Type the term "gaming" into an internet search engine, and the pages you'll see will fall into one of two camps. The first camp includes sites that deal with the traditional act of playing games, which these days often means playing games on a television or computer screen. The other camp includes sites that deal with wagering money on games of chance, a meaning for the word gaming that has been created by an industry eager to avoid the negative connotations of the word gambling.
It's rare to find a site that marries both meanings of the term. Sure, betting on videogames is nothing new, as anyone who's put five dollars on the outcome of a tight Halo match can tell you. But it's rare to find a web site devoted to gambling on videogames the same way a site like GoldenPalace is devoted to betting on blackjack and its ilk.
Which is why I was so surprised to stumble across WorldWinner.com, a site that proudly bills itself as "the leading global provider of online games for cash and prizes." While the site does offer free accounts that let users play online versions of everything from Minesweeper to Zuma, the real appeal is the upgraded memberships that let you put your hard-earned cash on the line against others who have done the same.
I've always been intrigued by games of chance, but I was never under any illusions about winning money in a casino. With the probability skewed so heavily toward the house, I knew I was essentially paying for the privilege to play games of chance.
But WorldWinner.com would have you believe it's different. Unlike casino games, where you have to be lucky to win (for the most part), WorldWinner stresses that "the outcome of each competition is determined by the player's skill." I don't have the chops to make a six-figure salary at a poker table, but after years of the other form of gaming, I was sure I could beat just about anyone in the right game.
Finding out if I was right initially proved harder than it seemed. While offshore gambling sites will happily flaunt U.S. internet gaming laws with impunity, Massachusetts-based WorldWinner respects the wishes of the 13 states that don't allow "sweepstakes, contests, and tournaments with entry fees and/or prizes," my native Maryland among them. This setback was easy enough to overcome, though: One borrowed out-of-state PayPal account later, I had deposited my first $20 into the WorldWinner system and earned a $20 sign-up bonus in the process.
Now that I was in the system, I had to choose what game to make my specialty. Minesweeper seemed like a good choice, since I had built up my skills at the game over years of procrastinating. A few quick practice matches and I was ready to put my money on the line.
Feeling a little nervous and a little excited, I put one dollar down on a three-person match. Muscle memory calmed my nerves as I clicked through the board a little slower than I would have liked. As soon as I finished, a results screen popped up showing me ahead of one other contestant, with the third slot sitting open. I could pay an extra fee to take up that slot, guaranteeing a small cash prize, or wait it out and hope whoever was next to enter would finish behind me.
I decided to wait it out, filling the nerve-wracking minutes trying to learn about my faceless opponent. Unfortunately, all I was able to learn about nmann06.pgo from his WorldWinner profile is he's a fan of Luxor and Bejeweled, he's from Kentucky, he signed up for the site in October and he had already played enough to earn a rank of "level 9". (Earning new ranking levels doesn't make you any more money, but they do make you realize just how much time you've spent on the site.)