Websense, which compiles lists of specific URLs to block for its hundreds of corporate clients, claims the number of gambling sites has mushroomed 169 percent in the last six months, with the total number of sites now topping 21,000. That, the company says, makes Net gambling the fastest growing industry on the Web, based on raw page growth.
The figures likely won’t come as welcome news to several U.S. lawmakers pushing bills that would ban Net gambling in the United States. Three separate bills working their way through Congress would, if passed, rely on Internet service providers to enforce the ban by blocking access to gambling sites.
As the number of sites explodes, however, the task of blocking them becomes increasingly unrealistic.
“It will be difficult to enforce; we’ve always known that,” U.S. Senator and Net gambling opponent Jon L. Kyl (R-Arizona) told the Wall Street Journal last month. “I think there will be an evolving cat-and-mouse game as sites try to find a way around the law.”
Still, there may be less to the Websense growth numbers than meets the eye.
In the last six months, a number of Net gambling companies have started “franchising” operations, in which they give individual Web surfers the tools to set up their own gaming sites in exchange for a big cut of the sites’ subsequent revenues.
Those new surfer-built sites may look and feel different from each other, and may have different URLs, but they all share the gambling license and Web servers owned by the original Net gambling company.
“If there are 21,000 789bet websites, they’re pointing to a much smaller number of servers,” said Sebastian Sinclair, vice president of Christiansen Capital Advisors, a research firm that focuses on the gambling industry. “A lot of these franchising sites have hundreds of gateways,” but they share a very small number of IP addresses, and those can still easily be blocked by ISPs.
Many gambling sites also buy dozens and dozens of different URLs that all lead back to the same servers, Sinclair said. He estimates that there are fewer than 350 distinct Net gaming companies.
And even though the number of truly distinct gaming sites may be smaller than Websense’s tally, Sinclair says his staff truggles mightily to keep tabs on the industry’s swelling ranks.
“It’s a monumental task,” he said.