One of the fascinating things about the internet is the speed with which some new sites take off. One minute, you have this tiresome start-up calling itself Facebook, the next everyone has an account. In this context, the rise (and rise) of Chatroulette is all the more exciting. Weve all been chatting and skyping for so long we cant remember. Webcams have been standard pieces of kit, turning up to allow machine-to-machine video conferencing and to show all kinds of interesting activities when they are planted in unexpected places. So adding in the gambling element completes the picture (as it were). At one level, you could describe the site as your chance to meet new people, except these people could be doing absolutely anything when random chance connects you. In a conventional world, everyone participating would sit calmly in front of their PCs, wearing all their clothes and a welcoming smile. Unfortunately, the randomness and anonymity of the system encourages people to slide towards pornography or voyeurism depending on your inclinations. A remarkable number of people seem prepared to get naked and show off their genitals, or dress up as animals or apparently conduct weird social experiments by giving viewers curious instructions. Its the more sane people who hit the news. Ben Folds has been singing us songs, and a new celebrity is running a primitive gambling scam.
Chance can now connect you to a live dealer offering roulette and blackjack. If you are inclined to play, our mystery croupier gives you his PayPal address and, with a deposit made, the game of your choice begins. You can play for as long as you like. If luck is not with you, topping up the PayPal account is quick and easy. But something that should be not unexpected happens if you tire of this amateurish show and ask for your winnings. The croupier reaches for the “Next” button and disappears from your screen. OK, so lets take two steps back. You were prepared to part with your money to a complete stranger. Well, nows your chance to learn all about the PayPal contract. You have a record of the payment(s) made so, in theory, you can get your money back. Although you will look a fool, you could also report this sad episode to your local law enforcement agencies. They would be delighted to spend time tracking down this guy. But theres a much more interesting question to ask.
The majority of jurisdictions around the world regulate gambling. Online casinos must have a licence. So, Chatroulette is allowing someone to run casino games without a licence. In many jurisdictions, this could make Andrey Ternovskiy, Chatroulettes owner, liable to one or more criminal offenses. If our mystery croupiers activities are small scale and PayPal is able to recover most of the money paid into his various accounts, its unlikely any country will take action against Chatroulette or its owner. But if the volume of pornography rises, the police might get increasingly interested in trying to shut the site down (or block it) which would also take down these unofficial casino games and the scammer behind them. There does come a point when, for better or worse, governments step in and take down some of the fun sites. Politicians and moral guardians never seem to have a sense of humor about anything.