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The Lawbringer: Gambling in World of Warcraft

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

Casinos and player-run games of chance have been around in World of Warcraft since the game's launch, clogging chat channels with advertisements, creating numerous GM tickets because of player fraud, and generally being disruptive in the grand scheme of things. Then there are the gambling outfits within guilds, where we would bet who would die first on Nefarian attempts way back in 2005. I lost a lot of gold back then -- I'm still ashamed to admit it.

This week on The Lawbringer, we're going to discuss WoW casinos, gambling within the game, and why Blizzard came down hard on player-run money games. The current policy on the books, so to speak, is that casinos are not allowed in WoW, as a disruption and potential scam for players. There is no way around it -- running a gambling or /roll game in chat will have you dealing with some serious retribution, especially doing it in the open.

Today's topic, as usual, is spurred on by an email that I got asking a relatively straightforward question that has some nuance to it. This email comes from a digital bookie looking to make an addon that tracks bets based on real-world events.
Hi Mat,

I was wondering if it was legal or within the constraints of the EULA to run a bookmaking service in-game. I've been considering writing a personal addon that would allow me to keep track of bets, payouts, odds, and other statistics. Betting would take place on real life sports or other events using in-game gold.

I've done it on a smaller scale within my guild -it was fun and all profits went to the guild bank- but since I'm a greedy bastard, I'd like to expand into the realm. My only concern would be the large amounts of gold transfers that might look suspicious to the overlords. Even within the guild during WOTLK I would deal with tens of thousands of gold in each trade or mail sent. Basically, should I even attempt this? Thanks for any input.

-- Digital bookie
There are two aspects to this question that can be answered relatively simply, but discussions are fun, so I'm going a little deeper. As for the first part, whether there is an addon that will help you run a digital, in-game WoW bookie service -- no, I do not believe there is an addon for that very specific purpose. An Excel spreadsheet is my addon of choice for anything dealing with numbers, however. Excel is the best addon ever made for World of Warcraft.

A brief and not-at-all comprehensive history of gambling in WoW

Before we get to the real meat of the question, whether this should even be attempted, let's look at a brief history of gambling and games of chance in World of Warcraft and see how and why Blizzard brought wrath down on advertising player-run casinos. A long, long time ago, when the Azeroth we know and love today was a young, newly released planet, there were no linked general and trade chats in the capital cities. Linked city chats were not created until later on, and players would congregate in one capital city, Orgrimmar for the Horde and Ironforge for the Alliance, to conduct business, play the Auction House, and form groups for content. Gambling was a problem here because, as a nexus of player interaction, it began to get disruptive.

As you can imagine, chat was a lively place. People selling this, advertising groups, getting into arguments, making Chuck Norris jokes -- there was a lot of clutter and spam. Players with a good amount of gold (when having a lot of gold was actually a tough thing to do) decided to begin /roll games of chance where you could double or triple a seed bet based on whether you rolled high or low. Typical high or low bets and a visible /roll mechanic made it all possible, at least on my server. Games could be simple or complex, but most relied on the basic high-or-low mechanic. If you rolled lower than the house, you lost your gold. If you managed to win and double or triple your gold, life wasn't so bad.

Problems became rampant. Players were getting scammed out of their gold as "legitimate" casinos became replaced by people looking to make a quick buck or two. So many casinos were popping up that their advertisements were clogging up general and trade chats with moronic slogans and spammy messages. It was, for a time, worse than gold selling advertisements. Blizzard eventually put out a bright line rule, saying that gambling and player-run casinos in WoW were against the terms of service.

Should I even attempt this?

No, you should not attempt a digital bookkeeping service in WoW. Betting with your friends and guildies on a football match or who can do more DPS is a minor deal in the long run of things, but opening that up to a server at large is a disruption of the game. It becomes an even bigger disruption once players, who may or may not feel rightfully cheated out of their money, start contacting GMs and calling Blizzard, causing call volume and more work for an already taxed support system.

Here are the problems with WoW casinos and gambling that permeate today. First, it's a trap for new players because they don't understand what is part of the game and what isn't. A lot of World of Warcraft is player-created, not in terms of released game content but in terms of the community and tone of all of the words that come across. Chat is still the dominant form of communication within WoW, and what we say in chat reflects on what the game is putting as its best foot forward.

Second, gambling in WoW creates a system with no recourse. If you go to off-track betting, play the lottery, or make a real wager in the real world, there is a system in place to give you the recourse you need if you win and people don't pay up. There are no player-hired goons to break your knees if you don't pay your bets, nor are there courts for the recourse of collecting on a legitimate win.

You should not attempt to run a digital bookie service because it is against the Terms of Service in every aspect and scope. Advertising it, opening it up to a ton of people, and in general running an operation where that much gold funnels around is going to put you on people's radars fast, and it just won't last. Save yourself the ban and don't even try it.

Mysterious Fortune Cards

Player gambling is one of those things that just doesn't fit when it comes to the player experience in WoW as defined by Blizzard, at least from a player-driven standpoint. Blizzard then did something remarkable with gambling for Cataclysm, essentially bringing gambling into WoW on its own terms. The inscription profession was given a new recipe called the Mysterious Fortune Card, comprised of one Resilient Parchment and one Blackfallow Ink. The created card can be sold on the Auction House or turned over by the scribes themselves. Each card, when turned over, has a vendor sell value of anywhere between 5 silver and 5,000 gold.

Now, scribes post in general and trade chats advertising their Mysterious Fortune Cards, which are the legitimate form of gambling in World of Warcraft. Everything has recourse -- the cards are bought from the Auction House, the money is give to you from a vendor when you sell the winning card, and all is well in money-making land. Sanctioned forms of player chance games got rid of a good deal of the spam, while cracking down made trade chat just a little less spammy. It was an inevitable ruling to make, especially when the Terms of Service are concerned.

You might have been wondering why some scribes are offering to purchase 5,000 gold winners for more than their value, rather than having players turn those cards into the vendor sell value associated with them. Well, as it turns out, you can pack up a good number of these cards as a way to bring a lot of gold across realms, stockpiling expensive cards and hauling them across realms without a gold restriction. I don't believe this practice is, as of yet, against the rules.

The moral of the story is don't gamble in WoW, at least not in public. Blizzard has taken a hard line against trade chat casinos and gambling, much like it deals with gold sellers and spammers trying to advertise their websites. Do yourself a favor and don't even fake post in trade chat about gambling -- you never know who is going to report you or notice, and even if it's fake, someone might not take kindly to the joke.

If you've got a question or comment you'd like to see discussed on The Lawbringer, send me an email at mat@wowinsider.com with Lawbringer or some such in the subject. See you guys next week!
This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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