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Bits, Bytes and Bets

Casinos are going high-tech converting cache into cash
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

(continued from page 1)

"Not taking sharp action is the silliest thing I ever heard," Amaitis snaps in a gruff voice. "If you're going to take bets, you want all the sharp action you can get; they tell you where things are at. Yesterday [in the Auburn vs. Oregon college football game] the line went from Auburn plus-3 to Oregon plus-1. How did it get there? All the sharp guys bet Oregon. Mike Colbert [overseer of bookmaking operations for Cantor] was able to get ahead of the game because he recognized where the sharp action was going. It allows us to anticipate the side on which money will be coming. Turning down sharp bettors would be like turning down the smartest guys on Wall Street."

One can argue that it's easy for Amaitis to be confident-he's the one with Midas in his corner. Built at a cost that ran in the high eight-figures, Midas is the nickname for a piece of Wall Street-style predictive software that not only churns numbers for In Running but also spits out incredibly accurate lines before the games get played.

Here is how it works: Cantor programmers wrote computer code that has the ability to predict the outcomes of sporting events. They merged that code with a database of factors and details from previously played games. Using that information and applying it to current conditions before a game begins, the computer configures a line. Then, once play begins, Midas uses seconds-old information provided by data inputters at the stadiums to create on-the-fly lines for everything from the play that is about to happen to the final outcome of the game.

All that computer power makes it an easy decision for Amaitis and his crew to take on the sharps and to move the line accordingly. As he puts it, "By using the analysis of Midas and the street smarts of Mike Colbert, we make money." It's like on Wall Street, he adds, where augmenting the market intelligence of feel-traders with the mathematical power of program traders can make for a lethal weapon.

Still, there are avid, amateur sports bettors who remain undeterred. They maintain that Midas can be beaten via seat-of-your-pants gambling. "I'm sure the computer is smarter than us, but it does make mistakes," believes a former boxer and M Resort regular who goes by the name Spider. How is he doing with those mistakes? "I'm holding my own. I am staying afloat."

Who knows? What's clear is that Cantor's approach is catching on-with gamblers and with casino management. After all, partnering with Amaitis is a big decision for the guys who run casinos. For Amaitis to get involved, casino management must give up control of a facet of their gambling business and lease him the sports concession as if it is a restaurant.

At the fashion-forward Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the newest casino on the Strip, getting involved with Cantor seemed to be a no brainer. "We knew we needed a race and sports presence," says John Zaremba, Cosmopolitan's vice president of casino operations. He witnessed Cantor technology in action firsthand at his previous job, working for the Venetian. "Considering the demographics and psychographics of our clientele here, we know that their propensity is to be technologically savvy. Cantor, which now has a renowned name in the sports betting industry, is a perfect partner for us."

Amaitis puts it more bluntly: "We're going to take the risk, we're putting in $5 or $10 million in capital improvements [to build computerized sports books], we're bringing in players and we're giving them the business. They're paid a nice chunk of change and a guarantee. Why would they not let us go in there?"

If this is a match made in heaven between Amaitis and casinos, it's also perfect for some gamblers. Guys who can't get down in other casinos are happy to be able to wager openly and high at the Cantor outlets. However, they do complain about paying 10-percent vigorish as opposed to the lower rates that they can find offshore. For others, the opportunity to gamble on In Running is the greatest lure.

Though professional gambler Steve Fezzik quibbles about relatively low $1,000 limits on In Running, he does like that you can make hundreds of bets over the course of a game. "I've had tremendous results with college basketball," he says. "If you have a team that isn't going to give up, you bet the over. You can tell from watching the body chemistry as the game progresses."

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