The emergence of controversial virtual currency Bitcoin has given high-stakes American sports gamblers the chance to circumnavigate federal anti-betting laws and wager vast sums on major sporting events.
With full-scale betting on sports legal only in Nevada, options have been somewhat limited for those seeking a piece of the action during big games in both college and the pros.
"Bitcoin is the new thing, the new rage," one New York-based poker player and sports bettor told Yahoo! Sports. "There are great options out there and new Bitcoin betting sites springing up all the time. Often they offer better odds or bonuses for signing with them. I personally know of around 15 big money guys who are using it, so in total there must be hundreds."
The complete anonymity afforded by Bitcoin, which technology experts expect to be the first of many similar digital currencies, allows legal restrictions to be avoided. Government jurisdictions have no way of tracking or tracing the source of the money as all transactions are fully encrypted and handled by a decentralized global network.
Bitcoin uses incredibly advanced technology to concoct a heavily encrypted piece of code, which can be purchased at simple online exchange websites such as BitInstant. Users convert their local funds into the digital currency, which can then be traded on a person-to-person basis or used to purchase goods.
Or to gamble with – without the threat of prosecution.
Even if enforcement agencies were able to track through an IP address that a user had visited a Bitcoin gambling website, Bitcoin's encryption makes evidential proof that funds have been deposited and gambled impossible to trace.
Bitcoin's origins are somewhat murky, but also fascinating. Created by a hacker who has never revealed their identity, it was initially used by arms and narcotics dealers, sex traffickers and other unscrupulous entities as a way of transferring money outside of the reach of international law.
It gained prominence and popularity during the recent financial meltdown in Cyprus, which raised concerns about the future viability of the Euro. Those worries prompted many speculators to stash their funds in Bitcoin, believing it to be a safer long-term option. That flurry of interest sent the value of a Bitcoin soaring to $266, though it has since come down to around the $100 mark. Partial Bitcoins can be purchased and exchanged for smaller transactions.
The currency is rapidly becoming more mainstream, with Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame revealing they hold a Bitcoin batch conservatively valued at $11 million.
Some businesses, such as online dating site OkCupid.com, have started accepting it due to its remarkably low transfer fees, while Ebay is investigating means to incorporate it into its site.
Yet just as Bitcoin might be a savior for the gamblers, gambling could be a lifesaver for Bitcoin. Betting, experts believe, could turn into Bitcoin's greatest growth market, especially with many sites offering more favorable odds than the traditional bookmakers.
European soccer, the NFL and the NBA have all attracted strong interest for those with a mind for a flutter and a Bitcoin to spare. Tantalizingly for privacy-minded punters, no addresses or credit card information need to be provided, and no intrusion from prying government eyes.
"Bitcoin is borderless, unregulated and anonymous," said futurist Erica Orange, an expert on technological predictions and vice president of Weiner, Edrich and Brown, a New York-based strategic management company. "That makes it very attractive to those looking to trade and it fits hand in hand with the gambling and sports betting industry.
"It is almost like a perfect match. You have an industry which is restricted and outlawed in large parts of the country – then now there is this outlet that offers the service without the possibility of detection."
Yet those seeking a quick buck with Bitcoin should exercise caution. The currency's value is based on a mathematical algorithm rather than typical factors of supply and demand and has experienced wild peaks and troughs.
Even for the most hardened of gamblers, that might be a risk too far.
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