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The Offshore Edge

Avid sports bettors look to offshore gambling sites for fast-paced, though unregulated, wagers with less risk and more reward
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Adrien Brody, September/October 2010

(continued from page 1)

Considering that the site holds onto a piece of your bankroll-patrons of sports betting sites make deposits in much the same way that online poker players do-you need to trust that management is reputable.

Edward suggests sticking with credible sports betting outlets that are clearly in it for the long haul. Of those that accept American action (some do not do business with Stateside gamblers, for fear of rankling U.S. law enforcers who've been known to arrest offshore bookies) sites such as The Greek Sportsbook (thegreek.com) and Bookmaker (bookmaker.com) have good reputations for paying. To see how many trend in the opposite direction, check out sportsbookreview.com, a Web site that rates sites based on their legitimacy.

Take note that there are many more with F ratings than there are with A ratings.

A man we'll call B.P., a professional handicapper who used to bet offshore, knows how bad it can get. While retrieving a take-out dinner from a Middle Eastern joint near his home in Vegas, B.P. recalls the one time he got, in his words, "screwed." It was for a series of bets, some straightforward and others exotic, made on a recent Super Bowl. They were placed with a site offering a deal that seemed too good to be true: no vigorish on either side. "What was the point?" asks B.P., explaining that he had been working with partners and was unaware that the site volunteered this arrangement. "We got down $80,000 and won, but it turns out that they were moving the line so that they could bet all the hot sides." And not with an eye toward managing risk. "They were gambling and they lost. Had they beaten the Super Bowl they might still be in business, but they lost and they skidaddled." With B.P. and company's cash.

B.P. never got his money, and he developed a serious distrust for making bets on the Internet with offshore operators. Emphasizing that all sites are not crooked, Steve Fezzik, an astute bettor (he won the esteemed Hilton SuperContest, an NFL handicapping tournament, for two years running) and online moderator at lvasports.com, acknowledges that whether or not to patronize the offshore books is a personal decision. But he also opines, "You have to recognize that many offshore sports books are like junk bonds. They have questionable legality, along with questionable financial solvency and questionable management. Broadly speaking, is your money safe in the offshore world? My answer would be no."

Even if you believe that your money is safe, beware of sites offering lines that are god-awfully out of whack. I've heard about a Kentucky Derby wager that was 30-to-1 via Churchill Downs and only 8-to-1 online. These outrageous disparities come about for one of two reasons: Either the site is hoping to take advantage of inexperienced bettors or else it just took a lot of wagers on a particular side and is essentially shutting it down-unless the price is too good to refuse. Either way, the site is not seriously courting action and buyers must beware.

The good news is that it's easy to avoid this sort of situation. Simply shop around online for the best price. If you want to visit just one site and establish a baseline, Edward from Right Angle Sports suggests checking into pinnacle.com. "They usually have the most competitive prices on the Internet," he says, pointing out that another option is to go to matchbook.com, a peer-to-peer site where you can put up the line that you're willing to offer and, if you find a taker, the site extracts a small cut for facilitating action between two individuals. "People don't realize how essential it is to shop for the best number. They think half-a-point doesn't matter, but, long-term, it's important." Massive spreads from reality, of course, can be deadly.

Soon, though, you may have the government looking out for you. New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak, a dedicated cigar smoker, wants multiple forms of online wagering regulated and taxed in his state. I ask him if there will be sports betting and he replies, "You bet. The World Cup would be huge in New Jersey." Then, with a bit of brio in his voice, he adds, "The World Cup will be huge in New Jersey."

The fine points of the plan have yet to be ironed out; for instance, it's unclear who will provide infrastructure and how the new online gaming laws will be enforced. Then there are legal hurdles. For example, before online sports betting can be presented to voters, a federal law banning the practice (which Lesniak views as unconstitutional) needs to be overturned. Lesniak estimates billions of dollars for the entities that run Jersey's online gambling, which, he believes, will include casino games as well as sports (though casino games will be put forward as one bill and sports betting as another bill). Very soon, Lesniak predicts, "we will be able to [gamble online legally]."

Lesniak's last statement is most certainly true-at least if your public lives and dies with every half-point nudge in the spread. One insider claims, "Most every professional sports bettor uses the online sites." Sports-betting veteran Alan Boston succinctly states, "Anything that gives you a better chance to earn money helps. Anything that gives you a wider variety of lines helps."


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