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Over Seas Odds

Offshore Bookies Offer Sports Gamblers a New Arena, But Buyer Beware
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 2)

* Accessibility. With toll-free 800 or 888 numbers manned by dozens of clerks, it's often easier to get a bet down with your man in the Caribbean than it is to reach a customer-service representative at your long-distance company. According to one major Las Vegas gambler, a man who can make phone bets legally in his home state but prefers to deal with the international bookies, "I'd rather bet with some of these offshore operations. They run their business like a business. They treat you like they want your action. Try calling a Las Vegas sports book--they'll put you on hold for 10 minutes. They act like they're doing you a favor. The offshore guys are all about service."

* Different odds. One of the keys to beating the bookies is getting a good "price," or odds, on your bet. Smart sports bettors shop around, looking for the best deal. If Vinny is offering the Packers as seven-point favorites and Sid has them at 6.5, players who want to take the Packers will bet with Sid, who's offering a half-point discount. Gamblers who play with offshore bookies can get a dozen or more different quotes on the game of their choice, ideally finding a bargain price. "The offshore books don't usually move their lines as quickly as the bookies in America," one professional sports gambler says. "I'm not saying you can find numbers that are outrageous, but sometimes you can find a good value."

* Large menu of bets. Ask your local bookie if he'll take your action on a European rugby match. Or a South American soccer game. Or a Japanese golf tournament. Chances are he'll only offer action on football, baseball and basketball, and the occasional fight. Offshore bookies, who cater to an international clientele, post numbers on just about anything, including elections. "The offshore bookies put up a lot of exotic bets, some strange propositions," the professional sports gambler says. "I don't know if they're good values--probably not--but if you're looking for unusual action, they'll give it to you."

Betting with offshore bookies can have its downside, particularly if you wager large sums. "I believe that 90 percent of these operations would be in trouble if every one of their clients asked for their money at the same time," says Roxy Roxborough. "A lot of these start-up operations are living on the float. One bad football month, four losing weeks in a row--and that can happen--you'll see a real shakeout." Among the other risks of offshore gambling are:

* Getting stiffed. While a telephone bettor has an assurance that his licensed offshore bookmaker won't be suddenly shut down by the government--as happens occasionally to illegal bookies--he is nevertheless faced with the very real possibility of getting ripped off. Most American bookies let their customers play on good-faith credit: you make your bet, and pay off or collect later. Offshore bookies, however, will let you bet only what you have on account. In other words, you've got to put up a lot of front money. Sending cash overseas to someone you've never seen--potentially a con man with bad intentions--clearly exposes you to fiduciary chicanery. "It's one thing to win a bet and not get paid," a serious sports bettor says. "To lose everything you put up, that's a catastrophe."

* Odds. Just as the variance in price quotes between your local bookie and one offshore can work in your favor, it can also hurt you. "If you don't shop around, if you accept whatever odds an offshore bookmaker offers, you might be getting a bad price," Roxy Roxborough says. "On the other hand, if the odds are too good, you could be looking at a going-out-of-business sale." Always call several outlets and compare.

* Uncollectible debts. Unless you're interested in flying to, say, Costa Rica to chase down a few hundred bucks, you'll have little recourse, legal or otherwise, to collect money owed to you. Whereas you can see your local bookie (or one of his runners), with an offshore office you're merely dealing with a voice on a distant telephone. Do your research well, because once you're screwed by an international bookmaker, you'll probably never collect.

When selecting an offshore bookie, look for these three attributes: quick and efficient payment, competitive odds and courteous service. "The whole key to playing with an offshore bookie is buyer beware," Roxy says. "Do your research. How long have they been in business? Have friends and colleagues reported good experiences? What's their reputation? Do they even have a reputation? Of course, this is the same common sense approach you would use buying a used car or a vacuum cleaner."

Except buying a used car or a vacuum cleaner was never this easy.

Contributing editor Michael Konik is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist.

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