12/19/2003 12:00AM

New year's wish: Ban beeper


One New year's wish, just one. And, it's not the usual wish to lose weight or quit smoking or - let's not even think about it - quit gambling.

This wish is aimed at the Nevada Gaming Commission. Please, gaming commission, if you're going to do just one thing for 2004, get rid of that crazy beeper rule.

Race and sports bettors here are living in the dark ages when it comes to betting by phone. When a Nevada resident wants to open a phone betting account, he is issued a beeper, or pager. Not so he can be reached in case of a wagering emergency, mind you, but simply to be able to make a bet.

The role of the pager is to make sure the bettor is calling in his wager from Nevada and not from out of state, which would be illegal. Since 1999, the procedure for a Nevada resident to bet by phone has gone like this: First, the bettor calls the casino where he has his phone account. Then, the casino, through the beeper, sends him a confirmation number for the transaction. The bettor relays the number to the phone teller and, finally, places the wager.

Now that may sound simple. But, in the heat of action on a busy weekend of sports and horse events, it can be downright frustrating. Before you complain to your local race and sports book about the procedure, know that they are on your side.

It seems that the Nevada Gaming Commission wanted to crack down on offshore and other illegal bookmakers laying off bets through the convenience of a simple phone call to a legal bookmaker here in Nevada. So, the regulators came up with the beeper system, which confirms that each phone wager is being made by a Nevada resident and within state borders.

Never mind that the beeper system makes phone betting such a cumbersome proposition that it has the effect of pushing players to offshore bookmakers, which siphon millions away from sports books each year.

The Nevada Gaming Commission also regulates the amount of money you can wager over the phone within a day. This regulation is aimed to stop money laundering. One can lose up to $2,200 during any 24-hour period. For a serious bettor who is having a bad day, $2,200 can go faster than your significant other's credit limit at the mall.

Again, this pushes otherwise law-abiding U.S. citizens to the offshore books.

The point man for phone-betting security is Nevada Gaming Control Board member Bobby Siller, who served with the FBI for 25 years. Appointed to the board in 1998, Siller - a man of high character and principals - takes sports betting issues seriously. Serving his second four-year term - he has three years remaining - Siller isn't about to have any scandals of money laundering or illegal bookmaking on his watch.

But while the Nevada gaming industry wrestles with security regulations, those of us who reside in Las Vegas and want to make a bet will have to beep home the wager, while our counterparts in the backwoods of America happily click their way to a four-teamer.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.