As Reported by Las Vegas Sun
VEGAS - Before Steve Fezzik put money on today's Texas-West
Virginia game in the national men's college basketball championship,
the Las Vegas man did some comparison shopping online.
A quick search
of Internet sports books revealed average offers for bets that the
total points made during the game would fall under 132. But Fezzik,
a handicapper and frequent sports bettor, already knew that a couple
of Vegas casinos had better odds.
On Sunday, he
bet $2,000 on the game to go under 134 at the Palms and put another
$500 to go under 134.5 at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Online, or "offshore"
sports books might seem irrelevant in a town with dozens of sports
books and more than 35 on the Strip alone.
be further from the truth.
betting sites aren't just flourishing in the rest of the country,
where sports books are illegal everywhere except Nevada. Internet
sites have found a hot spot in Nevada and especially in Las Vegas,
home to one of the biggest concentration of gamblers and a place
where bettors come from all over the world to hone their skills.
No one knows
how much of this year's estimated $118 billion in online sports
book bets will be made by Nevadans.
say it's a large and growing number of people that includes many
pros and even more amateurs who follow sports. Analysts expect the
NCAA playoffs to attract at least $300 million in online bets, a
20 percent hike from last year. Some say the event is closing the
gap on the Super Bowl, the No. 1 betting event in the country, which
generated an estimated $500 million in online wagers this year.
who really knows what they're doing is going to consider betting
offshore as well as in Vegas," Fezzik said.
While pros have
largely gravitated online, Internet sports books, like the multitude
of online poker sites that have sprung up in recent years, are largely
the realm of occasional bettors.
out in force during March Madness, a 65-team, 64-game event that
attracts hordes of fans who make sentimental bets that their college
team will win - or at least beat the point spread.
their picks for their office pool, and now that they've thought
about it, they think Boston College will beat Pacific by eight points,"
said Alex Czajkowski, marketing director for the U.S. division of
Sportingbet, the world's largest online sports book.
have become brand-conscious giants of Internet commerce. Some of
the biggest are traded on the London Stock Exchange, where that
country is in the process of legalizing online gambling. There's
now a sports book for every taste. Costa Rican site Bodog.com uses
ads with leggy models to market to casual sports and poker players,
while Pinnacle Sports is heavy on numbers rather than art, attracting
regulars or "sharpies."
Like other major
Internet companies, Sportingbet has a full-fledged advertising campaign
that consists of billboards and television ads in the United States.
The company has a billboard in New York's Times Square and in several
other major cities, including Las Vegas.
is where all our customers go," Czajkowski said. "But
you can't just jump on a plane to Vegas every time you want to place
which is headquartered in London and operates its computer servers
from the Caribbean island of Antigua, isn't a law-abiding company,
according to the Justice Department. Online sports betting also
is considered illegal in Nevada, which prevents the transmission
and placement of wagers by entities that aren't licensed by the
state Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission.
Department says Internet gambling is illegal in the United States
based on a law known as the Wire Act. Some legal experts say the
law, intended to combat illegal bookmaking by the Mafia in the 1960s,
is outdated and doesn't apply to traditional casino games and poker
games played online. But they generally agree that sports books
are on much shakier legal ground.
the law is fairly clear that if you're accepting (sports wagers)
from the U.S., you're probably violating the Wire Act," Las
Vegas attorney and Internet gambling expert Tony Cabot said.
The law was
clarified in 2000 when Jay Cohen became the first person to be convicted
for running an offshore gambling operation that accepted bets from
Americans. That case determined that the bets occurred both in the
United States and Antigua, and that Cohen violated U.S. law.
deterred Internet operators, who say they are licensed in foreign
countries where the wagers are accepted.
After the Cohen
case, the Justice Department began sending out letters to media
companies that took Internet gambling ads saying they could be "aiding
and abetting" illegal activity. The feds took it one step further
with The Sporting News Internet and print publications. In January,
the company agreed to a $7.2 million settlement with the government
for advertising online gambling sites. The settlement requires the
Sporting News to run public service radio ads telling listeners
that online gambling is illegal. Those spots have run nationwide,
including in Las Vegas.
and other operators have found creative ways to promote their wares
in the United States, particularly around events like March Madness.
