07/17/2008 12:00AM

Cell-phone ban in books nears end


Pull out a cell phone in many places these days and you might think you were being treated as if you were pulling out a gun.

It's common before movies, plays, and church services that those in attendance will be asked to turn off their cell phones or set them to vibrate. It's also illegal in five states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, and Washington) to drive a car while talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. And, of course, anyone who has been in a Nevada race and sports book and tried to make a call has been yelled at, even if they're just arranging to meet someone for dinner or getting a shopping list from the missus (hmmm, maybe it's not such a bad rule after all).

But that last one might be revoked. A week ago Thursday, the Nevada Gaming Control Board gave its recommendation to repeal Regulation 22.135 and allow cell phones to be used within race and sports books. To take effect, the Nevada Gaming Commission would have to give final approval, and the item is on the agenda for the commission's meeting on Thursday in Conference Room 2450 of the Grant Sawyer Building on 555 East Washington Ave. in Las Vegas. (Note: I'll bet the commission asks for cell phones to be turned off prior to the open meeting.)

For those unfamiliar with this issue, back in 1998, when cell phones were gaining in popularity, the state's regulators were worried about illegal bookmakers having associates call them with current lines in case they were looking to lay off wagers. Betting syndicates also saw the convenience of cell phones right away and had runners in all the books. With the Federal Wire Act of 1961 prohibiting phone transmissions across state lines, the state wanted to make sure its stance was clear that it wasn't aiding and abetting such activity. The regulation went into effect July 1, 1999, and reads in part: "A book shall not allow a person to use a communications device within the premises of the book. The premises of the book shall be considered any area where race book or sports pool wagers are accepted. A person who is found to be using a communications device within a book's premises must be advised to immediately discontinue use of the device or be escorted off those premises."

The ban has faced a lot of opposition in recent years because even though it inconvenienced those it was aimed at (the runners would have to jot down the lines before going outside or down the hall to make their calls), it didn't stop any of that and it was a headache for those behind the counter to look for cell-phone usage. It made for bad public relations every time a sports book employee or security officer would have to tell someone to get off their cell phone. Most regular customers would know the rule and either leave the book or play the cat-and-mouse game by ducking their head down in a cubicle or cupping their hands over the side of their head, but interrupting a tourist rarely went smoothly as they were already in a world of their own and not expecting to be interrupted during a private conversation.

There are some people who will be sad to see the regulation go away. The books certainly won't be happy if they hear potential customers placing bets with other bookies. And some people think of the race and sports books as their church and don't want their quiet time interrupted by ringing cell phones and people talking incessantly (though you have people talking loud to each other in race and sports books anyway, so that won't be new). But here's hoping a middle ground develops, with most people being courteous and turning down their phones and not using them nonstop.

Main Event final table set

The World Series of Poker wrapped up its schedule early Tuesday morning when the $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em World Championship (aka the Main Event) was whittled down to the final table of nine players. For the first time, the final table will be put on hold for nearly four months and held in November in order to build hype around the finalists and turn it into a made-for-TV event with action starting Nov. 9 and ending in the early-morning hours of Nov. 11. The two-day, tape-delayed ESPN coverage will begin airing that same night.

The Main Event began with 6,884 players on July 3. First place was set at $9.1 million, with $5.8 million for second and $4.5 million for third. Each of the "November Nine," most of which were sporting sponsorship logos even before making the final table, were awarded the minimum ninth-place prize of $900,670 earlier this week and are now free to strike new deals to cash in on their newfound fame. The rest of the prize pool is being invested, with players receiving any additional dividends.

Dennis Phillips of St. Louis, Mo., is the chip leader with more than $26.3 million; followed by Ivan Demidov of Moscow with $24.4 million; Scott Montgomery of Perth, Ontario, with $19.7 million; Peter Eastgate of Odense, Denmark, with $18.4 million; Ylon Schwartz of New York with $12.5 million; Darus Suharto of Toronto with $12.5 million; David "Chino" Rheem of Los Angeles with $10.2 million; Craig Marquis of Arlington, Texas, with $10.1 million; and Kelly Kim of Whittier, Calif., with $2.6 million.

The most marketable of the nine appears to be Schwartz, who used to hustle chess games before turning to poker. He has now cashed in 12 series events.

The last female was Tiffany Michelle of Los Angeles. She finished 17th and won $334,534.

Race and sports book notes

At the same commission meeting that the cell-phone issue will be discussed, Lucky's Race & Sports is expected to be granted approval to begin running its first Las Vegas book at the downtown Plaza. The first day of business would be Aug. 1. Lucky's is hoping to go through the same process next month and have the Casino Fandango in Carson City as part of its network as of Sept. 1.

* The Gold Coast Classic horse handicapping tournament will take place July 24-26, with a $400 entry fee and the top-five finishers earning berths to the Horseplayer World Series next February at the Orleans.

* The Santa Fe Station has a Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship qualifier on Saturday, July 26, with a $200 entry fee and two NHC berths up for grabs.

* With well-heeled gamblers coming to town for those events, the Las Vegas Hilton now plans to open registration for its famous NFL handicapping contest, the SuperContest, on Friday, July 25. Out-of-state contestants can designate a local proxy to put their picks in each week. The entry fee is $1,500.