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Long odds for Net gambling

If Comdex is any indicator, online gambling is in for a rude awakening.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada--If Comdex is any indicator, online gambling is in for a rude awakening.

Despite the venue, or maybe as a result of it, there are few online gambling exhibitors at the world's largest computer trade show and little enthusiasm about the prospect of gambling online. For most people surveyed today on the showroom floor, it was the real thing or nothing at all.

"I would be very leery of online gambling," said Sheila Johnson, of Henderson, Nevada, as she took a break from the exhibitors. "I like the atmosphere of going to the casinos. You'd have to be pretty addicted to do it at home."

Belinda Zollotuchen of Arlington, Texas, added, "I don't like the idea of giving out my credit card number to gamble."

Peter Ahimovic, who works for Lucent Technologies in Dallas, summed it up this way: "This tends to be an engineering-type crowd, and they look at the expected outcome of gambling"--in other words, losing.

Still, the decidedly downbeat tone didn't stop some exhibitors from trying. At the show, Dagar Software was handing out complimentary copies of interBet, a CD-ROM that provides nearly a dozen popular casino games, complete with the sound of rolling the dice and graphics. The software, launched this month for $39.95, offers baccarat, blackjack, poker, craps, roulette, and other games, but only for play money.

Real money, however, is another story. Current U.S. laws prohibit real wagering by wire, which could include the Internet. The law is likely to be tested with some real gaming sites that are up and running. Dagar's Internet gaming site lets non-U.S. users gamble with cash deposited in international banks.

"Every sound, from the conversation of the dealer to the dice bouncing across the craps table, has been captured," Dagat chairman Arnold Roffman said. Players bet by dragging their chips onto a game table in denominations of $1, $5, $25, $100, and $500.

Dagar is not alone. Earlier this month, Interactive Gaming & Communications announced plans for a site called the WiseGuy Sports Wagering System, which allows gamblers to pull slots and throw dice for real cash on the Net. World Wide Web Casinos has set up a Net casino that lets gamblers play blackjack, poker, and slot machines. Virtual Vegas is trying to lure gamblers with Hotjava poker, as well as craps and slots.

Online gambling, if it ever takes hold, is expected to be small compared with the real thing, at least in the beginning. The legal gaming business in the United States rakes in an estimated $482 billion annually. By the year 2000, however, online wagering could generate as much as $10 billion annually.

For now, though, many consumers remain skeptical.

"I don't gamble at all," said Dave Guerrero, of Santa Ana, California, as he left the show today. "I have a software company, and that's enough of a gamble."