01/12/2007 12:00AM

Another hollow victory for U.S.

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The biggest news in gaming this past week was that offshore betting giant Pinnacle Sports "has chosen to voluntarily exit the American market," according to a message on its web site. "Wagers will no longer be accepted from clients located within the U.S. as of Thursday, 11th January, 2007."

According to gaming industry analysts, Pinnacle did approximately 60 percent of its business with U.S. customers.

This is a blow to many American gamblers who came to rely upon the reduced vig, rebates and excellent customer service that Pinnacle had provided. Since President Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into law last October, numerous offshore sites have closed their U.S. operations, but Pinnacle is by far the most influential.

Jimmy Vaccaro, director of public relations for Leroy's Horse and Sports, has the experiences to see the plusses and minuses from the announcement.

"I think over there you'll see more consolidation, almost like an alliance," said Vaccaro referring to offshore books. "The ones who want to go through with it, and continue doing business as usual, can buy the [customer] lists from those who want to get out of it."

Just last month, I wrote that Bodog was doing exactly what Vaccaro is predicting, buying client lists and reinvesting in infrastructure to grow its business.

"With things like this popping up, for the first time people can actually see that sports gambling is not a niche business," said Vaccaro. "The mainstream of America loves to do this."

Long term he thinks this can be good for Nevada.

"We cannot do everything that the offshore does; it's just not possible," he said. "We're taxed different. We're licensed different. But we can capture some of what they do if we become a little more aggressive here. That's a big step from talking about it as opposed to getting it into action."

Nevada has a legal monopoly on sports betting in the U.S. And the state's casinos have shown that done right, sports betting upholds the integrity of the contests and in dealing with the bettors.

Vaccaro feels Nevada "can capture some of this money that was going other places." He has suggestions for ways of doing this.

"Revisit the rebate structure," he said. "Define what we can and cannot do, so we're on a level playing field."

My feeling is that forcing offshore books from the U.S. market is a transparent victory for the U.S. government. Millions of Americans will continue betting on sports and horses offshore. For those who do get cut off, they will rediscover the old fashioned way of doing it, with illegal bookmakers. And for many who don't like breaking the law, they can always wait and come to Las Vegas.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."