Random laws and real-money market possibilities
One reason for this is the "catch-22" involved in establishing a viable real-money market in play-money. In the early stages, if someone wants to buy the play-money (enabling someone to sell it), they are essentially paying to play the associated game, but if you've designed a game so fun that people are willing to pay to play it, you have already solved your "liquidity" problem, and you might be able to monetize participation directly, as with monthly fees. So allowing player-traders to exchange play-money won't hurt participation, but won't by itself cause a breakthrough either.
It is useful to think of play-money markets as games however, and consider the games they are competing against for attention. Trading games (play-money prediction markets) do not substantially compete with MMORPGs. They are more likely to compete with fantasy sports leagues (which enjoy legal protection, exempting them from anti-gambling laws) and any online game that doesn't require large, contiguous demands on one's time.
Frustrated entrepreneurs that wish to run real-money markets should - so far - be encouraged by the example of Sony's Station Exchange, an in-house auction system launched in June 2005 where users can buy and sell virtual items for real money. By hosting the market and promoting trade, Sony is acknowledging that players can win or lose things of real value in the game (which, at one point at least, contained casino-like sub-games in virtual locales). Forum discussions have popped-up here and there on the legality of such arrangements.
The defense of EverQuest/StationExchange would seem to be two-fold:
1) EverQuest is a game predominately of skill: This is the crucial point, and if EQ/SE is viable in this respect, this is excellent news for non-sports real-money prediction markets. Clearly there is some element of chance in EverQuest, as there must be in markets linked to future events. Then again, it's disturbing that poker is not considered a game of skill — and this is why I'm uncertain whether HR 4411 will apply to prediction markets. (Chris Hibbert and I agree that it ought not). Again, we come back to the notion that the legality of various games is often based more on the influence of interested parties and historical vagaries than anything intrinsic to the games themselves.
2) EverQuest players don't risk real money: More precisely, their losses are capped by the participation fee, but if that's the case, what's to stop others from specifying "participation fees" as a way to get around gambling laws? Also, wouldn't it be possible for an EverQuest player to buy virtual goods only to have them looted-away or otherwise lost in the game, resulting in a more substantial real-money loss?
Someone closer to the game should be able to shed more light on these points. How EverQuest/StationExchange is treated legally could have a significant bearing on real-money prediction markets in the US, and could determine which interests cast their lots in together.