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Mega Sports

An exciting new type of parimutuel Sports Betting Is fast Becoming The World's Biggest Office Pool
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 1)

Inspired by horse racing, MegaSports allows gamblers to make win, place and show bets, as well as the entire array of exotic combination bets you'll find at the track. Thus, an Indy car follower could wager that Michael Andretti and Paul Tracy will finish 1-2 in the U.S. 500, or place a show bet that Al Unser Jr. will finish no worse than third. That same gambler might also fancy tennis; with MegaSports he could make a quinella bet (predicting the top two finishers regardless of order) that Martina Hingis and Monica Seles will meet each other in the Wimbledon finals. MegaSports offers almost every type of wager on almost every form of sports.

Salerno says that future pools will include Formula One auto racing, soccer and perhaps even professional bowling. "Our wet dream is to develop a worldwide soccer pool, where you've got bettors in South America supporting Argentina, the Europeans backing Germany and the Asians betting South Korea. With a pool potentially that large, the house commission would be small and the fluctuation in odds very minimal." At present, MegaSports is opening betting outlets around the world, ranging from Chile to Italy to South Africa. "By the year 2001," Salerno predicts, "we'll be installed on every continent, linking up international bettors with our players back home."

As at the horse track, the odds of each MegaSports bet are calculated by the ratio between the money wagered on a particular team or contestant and the total amount wagered in the pool. So, similar to what happens at the racetrack, the odds constantly fluctuate based on the betting action. If every sharpie in Vegas is betting that Michael Jordan will score the most points in the NBA on a given night, you can be sure his odds will be very low; conversely, the odds on a lightly bet "horse," like, say, Gary Payton, will be huge.

And as with horse racing, MegaSports sets an early "morning line," suggesting preliminary odds for every contest. (These odds are provided by Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the line-making company run by Roxy Roxborough, a partner in MegaSports and himself an inveterate horse player.) What makes MegaSports parimutuel is that gamblers, not the casinos, determine the final odds of any proposition. In Vegas sports books, Tiger Woods opened at 5 to 1 to win the PGA Championship. Since every hacker in Vegas backed young Eldrick, his odds plummeted to 3 to 1--and nobody else's went up. On the other hand, at MegaSports outlets he went off at 7 to 1. Meanwhile, as money comes in on Woods, the price on Nick Faldo, which opened at 12 to 1, rose to 20 to 1. At the British Open, in fact, Justin Leonard, the eventual champion, went off at most Vegas sports books at around 40 to 1. MegaSports paid 121 to 1.

The casinos love this system because, like a race track, they are guaranteed a profit. The house takes its cut--ranging from 3 to 20 percent, depending on the size of the field--and then pays the winners from the remaining money. With MegaSports, sports betting is now like a typical Vegas poker game: gamblers are betting against each other; winners are paid with the losers' money, minus the house's commission. Proponents of the MegaSports concept say that sharp sports bettors will always be able to outwit the average gambler, including the action junkies, weekend tourists and recreational bettors that make up most of the current market. Critics say MegaSports is a lousy bet. "How can you beat a game with a 15 or 20 percent takeout?" complains one Las Vegas-based professional sports bettor. "I don't think anybody who knows anything about this business wants to have anything to do with that kind of percentage. It's criminal."

Other seasoned gamblers disagree. They say, yes, the house commission is high. But so is the one at the horse track--yet expert gamblers beat the ponies year in and year out. "I think you'll find professional sports bettors picking their spots carefully," one well-known Vegas gambler says. "Since MegaSports is going to attract a lot of novices, a lot of people who are going to make bets solely because they're fun and different, guys like me will occasionally discover some ridiculously profitable opportunities."

Vic Salerno says, "This is a virtual paradise for the wiseguy. Every day there are bets with such huge overlays, the smart guys are going to do very well. Plus, with our fluctuating odds played against some of the set odds at traditional sports books, you'll find numerous arbitrage opportunities."

Thus far, MegaSports outlets can be found at most sports books around Nevada. But plans are to expand the network internationally in 1998. The potential for astronomically large betting pools has both bookmakers and wiseguys drooling on their stat sheets. Imagine an event like the Ryder Cup, where golf fans from America and Europe are fixated on the exploits of their countrymen. MegaSports could conceivably offer matchup propositions--Phil Mickelson vs. Colin Montgomerie; Tom Lehman vs. Jose Maria Olazabal; Mark O'Meara and Tiger Woods vs. Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo--as well as odds on the final outcome. Anyone who could correctly choose the winners in all 24 matches would win a pot that surely would be in the million-plus range.

"The possibilities are truly endless," Salerno gushes.

What's particularly intriguing about MegaSports is the system's potential to become certified in the 43 American states that prohibit sports betting but allow parimutuel betting. The lawyers will have a terrific time deciding that one--just as gamblers, no doubt, will have an even better time trying to make their fantasy football team into a profitable investment.

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