- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

DALLAS - Think you’re the best gamer in town? These days, you will need more than the high score to prove it.

Two companies, YouPlayGames and Ultimate Arena, are betting video-game fans will put their money where their mouse is.

Both let gamers 18 and older wager money while fighting friends and strangers in first-person-shooter games like “Return to Castle Wolfenstein,” “Counter-Strike” and “Unreal Tournament.”

In either case, you will need to own the game on which you want to bet, and the services work only on Internet-connected personal computers.

Dennis “Thresh” Fong dropped out of college in the mid-1990s to pursue a career as a professional gamer, winning thousands of dollars in rounds of “Quake.” He co-founded Menlo Park, Calif.-based Ultimate Arena last year after deciding gamers would be willing to risk money.

“Back when I was competing professionally, I had always wished that I could just say, ‘OK, if you want to take out 20 minutes of your time to play me, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?’” said Mr. Fong, the company’s chief gaming officer.

YouPlayGames, based off the coast of Venezuela on the island of Curacao, began offering matches of the World War II-themed “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” this spring, creator Chris Grove said.

“It’s a much more adult way of playing the game. It takes things to a whole new level, when there is something at stake,” he said.

Money is made, or lost, in several ways.

With YouPlayGames, gamers agree to wager a predetermined amount, from as little as 5 cents to however much they are willing to risk, Mr. Grove said.

Players win money each time they kill an enemy and lose cash each time they die. Additional money can be won by ranking high on the company’s leader boards.

Before a game starts in Ultimate Arena, the players in a match agree upon an entry fee, from $1 to $20. If five players wager $5 apiece, for example, the winner gets $25, minus a 15 percent fee that goes to Ultimate Arena.

“It really gets your heart pumping,” Mr. Fong said.

Mr. Grove and Mr. Fong said what they do isn’t gambling because they offer games of skill, not chance.

Tom W. Bell, associate professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif., agrees.

“Does chance predominate? I would think not. These are tough games,” Mr. Bell said. “It’s no different from having a tennis tournament where people get a prize when they win.”

Ultimate Arena is legal in every state except Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and Vermont. YouPlayGames, meanwhile, is considered fee-based online gaming, making it illegal in Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee and Vermont.

Players in these states still can play, but won’t be able to wager.

After years of playing $1 holes of golf with his buddies, John Gengarella jumped into the online gaming world a few months ago. He was hooked immediately.

“It’s a couple of bucks here and there,” he said. “It puts a little added excitement into the game. It’s neat.”

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