For the uninitiated, IWI (I Want ISK) is basically an online space casino, where players gamble on raffles, slot-machines, and lottery tickets using ISK to win modules, ships, implants, or even ISK payouts.
Originally this article was just going be a basic card-counting guide for the ship raffles over at IWI. Card-counters hope for 50% odds, and generally only make money because getting a proper blackjack (score of 21) returns more than a 1:1 bet. Conceivably, a player could sometimes reach 50% odds without actually betting more than the prize was worth, and the 1:10 chance of double prizes (or 1:10 chance of triple prizes) actually made “ship-counting” profitable. Clearly some publishable material worth the 1b ISK I pissed down the drain in one vodka-filled night at the premier space-casino of New Eden!
Naturally I would also write about the owners, and the legal gray area IWI operated in… but as the story developed, that legal gray area would become my focus. And as I found out, it actually wasn’t so gray.
The history of IWI is already mired in controversy, but the common understanding is relatively straight-forward. Space-casinos, possible ISK-laundering and RMT activities. What might be less obvious on its face is that IWI is actually a legal (using that word loosely) business entity – owned, formed, and operated under the laws of my own state of Florida.
GAMBLING – CH. 849
Now to the average Joe that might seem unremarkable, and would serve mostly as an opportunity to crack another joke about how horrible Florida is. But if you happened to work in the legal field down here, you’d find that last bit of information more than a bit curious. True, Florida has numerous casinos and racetracks for gambling, but racetracks operate as authorized and regulated pari-mutuels, and all of our casinos here are operated by the Seminole Tribe, and not subject to Florida Law.
The reality is that gambling, even with space-money, is pretty fucking illegal in Florida.
In black and white, Florida State Statutes spell it out – if you maintain any apparatus (which apparently includes computers and online services[i]) to play for money or other valuable thing, at any game of chance whatever, you’re guilty of a felony. See: Florida State Statutes ch. 849.01
IWI’s claim to fame are the random drawings of ships, modules, and implants – with an option to take the ISK prize, rather than the item itself. These drawings, however, are another form of illegal gambling. Even just advertising, or being connected with such a drawing is technically illegal in Florida. See: Florida State Statutes ch. 849.09. The only exceptions to this rule are nonprofit organizations and (bizarrely) bingo halls. Granny’s got to get her raffle on.
Okay, so what? Well – IWI is a Florida Limited Liability Company (operating under the name Optimal Tech Systems, LLC) which means that they are expressly subject to Florida Law. It’s more or less why none of your online gambling services are based here. Our state may be okay with cocaine money funding infrastructure development, but we’ll be god damned if you’re going to set up your online poker company here.
Naturally, it gets worse than just the raffles – let’s compound some infractions! The slot-machines? Pretty bad on their own[ii]. And we don’t even need to discuss the whole “permitting minors” section.
But by now you’re probably laughing, because this hinges on one key thing.
DO SPACESHIPS CONSTITUTE A THING OF VALUE
Don’t you value your leet T3s bois?
Now most lawyers will tell you that the law doesn’t like to deal with subjective definitions. After all, something of value to me may not have any value to you. That would make a provision like the ones cited above (specifically where it says: “other valuable thing”, and “anything of value”) pretty difficult to define, and therefore enforce. But as it turns out there is a lot of material on this particular issue – the DCAs (the state appellate courts, which issue opinions and resolve controversies that are binding in their Districts) have overwhelmingly stated anything with a conceivable value (however personal) would fall under that term. Even if it’s something as trivial as an ink blot.
Florida’s Standard Jury Instructions (handed down from the Supreme Court) actually include a subsection devoted to violations of the state’s gambling statutes. It broadly defines the term ‘lottery’ in a way which includes virtually all forms of gambling:
A “lottery” is a game of chance in which smaller sums of money or things of smaller value are risked for the chance of getting money or property of greater value upon the happening of an uncertain event. The three elements of a lottery are:
(1) consideration—that is, a bet or thing ventured;
(2) a prize; and
(3) the award or winning of the prize by lot or chance.
