Online Gambling Ban Brings Back Bookies

05 February 2007

The Salt Lake Tribune
By Peter Sanders
The Wall Street Journal

Today, a 28-year-old Hollywood assistant named Seth plans to enjoy the Super Bowl in the same way millions of other football fans will – he’ll bet on it.

How, exactly, will he wager that $100 burning a hole in his pocket? One thing he knows for sure is that he won’t do it legally. Trekking to Vegas for the weekend is out of the question. And he won’t do it using one of the publicly traded online services based abroad that have been taking sports bets from Americans over the past few years. They have mostly stopped taking action from U.S. residents in the wake of an aggressive government crackdown on Internet wagering.

But that doesn’t mean he and other gamblers will be shut out. In fact, the government’s war against illegal online wagering may be driving gamblers back to where they started: their local bookie. And in an ironic twist, there’s a good chance the bookmaker is taking bets over the Internet, too.

”Even my bookie is online these days,” says Seth. He would be logging in to place his bet but misplaced the username and password the bookmaker gave him. ”I guess I’ll just have to call him and get him to resend me the instructions, sort of a tech support for the sports bettor,” he says….

”The likely impact is that people who previously wagered on legal, regulated sites . . . will now call a local bookie or bet on an unregulated site,” says Alan Feldman, a spokesman for casino giant MGM Mirage….

But as the kickoff at Super Bowl XLI in Miami nears, the overall picture of Internet gambling has only gotten muddier. It’s not just that local bookies are taking bets over the Internet. For every established Internet-gambling company that has stopped accepting bets from the U.S., others have cropped up to fill the void.

”The online-gambling ban should be renamed the Sopranos Support Bill,” says Wayne Allyn Root, an outspoken professional sports handicapper in Las Vegas. ”All of this money has moved to brand-new, privately held companies [that] opened overnight and [are] run by criminals engaging in fraud and organized crime.”

”The crackdown has taken the online bets out of a fairly transparent set of companies and put them into companies that aren’t transparent at all,” adds Sue Schneider, president and CEO of River City Group, a St. Charles, Mo., Internet-gambling consultancy. ”Players could be more at risk.”