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Chris Sieroty

Nevada may allow wagering on events other than sports

11 February 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- About this time of year, movie fans often argue about which movie they think is the best.

But next year, they may be able to put their money where their mouths are.

Nevada regulators recently overturned the rules restricting wagering on non sporting events, paving the way for sports books to begin taking bets on things such as who will win the Oscar for best picture or who will be the next "American Idol" winner.

Although bettors could soon be able to bet on the Oscars, will being able to place your bet on "Black Swan" or "The King's Speech" get Linda Viera or Angie DeMange off Fremont Street on a sunny Tuesday afternoon and into a sports book?

"I guess I would be willing to place a bet on the Oscars," said Viera, a Las Vegas resident. "I don't know enough about sports, I know theater and the movies."

She said she appreciated that "non-sports people would have an opportunity" to wager on events, just as long as it was only $5 and not her whole paycheck.

DeMange, who was visiting Las Vegas from Ohio with her husband, Ken, and six of their friends, said given the chance she would place a bet on her favorite contestant on "American Idol."

Neither Angie nor Ken DeMange expressed any interest in wagering on the outcome of this year's Academy Awards, though.

"I would place a bet on 'American Idol.' We love that show," said Ken DeMange.

As a movie fan, Robert Schwalfenberg, of Frankfurt, Germany, would relish the opportunity to bet on Javier Bardem winning best actor or Natalie Portman accepting the Oscar for best actress this year.

"I don't like the talent shows. Every season it seems the same guy seems to win, makes a record and then you never hear from him again. At least that's the way it is in Germany and Europe," he said. "It's more interesting betting on the Oscars."

It took two years of lobbying and assurances by oddsmakers that the new wagers would be tamper-proof before the Nevada Gaming Commission approved new rules on Jan. 27 allowing sports books to take bets on events other than sports.

"It will give us the opportunity to expand our betting menu," said Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports book operations at the Las Vegas Hilton.

By accepting nontraditional wagers, sports books see the potential for additional revenues and a chance to compete with offshore books for some of the bets placed on American favorites like "American Idol" or the Academy Awards.

The catch, according to Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, was that sports books first must prove to regulators that wagering was fair and verifiable before posting the odds on a particular event.

Avello, who is known for calculating the odds for the Academy Awards, "American Idol" and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, doesn't expect to be taking bets on the Oscars on Feb. 27.

"I've done this for years for fun," Avello said. "I don't see us taking bets on events other than sports. At least not yet."

He said the key to being able to offer nontraditional bets will be "picking your spots" and doing your "due diligence" before approaching regulators with new betting proposals.

The regulations require that an event can be supervised and the results will be verifiable. Gaming regulators also were concerned that an event's outcome "would be generated by a reliable and independent process" that will not be affected by any wagers placed within the state's 183 sports books.

The odds-setting part of nontraditional wagering would be familiar, at least, for some Nevada sports books.

Avello recently sent out his odds on who he expected to win the 135th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, with a fox terrier (smooth) the favorite at 6 to 1, followed by the Pekingese at 7 to 1 and a boxer at 8 to 1.

If you like long shots, both the basset hounds and Salukis had odds set at 350 to 1.

"This is my fifth year producing the odds for the dog show," he said. "I was originally asked to do it by a friend of mine ... who wrote for several dog magazines. The first year was an eye-opener because of its popularity."

But until the sports book at the Wynn and Encore officially takes these bets, he stressed that the dog show "odds are for entertainment purposes only."

"I've been asked by Rolling Stone magazine to produce odds on the Grammys and by US magazine for odds on the Oscars," he said. "I do it for fun. But I put a lot of time into it, 10 to 12 hours just for the dog show."

Operators of sports books don't know how much additional money non traditional wagering could generate, but after a disappointing Super Bowl many would welcome a new revenue stream.

On Sunday, sports books statewide earned $724,176 from a total of $87.49 million wagered on Green Bay's 31 to 25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Kornegay said he has had preliminary discussions with the Las Vegas Hilton's lawyers and senior management about the new regulations , although he said the Hilton's sports book is nowhere close to posting odds yet on non traditional events such as "Dancing with the Stars" or "Survivor."

"We don't know what all the procedures will be yet," he said. "Or if one book posts an event does that mean we are all authorized to book the event?"

Betting on nonsporting events in the United Kingdom is nothing new, according to Lee Amaitis, chief executive officer of Cantor Gaming.

He said the company's operations in London will take a bet on pretty much anything anyone wants to bet on.

"We even took bets on the British elections," said Amaitis, adding that the betting went as far as which party -- Labor or Conservative -- would win a specific seat in Parliament.

Both Amaitis and Kornegay say taking bets on U.S. presidential elections would be a financial success, because of people's interest in elections.

Amatis, however, said his company is still discussing whether or not it will seek regulatory approval to accept bets on elections and other nontraditional events.

If you can't wait, though, London-based sports book Tuesday placed the odds on President Obama being re-elected in two years at 8 to 11.