A new way of wagering

21 July 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Imagine being able to lay a bet on a New England Patriots-Green Bay Packers game while eating at a casino buffet, instead of being stuck in a smoky sports book.

Before taking that next bite of prime rib, you might wager on one of a dozen possible outcomes in the upcoming game using a small handheld device. Will the Patriots' star quarterback, Tom Brady, complete the next pass, throw for more than a 20-yard gain, toss for a touchdown or none of the above?

Las Vegas-based Cantor Gaming wants to make what is now an imaginary scenario a reality by next year, potentially transforming a part of the Nevada gaming industry that has been slow to adopt new technology.

Over the years, Nevada books have experimented with live betting, kiosks and other advances. But for the most part, Las Vegas gamblers have preferred betting on sports the old fashioned way — on games and lines they are accustomed to, and before the action starts.

"They're pretty simple people. They don't want to learn a new system, they just want to make their bet," said one sports book operator, who requested anonymity.

Cantor has run online gambling and bookmaking operations for more than seven years in Britain, where live betting on sports dwarfs sports book revenue in Nevada.

Local sports books are low-margin, volume-driven operations — bookmakers are experts at hedging, or minimizing risk by setting lines aimed at balancing action on both sides of a bet — and a low priority for casinos, which focus on more profitable casino games.

Cantor's expertise in live betting so appealed to the developers of the M Resort, under construction at St. Rose Parkway and Las Vegas Boulevard, that they signed a contract for the company to run their sports book. M Resort executives hadn't anticipated farming out their sports book to a third party until they saw how live sports wagers could be made on handheld devices.

Cantor will share revenue with the M Resort rather than pay a flat rent, which is how many third-party sports books are run. Unlike Leroy's, which typically runs sports books for smaller casinos that don't want the overhead or risk, Cantor hopes to run books for larger casinos that now operate their own books.

It's a unique setup that M Resort Chief Operating Officer Joe Magliarditi expects will become a bigger part of the casino experience because it allows customers to bet when and where they want.

There's no regulation in Nevada that prohibits real-time betting on sports, though previous versions of the technology haven't caught on in a big way.

Cantor pushed a bill through Nevada's Legislature in 2005 to allow mobile gambling devices and worked with regulators to develop rules for the devices. Nevada regulators have yet to review or approve a sports betting system from Cantor.

The company's device, called eDeck, resembles a handheld video game. It's undergoing field testing at the Venetian.

Cantor Gaming President Lee Amaitis, the executive who helped bond trading affiliate Cantor Fitzgerald establish its headquarters in London after its New York office was wiped out in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, believes the company's technology will transform the industry.

"We see ourselves as a different type of company," he said. "We're not just a builder of boxes. We're a developer of cutting-edge technology ... that's breaking new ground every day." In Cantor's world, he said, "the (betting) window never closes, the kickoff never matters and the line changes based on the results as they happen during the game."

In Britain, where its customers can bet on the rise and fall of financial markets and investments as well as sporting events, the company now gets more wagers during the action than before an event. Research in Britain has shown that gamblers laying wagers during a game win more of their bets than those who wager before the beginning of an event, suggesting that the former group is more sophisticated.

Enabling sports wagers on mobile devices could broaden the appeal of live betting among casual bettors and might attract newcomers to sports betting, said Kenny White, chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which sets betting lines for most of Nevada's casinos.

Previous versions of live sports betting required bettors to enter their wagers at electronic terminals inside the sports book, tethering them while a game was in progress and restricting the technology's appeal to hard-core or professional gamblers, White said.

Still, White isn't convinced gamblers will flock to live betting, which requires a level of concentration many sports fans and recreational bettors lack. That bettors can legally gamble online in Britain has helped the live betting trend, which makes sense as an in-home convenience, he said, but for sports bettors it might not fare as well in a casino.

Another insider, who requested anonymity, put it more bluntly: "I think it's too much for people to be making more than 20 bets during a game. That's information overload — it almost becomes work. Bettors like to play the games but they like to watch them, too. They're still fans."

More lines would pose a greater risk for sports books, who keep sharps at bay with betting limits and are watchful of suspicious-looking bets.

Amaitis, whose company has spent five years and millions of dollars preparing for its Nevada debut, says that won't be an issue.

"We have deep experience making lines and we're very good at risk management," he said. "That's what we do."

Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.