Disney on Thin Ice?

15 May 2001
Has Mickey Mouse, the ubiquitous symbol of America and Walt Disney, discovered gambling on the Internet?

Visitors to the newest Disney-backed site, upon its launch, will be winning and/or losing their cash playing "skilled games" that some argue actually are gambling. Players need to deposit money in an account before playing and those who are successful can win cash prizes of up to $500 at Skillgames.com, Disney's potentially lucrative "pay-to-play" skilled gaming endeavor .

Even though some watchers accuse the company of venturing into disreputable territory, company executives are confident that the site is a safe and legal venture. "From Disney's perspective, all of it has been incredibly vetted," Disney Internet Group Executive Vice President Dick Glover told the Los Angeles Times. "We want to be as far away from any sort of gray area as we possibly can."

Disney's new "area," however, is gray enough to raise at least one eyebrow on Capitol Hill, at least that was the sentiment last week of Andrew Wilder, a press secretary for U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., perhaps Congress's No. 1 crusader against online gambling. Sen. Kyl did not elaborate on his camp's views on the issue, but Wilder's acknowledgement serves as an indication that the Kyl/Goodlatte movement hasn't taken the position that pay-to-play skill games are okay.

Skillgames.com offers a variety of games, including mind and trivia games such as Cross Squares and Chain of Events, plus a special ABC "General Hospital" version of Chain of Events; strategy games like Shatter!, Treasure Seeker and Splash; and sports games like ESPN Money Putt, ESPN Mega Money Putt and Field Goal Frenzy. Over time, more games will be added to the mix.

Similar skilled gaming sites have cropped up recently, such as OnlineChess.com, a pay-to-play games- of-skill site at which players bet on the outcome of their own games, play for free or even watch others do battle on the chessboard.

Another skilled-based gaming site, Newton, Mass.-based WorldWinner.com, invites players to partake in various skill-based games tournaments after contributing a stake ranging from $0.60 to $9. The winners of each tournament collect cash prizes ranging from $2 up to a potentially unlimited daily progressive, based on the number of entrants. The site boasts several security precautions, such as requiring all players to have a credit card (keeping out those under age 18) and a $300 monthly loss limit.

According to information posted at Skillgames.com, the new site is legal for residents of 47 U.S. states; only those living in Arizona, Connecticut and Vermont are excluded.

Heading Skillgames.com is David Zucker, a former Disney executive, while the rest of the company's management team is made up of executives from esteemed corporations such as Uproar, Universal Studios, CondeNast Publications, MTV Music Television and First USA.

Executives from Skillgames.com did not return calls for additional information.