TOS (both for the games and for services like Xbox Live) may explicitly bar this kind of behavior. To that end, not only could the consumer be penalized, but BringIt.com could be presented with a suit not unlike the Glider case, and we all know how that turned out.
That's not to say the whole site has no legal factors in Texas. I have some questions to the legality of the online element, but land-based cash game tournaments have been legally run in Texas, with MLG events and QuakeCon being two of the most well known. Assuming the rules are being followed appropriately, at least the multiplayer bracket portion might be legal in Texas.
Of course, this opens the larger question: If there's on state with these kind of questionable issues, what about the other 38 the site allows play in? And what about the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which bars most of this activity nationwide regardless? And is the site complying with the IRS rules regarding reporting of winnings? I don't want to nay-say the concept, but it certainly leaves me with questions based on my own analysis. Granted, I would greatly prefer a unified Federal stance on online gambling both legalizing and regulating the industry, and I would certainly support sites like this were the legal landscape clearer in that regard. For now, however, I would certainly proceed with caution.