Doing research on other issues, I stumbled across two interesting state criminal statutes. Permit these a broad interpretation and then apply them to Julian's Bone Crusher theft (described here, discussed by Dan and I here) -- would the statutes criminalize the theft of a virtual item with the intent to realize a real-world profit?
With my emphasis, here is the California Penal Code § 332:
(a) Every person who by the game of "three card monte," so-called, or any other game, device, sleight of hand, pretensions to fortune telling, trick, or other means whatever, by use of cards or other implements or instruments, or while betting on sides or hands of any play or game, fraudulently obtains from another person money or property of any description, shall be punished as in case of larceny of property of like value.
(b) For the purposes of this section, "fraudulently obtains" includes, but is not limited to, cheating, including, for example, gaining an unfair advantage for any player in any game through a technique or device not sanctioned by the rules of the game. (I love that bit!)
(c) For the purposes of establishing the value of property under this section, poker chips, tokens, or markers have the monetary value assigned to them by the players in any game.
Louisiana Statute 14:90.3 is kind of long, so here are some key excerpts, again with my emphasis:
§ 14:90.3. Gambling by computer
B. Gambling by computer is the intentional conducting, or directly assisting in the conducting as a business of any game, contest, lottery, or contrivance whereby a person risks the loss of anything of value in order to realize a profit when accessing the Internet, World Wide Web, or any part thereof by way of any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, or any server.
D. Whoever commits the crime of gambling by computer shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.
H. Nothing in this Section shall prohibit, limit, or otherwise restrict the purchase, sale, exchange, or other transaction related to stocks, bonds, futures, options, commodities, or other similar instruments or transactions occurring on a stock or commodities exchange, brokerage house, or similar entity. (Can't make the scope of this too broad, after all.)
Of course, as Professor Bill Stuntz has pointed out in a recent article, The Pathological Politics of Criminal Law, (where I found the reference to the California statute), overbroad criminal law definitions are more and more the norm, and we seem to rely on prosecutors to sense that there are limits to the spirit of the law they are enforcing. As Stuntz points out, though, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?