No more online gambling in Second Life

Or, more accurately, Second Life bans certain types of code.

Linden Lab has banned all forms of online gambling in their virtual world Second Life. Second Life uses a real world currency exchange system, in which the trading of in-game Linden dollars and real world currency is officially sanctioned. This puts it in sharp contrast to pretty much every other virtual world and game out there, including, of course, World of WarCraft.

Second Life was long a heaven for virtual online gambling (which is banned in the United States). Many people have made good chunks of money by setting up virtual casinos, complete with virtual reproductions of real world gambling devices like virtual Poker, slots, lotteries, etc. Second Life is highly user-extensible and user-programmable, and so many programmers and modelers have made good money designing and creating gambling machines, which they then sold to the owners of the casinos, who paid for the land, plopped down a bunch of gambling devices, and watched as the money poured in with essentially no further maintenance or involvement. No longer!

Following rumors of FBI investigations, Linden Lab has basically been forced to shut down gambling. For awhile the defense was that real money wasn’t being gambled, merely virtual money, but when the virtual money can be exchanged for real money directly through Linden Lab, that’s a very fine distinction. The only problem with this closure is that it will have a huge negative effective on the Second Life economy and community.

There’s no two ways around it, gambling was highly profitable. And thanks to land taxes, Linden Lab made a good amount of money through gambling (probably why resisted shutting it down for as long as possible). I saw people who sat in front of their computers pulling levers on virtual slot machines for hours on end, just like you might find in a real world casino. These people were pumping money into the economy. Before the ban, most of the hotspots on the map that people congregated at were casinos. Second Life has a huge problem in that the vast majority of the world is barren; each person can own large plots of land for little cost, so the game world is littered with large spaces, carefully designed, that nobody ever visits, simply because there are nowhere near enough people logged into the virtual world at any one time.

People would congregate at casinos because the casino owners were clever, and realized that popularity (as measured by in-game metrics) was just another commodity to be bought and sold. The popularity of a property is directly affected by how many avatar-hours it has per month, so the more people you have at a place for longer, the higher its popularity. And high popularity is good for all sorts of things: it can give you a special icon on the overworld map, it will make you show up higher in search results, etc. So to generate popularity for their casinos, the casino owners would set out “camping chairs”, which pay out a small amount of Linden dollars per time increment (usually every ten minutes) just for sitting in them, and thus, staying on the property. If you were a non-paying Second Life player, using these camping chairs was pretty much your only way to amass a small amount of money which could be used to buy the really cheap clothing, accessories, etc.

And so while everyone was sitting around in camping chairs, many would be talking to one another, and it was a friendly environment. Generally you’d see the same faces night after night, and it became a real community, with the casinos and their camping chairs reliably bringing together the same groups of people. Now, without gambling, this goes away. I suppose virtual clubs and such may put out some camping chairs, but without the reliable income from gambling gadgets, it becomes less lucrative.

What I don’t like about this gambling ban is how over-arching it is. There were these fun devices called sploders, which basically had a pot of money that anyone could contribute to, and once a certain threshold was met, it would count down and “explode”, redistributing the money in random amounts to the different people who had added to the pot. It was very low risk and just something fun to do while sitting around idly chatting, but now even sploders are banned, even the sort that gave out more total money than was put into it (the reason property owners did this was for popularity).

The ban is going to be very hard to enforce though. What Linden Lab has essentially outlawed is a broad category of computer code (as every in-game gambling object is basically just a 3D model with attached code that actually makes it run). There are an infinite number of ways to accomplish any given task in code, so there’s no effective way to actually ban gambling objects or sploders. I guess they’ll just rely on their users filing “abuse reports”. So, predictably, many closed access private clubs and such will continue to run their gambling objects and their sploders behind closed doors, much like how people get away with illegal activities in real life. It’s just the public casinos that are totally screwed.

One good aspect of the gambling ban, however, is that, by doing away with casinos, it does away with the cheating casinos. By default, the source code for every object in Second Life is closed. You have to specifically decide to make it viewable to everyone, and of course, anyone who is making an object for sale won’t make it viewable, because someone else can just come along, copy it, and either use it for free or sell their own restricted copies. So as a consequence, you could never see how the gambling machines actually worked, and they could claim 99% payout but actually be coded in such a way that they randomly avoid properly giving out huge payouts or whatever. There was no assurance you weren’t getting ripped off (well, any more than gambling machines are supposed to rip you off, anyway). Las Vegas, for instance, has the Nevada Gambling Commission, which regularly goes around and makes sure that all of the machines are “fair”. There was no such oversight in Second Life, and as you can imagine, there were many unscrupulous casino owners.

So there are up sides and down sides to this change, and it will take awhile for the full consequences of it to sink in. Who knows, maybe in the end it will be good for Second Life by taking out the trash, or maybe it will deal another blow to an already fragile economy. I do know they are pissing off a large percentage of Second life players though. Many, many, many people were involved in gambling, whether it was the casino owners, the addicts, or the free-players who wanted a little bit of money.

One Response to “No more online gambling in Second Life”

  1. James Says:

    I know people who loved to gamble online through Second Life and this decision has them rather upset. However, they understand that Second Life is only trying to cover their rear ends in a legal sense. When will big brother just leave us alone and let us spend our hard earned money the way we want as long as we’re not hurting ayone?