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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

End of ban on cell phones in sports books expected

29 July 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It seems a foregone conclusion that the Nevada Gaming Commission will vote next month to lift the ban on cell phones and other electronic devices in sports books.

The Gaming Control Board, which investigated the change and recommended the commission remove the ban, says the ban has grown ineffective in preventing the transfer of betting lines — information that's readily available on the Internet — to illegal bookies. The rule is also difficult and time-consuming for casinos to enforce because of the ubiquity of cell phones, which are allowed everyplace else in a casino, including steps away from the sports book.

Laws about the reporting of large cash transactions as well as other rules, such as a regulation allowing the board to station a state agent at a sports book, would remain in place to combat illegal activity.

And yet, easing regulations — even outdated ones — designed to combat illegal gambling is a sensitive subject in Nevada, which has an international reputation to uphold. Sports betting is particularly touchy because Nevada is the only state where it is legal (with the exception of pari-mutuel race events).

Any misstep might have disastrous consequences, which is why Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Pete Bernhard, at the commission's monthly meeting last week, asked whether there was any way to tweak the regulation without repealing it altogether. Commissioners reserved debate on the subject for next month's meeting, when they will vote on the rule change.

But Bernhard left sports book executives at the meeting something to think about when he said he was concerned about the "unintended consequences" of removing the ban.

• • •

How far will $2,400 get you when buying a luxury Strip condo? One square foot.

Condo sales on the Strip have slowed to a crawl and escrow closings have grown difficult, but someone in the music business is buying a penthouse in CityCenter's Harmon Hotel for more than $2,400 per square foot — a record for a Las Vegas residence. The curving condo offers a 180-degree view of the valley.

Then you've got to spend money on furnishings. Buyers of unfinished, concrete-wall penthouses at CityCenter's Mandarin Oriental hotel are spending more than $2,000 per square foot outfitting their condos.

Las Vegas broker Aaron Auxier sold the Harmon unit but declined to reveal the identity of his client, who will be using it as an entertainment pad. Harmon hotel owner MGM Mirage allowed the buyer to tweak the unit, including the installation of extra soundproofing and the placement of audio equipment, lighting and TVs. Keeping the buyer a mystery is in keeping with management practice at the Harmon, which is being marketed as a retreat for the Hollywood elite away from paparazzi and the fanny pack crowd. The building's 207 condo units sit atop 400 hotel rooms.

Los Angeles still has Las Vegas beat on high prices: TV heiress Candy Spelling recently bought the top two floors of an opulent tower in Century City for $47 million, or $2,848 per square foot.

• • •

South Point casino owner Michael Gaughan is doing the math, and here's how $4-a-gallon gas is penciling out for him:

He's had to discount his rooms by up to 40 percent to maintain 90 percent occupancy across his 2,163-room property.

The discounting is necessary to offset the $100 it's now costing his guests to drive to Las Vegas from Southern California.

The price of gas "has probably hurt us more than anything else," he said.

End of ban on cell phones in sports books expected is republished from