Monday 25 July 2011

Vote Early, Vote Often

In a further sign that perhaps the United States is finally, albeit slowly, starting to catch up to the rest of the civilised world in regard to betting, if not the death penalty, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece this weekend written by Alexandra Berzon:

Want to put $200 on Johnny Depp for Best Actor?

Las Vegas gamblers may soon be able to bet on the Oscars, beauty pageants or make a host of other offbeat wagers, long the domain of London's famously inventive bookies, who offer odds on everything from a White Christmas to which European country will be next in line for a bailout.

America's gambling mecca is starting out close to home, with the World Series of Poker. On Wednesday, the Wynn Las Vegas became the city's first casino to place odds on the tournament's nine finalists.

A change in Nevada gambling regulations this year allows the state's casinos to take bets on events and contests other than horse racing and other sports. "This will open the door," said Johnny Avello, the director of the race and sports operations for the Wynn and Encore casinos.

The new market is dawning at a time of rapid change in the sports-betting field, which has long been viewed as a backwater in the gambling industry. Casinos traditionally have considered their sports-betting rooms, or "sports books," a way to lure customers through their doors, rather than a profit center.

Lately, however, the growth in sports betting has outpaced other forms of gambling. Nevada casinos reaped $158 million in sports-betting revenues in the 12 months through May. Though that represented just 1.5% of their total gambling revenue for the period, it was a nearly 8% increase from a year earlier, far exceeding the 1.3% growth in their overall gambling revenues.

Now, new entrants including Cantor Gaming, a subsidiary of New York investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald & Co., and William Hill PLC, a big London-based bookmaker, are vying to take over sports books in Las Vegas casinos and provide betting options that are new to Nevada but common in Britain, where legal betting is widespread, such as betting on individual plays while a sports game is running.

William Hill has agreed to buy several companies that run sports books in Nevada and expects to receive its license to do so by next year. The company already takes bets in Britain on commodity prices, indices and currencies. Partly for publicity and partly as a revenue driver, it also churns out odds for dozens of novelty bets, such as the singer of the next James Bond theme song (Adele is running 3-to-1 odds).

Bookmakers generally try to limit their risk by changing the betting lines as bets are placed so that they have equal bets on both sides. They earn money by charging a commission, also known as a vigorish.

William Hill said wagers related to the royal wedding attracted around $1 million in stakes, the largest among recent types of novelty bets. But Lyndsay Wright, director of investor relations, said the company's plans for the U.S. are focused on more traditional sports betting.

Cantor Gaming Chief Executive Lee Amaitis, who was involved in pushing for the Nevada law that led to this year's regulatory change, said Cantor is hoping to offer year round betting on poker tournaments.

"It could be like horses, where you get to pick favorites and long shots," Mr. Amaitis said. "I think you can build up momentum around that."

Under the new Nevada rules, taking bets on a new event requires the company involved to prepare a report that addresses, among other things, whether the outcome could be manipulated, and then submit it for approval by Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli. Mr. Lipparelli said it isn't certain what type of events will be approved, though the regulations explicitly ban political elections and youth activities.

He cited two key criteria: "Can the event be effectively regulated, and does someone have an advantage in knowing the outcome to give them an edge?"

Mr. Lipparelli said he already has rejected two proposals, including a "talent competition," a category that includes TV shows such as "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars." Mr. Lipparelli said betting on such competitions isn't likely to be approved. That's because he believes fans can vote as often as they want for their favorites, and there isn't a secure enough system for keeping the outcome secret.

He said other events, such as awards shows, some beauty pageants and financial-market moves are better candidates for wagering. Accounting firms oversee voting for major award shows and pageants and keep the results confidential, he said. Similarly, financial markets are overseen by regulators.

Several Nevada bookmakers said they still are evaluating whether the logistical challenges of many new types of betting might outweigh the demand.

In a two-day experiment by the Wynn earlier this month, 25 bets were placed on such questions as whether a group of "new school" or "old school" poker stars would go farther in the World Series of Poker. The "old school" won, said the casino's Mr. Avello, though no one from either group made it to the final table, where play will resume in November.

"When I look at how much money we won, it was surprising for just two days of action," said Mr. Avello, who declined to disclose the amount.

Mr. Amaitis of Cantor Gaming said he is taking a cautious approach to financial-market betting due to concerns of running afoul financial-market regulators. "I'm going to take baby steps to a product I think can be extremely explosive to a marketplace, and I want to make sure I do it correctly," he said.
While the "talent competition" category, and Next Manager markets for that matter, are ones I leave alone for the reasons outlined in the article, I'm not sure I understand banning betting on political elections.

In Zimbabwe the results might be known well in advance of election day, or perhaps the election for Mayor of New Amsterdam, Indiana could be a little dodgy, but it's hard to see why betting on an election for a seat in the House or Senate or for President should be banned.

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