State isn’t all-in on poker-player betting

You’re probably not sharp enough to qualify for the World Series of Poker final championship event as a player, but Nevada is considering allowing you to get a piece of the action anyway – by betting on the players.

Step up to the window, folks, and buy a USD 2 ticket for Chris Moneymaker to win, place or show in the finals of Texas Hold ‚em.

That’s the idea being pushed by an attorney who wants to give bettors in Nevada an opportunity to get in on the poker action at a time when players are achieving stardom and televised tournaments are hotter than ever.

Such betting is illegal, but commonplace among bookies.

Poker insiders say state-approved betting on poker championships would generate a wealth of wagering by casual players who follow poker but don’t have an opportunity to play in the big tournaments. Biggest among them: the World Series of Poker’s championship event, which starts July 28 and will attract more than 8,000 people who will plunk down USD 10,000 each for a shot at fame and fortune.

Promoters can expect that betting on top-rated poker players could tap the same kind of passions that drive football fans to bet on teams led by their quarterback idols. Bettors wagered USD 95 million in Nevada casinos on the Super Bowl this year – the biggest gambling day of the year.

Just as sports betting picks up in playoff events, „interest would be really strong for the big branded tournaments like the World Series of Poker as more people have a stake in what’s going on,“ said Anthony Curtis, a poker player and publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter for gamblers.

But one regulator has already nixed the idea on the basis that Nevada law only allows betting on traditional sporting events.

Regulators fear that opening the door to poker tournaments could usher in betting on a host of other noncasino games, from checkers and darts to Monopoly.

„Are we opening a Pandora’s Box?“ asked Mark Clayton, the state Gaming Control Board member who denied the initial request.

Attorney Harry Platis has appealed Clayton’s decision to the full, three-member Control Board, who will hear a presentation from Platis at a meeting Wednesday. Platis may also appeal the Control Board vote to the five-member Nevada Gaming Commission, which meets later this month.

Another concern is how the tournaments would be monitored and what kind of sanctioning bodies would be on hand to oversee the events.

While collusion is a concern with any gambling game, the idea that players can win or lose poker games to benefit bettors has more recently gained steam in the poker world. Many poker officials say the concern is overblown and that casinos have ways of detecting colluding teams or false plays.

Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said he isn’t leaning one way or the other on the application, which should be debated by all of the board members because it would mark a significant departure from the status quo.

The attorney general’s office also will be analyzing the request to see that it doesn’t jeopardize Nevada’s exemption from federal law prohibiting sports bets, he said.

Platis isn’t involved in the casino or poker business and isn’t fronting for anyone, his attorney says. His idea to allow pari-mutuel, or group betting on the outcome of poker and billiard tournaments, appears to be unique.

Internet casinos, which are off-limits to U.S. gamblers but enjoy widespread popularity among Nevadans and gamblers worldwide, opened the door years ago to betting on poker tournaments. They set long-shot odds on individual players – bets that are more like lotteries than casino games because of the hundreds to thousands of players in each tournament and the importance of luck, which has allowed unknowns to win the top prizes in recent years.

Pari-mutuel betting – in which gamblers‘ wagers are pooled and paid out to winners – is common in horse racing, dog racing and jai alai. Instead of betting against the house, as with most casino games, pari-mutuel bettors are wagering against one another. The fewer gamblers who bet on the winner, the larger their share is of the winning pot.

By offering pari-mutuel bets, Nevada casinos wouldn’t risk their own money by setting odds. Instead, they would take a rake off the top of the pot, as they do with racing events.

If they win permission to engage in pari-mutuel betting on poker events, Nevada casinos would finally be able to tap a revenue source that for now has gone to illegal bookies who attend poker championships and take wagers on individuals and teams of players.

It wouldn’t be the first time the nation’s gambling capital has opened the door to new forms of betting. Nevada has pushed the envelope in many areas to make it easier for people to place wagers, such as allowing wireless wagering on casino floors and casino games in nightclubs and other venues that charge admission.

World Series of Poker owner Harrah’s Entertainment could gain the most from the betting rule because it would like generate a surge of interest among tournament watchers. A Harrah’s official said the company had no comment on the application but is interested in the outcome.