by Craig Bicknell

3:00 a.m. 23.Apr.99.PDT

A Venezuelan online casino doled out more than US$1 million to buy Wall Street — dot com.

Players Sportsbook and Casino, based on tiny Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela, had the US$1.03-million winning bid in an auction for the rights to the domain.

“I’m shocked that this kind of value exists for a domain name, but I’m overjoyed, too,” said Ehud Gavron, owner of the flashy Web address since 1994. Gavron, the 32-year-old president of a Tucson, Arizona-based Internet service provider, will split the loot with two other co-owners.

Players Sportsbook outbid a slew of competitors, including several financial firms, in a blind auction run by broker New Commerce Communications. The bidding started at $300,000, moved slowly up to $500,000, then made a sudden leap to seven figures, according to Tom Millitzer, president of New Commerce.

“That’s a pretty aggressive price to pay for 13 letters of the alphabet,” he said. “$97,000 a letter is a damn good bid.”

The piece of prime Net real estate was worth the price and more, said Players Sportsbook.

“We plan on making a return on this investment in six months,” said Patrick Carter, a manager at Simpson Day Limited, the corporate owner of the casino.

The plan is to set up a Web site that lets people place wagers on stock movements without actually investing in stocks themselves.

“We’ll say, where do you think the stock will close at the end of the day, where do you think it will close at the end of the month?” said Carter. “You’ll be able to bet on stocks, options, futures. It’s already been done with great success in the UK. Now we’ll bring it to America.”

In this market, that’s a bit like gambling squared. Whether it proves popular remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the sellers have some winnings to spend.

“I think I’ll fix up the kitchen and put a Jacuzzi in the back yard,” said Gavron.

“I’m planning on reinvesting it in the stock market,” said co-owner Matt Grossman, a 24-year-old Unix administrator who followed his parents to Tucson from Albany, New York, five years ago. “I’ll be blunt — I came out here for free rent.”

For its part, New Commerce Communications will have some hot new domains to auction off.

“We’re getting lots of calls from people looking for our services,” said Millitzer.

That has Net industry experts a touch concerned.

“I’m sorry to see domains go for these prices,” said Ellen Rony, author of the Domain Name Handbook. “It really fuels the domain name-speculation fire.”

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