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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

17 October 2006

First the chief executive of was arrested by the feds, resulting in the company folding its operations and leaving American gamblers high and dry.

Then U.S. law enforcement nabbed the chairman of one of the world's largest sports betting operations, Sportingbet Plc.

On Friday, President Bush signed a bill into law making it a crime for banks and other financial institutions to process online bets.

The same day, Sportingbet said it would no longer serve American customers and had sold its U.S. operations for $1 to an Antigua-based operation.

A few gamblers have since reported problems recovering their deposits and winnings, with the company claiming that it is transferring the money into another account and will release the money soon.

It's the latest twist for a company that attached $100,000 in dollar bills to a billboard on the Strip and created a national media frenzy when thieves stole some of the loot.

Sure, gamblers are more likely to get their money back from a company traded on the London Stock Exchange such as Sportingbet than a black market site flying under the radar, said Ted Sevransky, a Las Vegas sports handicapper who runs

That said, sports books "are not banks. They are not required to keep a certain amount of cash in reserve" should customers make a run for their money," he said.

"There's a sharp dichotomy between the companies traded on the stock exchange and the ones that are privately held," Sevransky said.

The publicly traded giants are run by upper-crust Englishmen who don't want a protracted legal fight with the United States. The smaller, private operators are former "rogue bookies in the U.S. who realized they could go offshore and make more money than they could possibly imagine."

The online gambling law, which will be difficult to enforce, is nevertheless leaving many gamblers between a rock and a hard place.

"The bigger sports book conglomerates are far more affected by the perception of this legislation than the smaller, independent outfits," Sevransky said.

• • •

Harrah's Entertainment is offering its loyalty club gamblers more than denim jackets and sun visors as consolation prizes.

While lots of casinos offer catalogs' worth of midpriced merchandise for regulars to sift through, Harrah's is offering its gamblers top-drawer gifts from Gucci, Coach and Tiffany & Co.

The company has opened a redemption center at The Pier at Caesars, a new high-end mall in Atlantic City that is similar to the Forum Shops at Caesars.

In a consumer test, the company, which owns the adjacent Caesars Atlantic City, is allowing gamblers to redeem points earned on their Total Rewards player club cards for Discover-brand gift cards good at most of the mall's retailers.

The reward system - which actually encourages gamblers to leave a casino to collect their goodies - is believed to be unique for an industry that normally tries to keep customers inside its casinos for as long as possible.

Presumably, the gamblers then return to the casino floor - looking just a bit more chic.

Customers like the choices, said David Norton, senior vice president of relationship marketing at Harrah's, and the company is considering implementing the system in Las Vegas.

Looking in on: Gaming is republished from