RealTIME Network risking state crackdown Curran says online game is Internet gambling

February 13, 1997|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

Maryland's attorney general is threatening to crack down on what he contends is an illegal Internet gambling operation in Silver Spring, but it's not clear whether RealTIME Prizes Network Inc. will heed the state's suggestion that it close its Maryland operations.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. issued a "cease and desist" letter Feb. 6 against RealTIME, which offers prizes of up to $1 million. The company was given seven days to close its local functions.

Curran's office contends that the online game is gambling and is barred by Maryland law, with penalties of a $500 fine and up to a year in prison. The company has contended that it is not covered by the law because it does not allow people from Maryland to play. But Curran said that is not enough to exempt RealTIME from the law. "If they don't cease and desist, we'll take the next appropriate step," he said. "We'll look at the options we have."

The cease-and-desist letter does not have the force of law, Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Henneman said. Instead, it represents the legal interpretation of the attorney general, who has the authority to bring charges against RealTIME if the company ignores the letter's urging.

Henneman said the state has been negotiating with RealTIME since the fall. Neither she nor Curran knew how many people work for RealTIME in Maryland, or how much Maryland bettors have lost playing the online games.

Company attorney Ira Allen Paur said he had been aware of the letter. "We're putting together a statement," Paur said after receiving a copy of Curran's announcement.

Henneman said the state is not satisfied by RealTIME's promise not to let people from Maryland gamble by visiting its sites on the World Wide Web, and in any event it's not clear whether the company can or will make good on its pledge.

A reporter visiting the site yesterday found instructions warning that people from Maryland are not eligible to participate. However, the interactive site let the visitor register as a player using a Maryland address and dialing into the system from a phone line in downtown Baltimore. The system also sold the reporter -- who used a Baltimore County billing address -- $5 worth of electronic chips to bet on the games, which include TV trivia and blackjack contests.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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