07/26/2012 1:56PM

Tuley: Vegas books get no shot at gold from Olympics


LAS VEGAS – “Where are the Olympic odds?”

That’s sure to be the most common question asked in the sports books here over the next fortnight (that’s two weeks for you non-Brits). Betting on the Games is not allowed in Nevada sports books. To explain why, let’s set the way-back machine to January 2001.

It was a dark and stormy time for the Nevada sports book industry. The offshore Internet books had already cut into their business and then a danger lurked within our own shores as Sen. John McCain (a Republican from the bordering state of Arizona) was gaining power in Congress and trying to push through the Amateur Sports Integrity Act, which would outlaw betting in Nevada on high school, college, and Olympic sports. The main push was against betting on college sports and was backed by the NCAA.

At the time, 30 percent of Nevada’s annual betting handle was on college football and basketball, so the state’s main objective was to protect that.

One of McCain’s main arguments at the time was pointing out the hypocrisy of Nevada’s sports books, which didn’t allow betting on its own state schools (University of Nevada-Las Vegas and University of Nevada-Reno). “Why is it right that they take bets on kids in other states, but they don’t allow betting on their own kids?” was one of his mantras at the time.

So, it was with a bit of a thumbing of the nose that the Nevada Gaming Commission unanimously passed a regulation on Jan. 25, 2001, that our state schools were no longer off limits and that as of Feb. 7, 2001, all UNLV and Nevada-Reno games would be allowed on the betting boards.

When I talked with NGC chairman Brian Sandoval – now governor of Nevada – after the meeting, he told me: “McCain was right. We should take bets on our schools. We’ll show that regulated sports betting is the best way to protect the integrity of the games. Senator McCain and the NCAA’s focus should be on the illegal gambling taking place on campuses.”

(There hasn’t been a betting scandal tied to any in-state games since this change took place, while there have been several problems at college campuses in the past 11 1/2 years.)

But a concession was made soon after the regulation to allow betting on state schools was passed. Betting on the Olympics is not actually outlawed by name, but instead is covered in Nevada Gaming Regulation 22.120, which was changed to read: “No wagers may be accepted or paid by any book on any amateur non-collegiate sport or athletic event.”

The anti-betting factions didn’t appreciate the gesture, which took away one of their biggest arguments and was part of the reason the Amateur Sports Intergrity Bill lost momentum later that spring.

Getting back to the present, the sports books here have learned to live with not being able to offer betting on the Olympics.

“It is a little disappointing when other places around the world are booking everything at the Olympics, as we obviously want to give our customers as many options as possible, but it’s a trade we were willing to make,” said Bob Scucci, who was at the Stardust in 2001 and now runs the sports books for Boyd Gaming out of his office at the Orleans. “The major thing was we didn’t want to lose betting on college sports, so we were in agreement with any concessions that came with that. We agreed that booking Little League or high school sports wasn’t good for the image of the industry and throwing in the Olympics wasn’t a big deal. The most interest was in basketball and hockey, but it’s now just two weeks every two years and wasn’t a huge piece of business.”

John Avello, who was at Bally’s in 2001 and now is the director of race and sports book operations at Wynn Las Vegas, concurs.

“Olympic was never that good of a betting event for us,” he said. “Besides basketball in the Summer Games and hockey in the winter and then sprinkle in a little Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan action, we really didn’t get much action. It currently doesn’t hurt business too much.”

Still, Avello said he did inquire about making an exception for the men’s basketball teams since it’s made up of pros.

“I spoke with Gaming about booking this year’s baskets, and they firmly believe it’s an amateur event,” Avello said. “I didn’t argue. There are bigger fish to saute.”

Obviously, Avello is sticking to his diet. And sports bettors here will just have to get used to the Olympics not being on the menu.

What’s in a name . . . or a title?

In going through my notes back around the turn of the century when the books here were fighting the Amateur Sports Integrity Act, I noticed that every title was for “race and sports book director” except for some books that had a separate person in charge of each department and then it was “race and sports book director” or “manager.”

Over the ensuing years as there was more consolidation in the casino industry and it became more corporate, we started seeing more titles like “director of race and sports book operations” or “vice president in charge of race and sports.”

This has become more interesting to me (and maybe I’m the only one) that we’re now seeing even more elaborate titles. Mike Colbert is not the race and sports book director at Cantor Gaming – he is the director of risk management. And last week, Nick Bogdanovich was named the head oddsmaker for William Hill, the British bookmaking giant that has bought the Leroy’s, Lucky’s, and Cal Neva chains and is in the process of merging them. His title? Director of trading.

Betting. Risk management. Trading. It’s all the same.