12/09/2005 1:00AM

Fear of pro sports in Vegas off mark


Have you ever listened to mainstream media members talk about sports and betting? Sometimes it exposes how little some supposed experts really know.

Last Wednesday on the Dan Patrick radio show, Patrick and co-host Keith Olbermann were discussing a possible move of the Florida Marlins to Las Vegas. Patrick was for it, Olbermann against it.

Olbermann started out by saying you can't have a pro team in Las Vegas because of the legal sports betting. Patrick responded by saying you couldn't bet on UNLV sports in Las Vegas, but he didn't sound very sure of himself. Olbermann didn't know the answer either way.

The fact is, betting on UNLV or University of Nevada-Reno sports was banned up until February 2001. Then the Nevada Gaming Commission lifted the ban because it had become so easy to bet on UNLV or Nevada games, anyway. Bettors had direct access to offshore bookmakers via the Internet or by telephone, making the local ban unenforceable.

Patrick righted himself by defending the Marlins' opportunity to move here because he didn't "see a problem with betting on the games in Las Vegas. It's readily available over the Internet now through offshore companies," which is correct.

Olbermann shot back with a weak argument that visiting ballplayers would be lured into misbehavior. "I'll give you an example. A visiting player loses $350,000 gambling on the tables and then he becomes susceptible."

Someone should tell Olbermann that Americans can win or lose any amount of money they please in 48 of 50 states in the union. That's how many allow legalized gambling. Gambling is no longer a monopoly of Nevada.

Meanwhile, the average salary for major league baseball players is nearly $3 million. For NBA players, it's closer to $5 million. It will take some convincing for me to believe these players will be susceptible to throwing a sporting event for under-the-table cash while risking a lucrative career.

ESPN has been examining cheating in sports, and one feature was done on the 1994 Arizona State basketball point-shaving scandal. Student bookmaker Benny Silman and ASU player Stevin Smith were both interviewed. Smith said he was paid $20,000 for the first fix. Silman said that by the third and final fixed game of the scandal, so much money was wagered against ASU that Las Vegas sports books took the game off the board. It was the sports book industry that notified the authorities, which eventually led to the investigation and convictions of Silman and Smith.

Sports betting here is so computerized and sanitized that it's almost difficult to place a large wager. And if fixers tried to overload one side of a game, such as with ASU, it would send red flags up all over Las Vegas.

Now that doesn't make things right or wrong. But the media should stop pointing at sports betting as the reason to prevent a pro team from moving here.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.