So now our entire legal question rests upon whether or not spaceships and ISK can constitute consideration (legalese for a thing of value). But the Standard Jury Instructions actually cite to the controlling authority in Florida, when it comes to determining consideration.
In Blackburn v. Ippolito, 156 So. 2d 550 (Fla. 2d DCA 1963) the court explained that “things other than money can constitute a sufficient consideration, moving from the participants in such scheme to the operators without any cash outlay being made.”
In Dorman v. Publix-Saenger-Sparks Theatres, 184 So. 886 (Fla. 1938) the court clearly stated that that the consideration “need not be money or anything having a monetary value, but may consist of either a benefit to the promisor or a detriment to the promisee.” [Emphasis added].
And in Little River Theatre Corporation v. State, 185 So. 855 (Fla. 1939) the court held that “increased attendance and receipts at a theater offering a “bank night” drawing satisfied the element of consideration, even though persons could participate in the drawing without purchasing a ticket”.
Let that sink in for a moment. Particularly the ruling in Little River – where the court said simply showing up for a drawing was enough of a thing wagered in itself to demonstrate illegal gambling. Imagine it’s 1930s Florida and you and the missus head out to dinner and a show at the local theater, only to be arrested and hauled off in the paddy wagon because someone you’ve never spoken to decided to have a raffle the same night. Welcome to Florida.
But how can this happen where the law itself is so vague? Well in the eyes of the Florida Supreme Court the law doesn’t have to be perfectly clear in situations like this. In one case, it examined the same language which was included in a statute prohibiting bribery. The Defendant tried to challenge the statute, saying that because it was vague it was unenforceable – but the Supreme Court didn’t give two flying fucks.
“It is the act which is prohibited…. The emphasis of the statute is on the act rather than the underlying consideration.”
Basically, Florida courts find that even when there is ambiguous language, the goal of the law is to simply prohibit the action [in this case, gambling] – regardless if it’s over dollars, pencils, or fucking spaceships.
CCP AND ME – LIABILITY ALL AROUND!
So IWI is a shady criminal space-enterprise that happens to be a legit criminal real-world enterprise. And if that were all I’d be ending this article here, but the wording of the statute and some of the more nuanced subsections preclude any kind of open-and-shut analysis here. After all, per the statute, I’m a fucking criminal now.
You see, ch. 849.01 has a very precarious clause within it – “…procures, suffers or permits any person to play for money or other valuable thing at any game whatever, whether heretofore prohibited or not, shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree…”
Suffers or permits – the operative terms. Basically if you tolerate the existing gambling enterprise, or permit it to happen, then in the eyes of Florida Law you’re equally culpable. Could this phrasing have implications for CCP? They’ve clearly expressed their wariness of IWI – at one time banning several IWI bankers, but that action was reversed. Indeed, it certainly appears that CCP is suffering IWI’s conduct (and even perpetuating it through the use of the API). So there’s some arguable liability here (yes, they’re an Icelandic company, but they’ve got an American arm registered to do business in this country – and the unfortunate reality is that jurisdictional issues don’t preclude their liability, and would likely only remove the proceeding to a Federal Court).
There are other unfortunate consequences for CCP, as well as IWI users. A good reading of the statute reveals a potent section neatly tucked away, cushioned by virtually incoherent legal jargon scribed by the finest backwater state senators Florida can muster. This section clearly defines the people who can be held civilly liable for the gambling enterprise, which includes the following:
1. The winners.
2. Every person who has an interest in the gambling transaction as a backer, vendor, owner, or otherwise.
3. Anyone who promotes, sets up, or conducts the gambling transaction.
Now let’s review – the first group speaks for itself (basically anyone who walked away from IWI with your space-bux). The second group actually includes any of the people who’ve made those donations you see ticking away at the top of the IWI page, as well as individuals who have provided services to IWI, and CCP (after all, the publisher of an online game has a clear interest in the game’s community, as well as the undertakings of members of that community using the company’s API and server data). The third group – well that would include anyone who has ever hosted an IWI advertisement, or actively participated in setting up IWI or conducting their transactions.
