Editorial: A Beautiful Day for Oregonian Bettors

30 April 2001
Online casinos take note: Your business may soon be considered legal in Oregon.

For an activity to be considered gambling, the elements of prize, consideration and chance must exist. If a disgruntled Net bettor in Oregon has her way, the consideration component will be taken out of the equation.

The disgruntled gambler is Cathy Buchal, and she's the catalyst behind a class-action lawsuit in Oregon that makes the Cynthia Haines fiasco in California look like a walk in the park. Buchal, the primary plaintiff in the case, is suing a marathon list of casino operators, software suppliers and financial institutions for obscene amounts of money because she gambled online and lost horrendously.

If Buchal wins, there would be no risk (and thus no consideration) for Oregonians in gambling online. Simply set up an account, gamble a large amount of money and either collect your winnings or lose and sue the operators. Either way you win.

Like Cynthia Haines, who was relieved in 1999 of paying $70,000 in debts to Visa, MasterCard and a handful of banks, Buchal got a little carried away with her credit card at a number of online casinos and she wants to get off the hook.

Unlike Haines, however, Buchal is seeking much more than compensation for money lost. Buchal is seeking blood.

Her losses add up to more than $350,000, and remarkably, she's seeking to double that amount in damages (as mandated by a state law). Then she wants an additional $1,084,663 in damages from the billing companies used by the various online casinos. And she wants it all because, according to her and her attorney (who happens to be her husband), online gambling is unlawful and debts incurred playing unlawful games are unenforceable in Oregon.

Of course, once consideration is removed, the activity is no longer unlawful (under the prize/consideration/chance model), which means the debts are no longer unenforceable. It's a marvelous permutation of the old chicken-or-the-egg scenario, yet somehow I get the impression such an argument wouldn't live a prosperous life in the courtroom.

You can check out the Buchals' position for yourself at www.buchal.com. If you click the link that reads "Losers get even with Internet gambling class action suit," you'll be taken to a page that invites fellow Oregonians to join in on the rape. . . err, lawsuit.

The message posted at Buchal's website loosely translates as follows: "For anyone who lacks self control and/or wants a free shot at lots of money with no risk, God bless America because you don't have to pay for your inability to take responsibility for yourself."

According to the Buchals, companies involved in online gambling are "victimizing Oregonians." To my knowledge, however, none of the defendants forced Cathy Buchal to blow $350,000 gambling online. To my knowledge, she squandered the money willingly. . . and foolishly.

If the Buchals' case holds water, it would be another tremendous blow to the Internet gambling industry. Credit card companies and card issuing banks have already put forth sizeable efforts to prevent online gambling transactions; some operators are reporting that the movement has washed away as much as 75 percent of their revenues. Awarding the plaintiff(s) the $1.4 million-plus wouldn't help. Toss in the Leach bill, federal legislation that would make the facilitation of financial online gambling transactions illegal, and the outlook for Net betting becomes quite grim.

Between lawsuits and imposed policies, the money processing problem has dealt a serious blow to the online gambling industry, and it's time to take action. Not only does the industry need to keep track of bad credit card numbers and the people who have used them, it also needs to have a comprehensive database of problem gamblers. And operators need to impose stricter limits on accounts. The industry desperately needs to pool its efforts in avoiding more cases like the Haines and Buchal ordeals.

Lastly, I extend to all our non-U.S. subscribers (with the exception of those in Australia, which is neck-and-neck with the U.S. in the bone-headed policy race) an invitation to laugh at our silly justice system. Even if the Buchals aren't successful, it's a travesty in itself that such a case could even be filed.

Editor's Note: The preceding article should not be taken as legal advice of any sort. It is purely a layman's very loose interpretation of U.S. law and the senselessness that saturates American courts.

Mark Balestra

Mark Balestra is the Managing Director at BolaVerde Media Group. He previously worked at Clarion Gaming and the River City Group where he was the publisher of iGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.