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After the parade of recent Second Life-rocking announcements over the past few months, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but still it was shocking and difficult to even imagine. Linden Labs has basically announced, as I understand it, that there’s to be no more gambling-per-se in Second Life. Can you believe it? Casinos and gambling have always been a huge part of Second Life. You couldn’t search places without tripping over a hundred of them. They attracted campers to pump up their visit statistics for a few cents an hour each and competed for our attention like drunken frat boys.

I don’t like gambling: not in First Life, and not in Second Life. Gambling is designed to make people lose money to the operators. It’s designed to play on desperate hopes and a sense of helplessness, offering an virtually nonexistent way out – one that even to the winners often turns out not to be the font of joy people were looking for in the first place. I’m delighted that Second Life may be looking at the end of casinos.

But…well, there are several buts.

First, it’s already supposed to not be allowed to advertise gambling in Second Life, and yet the “most popular places” search turns up more gambling establishments than non-gambling establishments. Linden Labs may make the rules, but they’re not a police force, particularly. I don’t blame them, and I don’t know that I necessarily think that should be their job. Even so, judging from results so far, a rule against gambling may not result in casinos actually going anywhere.

And it felt like a strange way to announce it, the way Linden Labs has announced many things, suddenly saying: “This is already against the Terms of Service, but now we’re making an explicit rule and kind of adding a couple of restrictions, so you should really for sure stop doing this now.”

But then, what do I expect them to do? Ignore things that are illegal just because they’re popular? Let themselves be sued to a pile of virtual ashes? Or do I expect them to gently suggest that down the road they might be locking down on something, and to be clearer and clearer as they go, holding out some of the mystery? Or to solicit Resi reaction to a decision that in the end is a legal one rather than a culture one? I can’t think of how they would do it any better, except perhaps to add some regret wording, and even that would be tricky.

And no matter how well they do it, they have to endure a firestorm of criticism every time they institute any new policy.

I guess that sounds like “poor Lindens.” Well, yes: poor Lindens. I don’t like some of the Linden Labs choices (even though I have to admit I do very much like this one!), but as I’ve said before, I think they’re trying to run a good business in good faith, and that business provides me with something totally unlike anything I can get elsewhere, and it’s very rare to find a business of which you can say either of those things, let alone both!

In the end, I’m betting gambling won’t go away unless Linden Labs takes a different approach to enforcement. After all, Residents don’t have the power to enforce anything (nor, in the end, is mob rule such a great thing anyway, although participatory government might be interesting if it could be made to work), and First Life legal entities can’t generally tell who’s involved in a particular legal act in order to involve it, at least without forcing Linden Labs to give out personal information. I’d be kind of surprised if all of a sudden they started kicking people out for running casinos or taking back land on which people were running gambling places. After all, it doesn’t seem as though they’ve enforced the no advertising gambling rule, and that’s very much in their control.

So maybe this won’t mean much of anything. If it does miraculously mean that gambling disappears from Second Life, leaving only things like Lucky Chairs (because they don’t cost any money and so aren’t gambling) and skill contests with prizes, that might mean any number of wonderful things: ugly establishments that take people’s money and their garish ads and listings might disappear. People might come up with more interesting things to do than gamble. People who can’t think of anything more interesting to do than gambling might leave Second Life. If it were solely up to me and there were no legal restrictions to worry about, I might not feel it was my right to say no one can gamble in Second Life. But if it turns out that way, it might make a world I would enjoy much more.

^^^\ Kate /^^^