The company has still had difficulty running television ads, even
ads for the company's educational sports tips Web site, called sportsbook.net.
of Justice has scared media owners into submission," Czajkowski
said. "That was a few years ago, and every now and then (the
DOJ) will send a letter around or make a few calls. Everyone is
still pretty jittery about it."
preferred marketing method is billboards, which are grabbing the
attention of potential customers while appearing to fall under the
government's radar screen.
another top sports book, also has an aggressive ad campaign that
includes billboards as well as taxicab signs, public transit posters
and radio spots.
a struggle" to advertise under the Justice Department's watch,
Betonsports.com spokesman Kevin Smith said. The company, also traded
on the London Stock Exchange, is based in Costa Rica but is licensed
in Antigua, where its computer servers take bets.
Instead of promoting
a nongambling ".net" site like other Internet sites have
done, the company's radio ads simply mention the "Betonsports"
brand and an 800 number where callers can learn sports lingo and
betting tips. That number is different from the number customers
call to make a bet, Smith said.
Like any maturing
industry, online books are aiming to grow by diversifying their
businesses beyond just sports. Many now offer other casino games
and have been particularly successful capitalizing on poker, which
attracts many people who also bet sports.
a great synergy between the two," Czajowski said. "People
come online to play poker, and they're comfortable going and making
a sports bet on the side."
Last year Sportingbet
reconfigured its various Web brands so that customers can jump from
one game or bet to another without registering all over again. Within
seconds, customers can take their poker winnings and use that to
bet on basketball, for example. Sites also are looking to expand
beyond the United States, where business is expected to grow more
slowly than other parts of the world in the years to come in part
because of regulatory uncertainty.
recently acquired an Asian sports book and is heating up its marketing
efforts in Asia, one of the fastest-growing markets for gamblers,
fans across the United States are becoming more comfortable with
online books in large part because of widespread televised broadcasts
of poker tournaments and the mainstream appeal of online poker.
Professional gamblers are abandoning longtime relationships with
illegal bookies and gravitating online, experts say.
maintain one key advantage: most accept bets without requiring the
cash up front.
often pride themselves on their in-depth knowledge of a particular
sport or even buy recommendations at hefty prices, a successful
sports bet often turns on the difference between a point or even
a half a point.
like Fezzik, that means refining their search for the best line
- a search that's far easier to do online.
drive around to 10 sports books in town and it'll take you three
hours or you can look at 10 sports books online in three minutes,"
said Ted Sevransky, a local sports handicapper and radio personality
known as "Teddy Covers."
Like the search
for an undervalued stock, more sports bettors are approaching their
bets like investments. Sports bettors now use sophisticated tools
such as computer software that can post lines for more than 50 online
sports books on one screen, allowing the bettor to find the best
offer in seconds.
sports books you visit the more chance you have of finding a game
that's slightly misspriced," Sevransky said.
the best line most often separates the winners from the losers,
Fezzik said. Online books will have better lines some of the time
but not always, as in the case of the Texas-West Virginia game,
important aspect of sports betting is to get the best number,"
advantages to betting online, gamblers say. Besides a shot at better
odds, online sports books sometimes offer a reduced vigorish, or
the fee bettors pay the casino to place a bet. While Las Vegas casinos
typically offer $100 for every winning bet of $110, some Internet
sites offer $100 on a $105 bet - a big difference for gamblers wagering
hundreds or thousands of dollars at a pop.
Then there are
other special offers, like million-dollar contests that are similar
to casino contests but may offer bigger prizes because of the greater
number of potential customers online promotions can attract.
Las Vegas casinos
ultimately will benefit from the growth of online sports books,
it's good for the casinos," said Anthony Curtis, publisher
of the Las Vegas Advisor consumer newsletter. "They'll get
more players, more of them will come to Vegas, and when they're
in Vegas, they'll make sports bets."
a frequent visitor to Las Vegas, said online betting will never
replace the real thing.
gamblers love coming to Vegas - you haven't lived until you've been