12/10/2004 1:00AM

Hedge fund might have another motive


Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban raised more than a few eyebrows two weeks ago when he announced on his weblog that he was starting "a gambling hedge fund."

Cuban considers sports betting much more regulated than the stock market, because information on the players and teams is more transparent than on public companies due to the intense scrutiny of the sports media.

Cuban clearly is disgusted by the stock market, citing inside information, nondisclosure of material information by public companies on a daily basis, and a lack of policing by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

On his weblog he praises state gaming commissions for enforcing casinos to play by the rules, "unlike the SEC."

According to Hedgeco.net, a website offering hedge fund information, a hedge fund is "any unregistered, privately offered, managed pool of capital for wealthy, financially sophisticated investors." Hedge funds are not required to register with the SEC unless the fund raises more than $30 million in assets and has at least 15 investors.

Cuban won't be a handicapper. He states, "I will find the best and the brightest, with a confirmable track record, and hire them." I suspect scores of resumes have been e-mailed to Cuban from sports bettors in Las Vegas.

Casino companies have been honest performers on the stock market, because no other business segment undergoes such intense state regulation on a daily basis. And that transparency trickles down through the gambling operations.

Legal sports betting is tracked under the watchful eye of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which is one reason why it's discovered here first if any party tries to shave points or fix a sporting event. The NCAA is 100 percent wrong that legal Las Vegas sports betting leads to game tampering; it's actually the best policing agent it has.

Cuban believes a gambling hedge fund can make money because it's competing against a "majority of investors who expect to lose money." It's called square money in the sports books - unsophisticated bettors. Cuban feels that smart money in sports betting is "better than just good, it's very good."

I think Cuban has ulterior motives for this pronouncement. Cuban's hedge fund could help improve how sports betting is perceived and help pave the way for a professional sports team to move to Las Vegas.

Just this past week the Florida Marlins asked for an audience with Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Jerry Colangelo, managing partner of the Phoenix Suns, says it's a matter of when, not if, a pro team comes to Las Vegas, and he predicts that the first league to arrive will do very well.

The commissioner of each league points to legal sports gambling as an obstacle to coming here. But according to Cuban, if legal sports betting is a lot more honest than playing the stock market, then what is there to be afraid of?

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