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Online Poker on Different Plane than Online Sports Gambling

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At the World Series of Poker tournament at the Rio, operators of Internet gambling sites are hosting swank hospitality suites to promote online poker games.

Potential customers are invited to learn the ropes by playing free games where no money changes hands.

But promotions can no longer be found for online sports betting, which is being targeted by the U.S. government because it is illegal in this country.

So goes the convoluted, controversial business of Internet gambling.

The country's biggest Internet gambling conference was supposed to have started Sunday as a welcome back of sorts for the man who has become the industry's public face.

But Calvin Ayre, the only man to appear on the cover of Forbes' "Billionaires" issue and in People's "Hottest Bachelors" issue in the same year, won't be posing with leggy models or mixing with celebrities as planned at Wynn Las Vegas.

Ayre is founder and chief executive of Bodog.com, an Internet casino and sports book located in Costa Rica that has become one of the most advertised online betting operations in the United States.

Ayre canceled his conference after the arrest last weekend of online sports book operator David Carruthers at a Texas airport. Carruthers runs BetonSports PLC, a company that launched a successful public stock offering in London in 2004 and owns several online sports books and casinos.

Insiders say the action is more evidence of a growing divide between the flourishing world of online poker and its black sheep cousin, sports betting - an activity with strong roots in organized crime.

The Department of Justice says it doesn't distinguish between types of Internet gambling. It's all illegal, the government says, under the federal Wire Act - a rule designed to combat Mafia-run bookmaking operations in the 1960s.

Internet casinos and poker sites are different from their sports-betting counterparts, some legal experts say.

At least two courts have upheld the position that sports betting is illegal based on the Wire Act, the primary federal rule on gambling. But one of those decisions also said the Wire Act applies to sports betting and not other forms of gambling.

That 5th Circuit Court decision in 2002 is one of the chief reasons that online poker sites and advocates are breathing easy even after the surprise arrest of Carruthers on 22 counts, including violation of the Wire Act.

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