So it’s entirely possible for someone in Orlando to buy a thousand PLEX, use the PLEX to fuel their gambling addictions at IWI. They then turn around and sue. Who can they sue? The list includes the persons who won, IWI (as Optimal Tech Systems, LLC), CCP, any idiot who provided services to IWI without getting them to execute a hold harmless, and any poor streamer who ever put up an IWI advertisement for recovery. It’s like a shotgun blast: you may well hit everybody nearby.[iii]
I assume that CCP stepped up to ban IWI because they suspected RMT laundering – and while (so far) no one has been able to prove that, there’s absolutely no doubt that IWI is probably the shadiest “EVE service” currently in existence (at least until my coke dealer starts accepting payment in capital ships). As with all things in EVE, if something sounds like it’s illegal/shady/too-good-to-be-true… well then it probably is.
To this day, I’ve still been unable to contact most of the people whose info I tried to grab from the IWI auctions. It’s entirely possible that violating real-life law is only the tip of the ISK-berg (I know, I should kill myself), but even if someone inside that shadowy organization decides to come forward with more concrete evidence, this is enough to make me never go back.
[i] There is a veritable laundry list of cases regarding Allied Veterans of the World – an umbrella corporation which operated companies such as Comptrac, Inc., Game Advice, Inc., Digitrac, Inc., Intelitek, Inc., Media Advice, Inc., Infohub, Inc., Realvice, Inc., Developco, Inc., Infovice, Inc., and Realtrack, Inc. throughout the State of Florida. These companies would open internet cafes where users would take part in “internet sweepstakes”. Sufficive to say, the owners are being prosecuted and most (not all) of their assets have been seized… Even though many of these subsidiary companies would only accept and pay out in tokens not easily translated into real-world currency. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
[ii] Fla. Stat. § 849.15(1): (1) It is unlawful: … (b) To make or to permit to be made with any person any agreement with reference to any slot machine or device, pursuant to which the user thereof, as a result of any element of chance or other outcome unpredictable to him or her, may become entitled to receive any money, credit, allowance, or thing of value or additional chance or right to use such machine or device, or to receive any check, slug, token or memorandum entitling the holder to receive any money, credit, allowance or thing of value.
Literally meaning that creating a slot machine or other device, whereby a winner would earn additional chances to play based solely on luck is illegal. In plain English – the IWI slot machines would be illegal even if ISK wasn’t considered “anything of value”.
[iii] The Florida Standard Jury Instructions have a clear explanation: “In addition to the offense of setting up, promoting, or conducting a lottery, see § 849.09(1)(a), the statute forbids disposing of money or property by means of a lottery, § 849.09(1)(b); conducting a lottery drawing for prizes by lot or chance or advertising one, § 849.09(1)(c); aiding or assisting in a lottery or drawing, § 849.09(1)(d); attempting to conduct or advertise a lottery, § 849.09(1)(e); possessing a device for conducting a lottery, § 849.09(1)(f); selling, offering to sell, or transmitting a lottery ticket or a share of one, § 849.09(1)(g); possessing a lottery ticket or evidence of a share of one, § 849.09(1)(h); aiding or assisting in the sale, disposal, or procurement of a lottery ticket or a share of one, § 849.09(1)(i); possessing any lottery advertisement, circular, poster, pamphlet, or list or schedule of prizes, § 849.09(1)(j); and possessing papers, records, or instruments to be used in connection with lotteries or other illegal gambling, § 849.09(1)(k).” Florida’s Standard Jury InstructionsComment No. 4.
(Editor’s Note: The preceding article is an editorial, and does not necessarily reflect the views of themittani.com.)