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August 29, 2016

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Bookmakers: Sports betting should be no setback in bringing Raiders to Las Vegas

Sports books would expect to take wagers on potential local NFL team

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Pat Sullivan / AP

Oakland Raiders fans Griz Jones, left, and Ray Perez make their case for keeping the NFL football team in Oakland outside the hotel where NFL owners are meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, in Houston to discuss possible relocation to Los Angeles.

Reports will continue to cite sports betting as a chief issue standing in the way of a potential Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas.

Those involved in the sports betting industry don’t view legalized gambling as a factor in the equation at all, however, and don’t think the league should either.

“We’re biased because we live here and we know how much it’s regulated, but hopefully we’re on the precipice of change from the hockey team to (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver’s editorial,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, a veteran bookmaker at South Point. “It would be hard for the NFL to defend when people can walk 100 yards to bet at William Hill or Paddy Power when they play in London. They do it in another country. How can they not do it in our country?”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has positioned himself as a longtime detractor of gambling. But Vaccaro believes Goodell may lighten his view if Raiders owner Mark Davis is smitten with the plans of Las Vegas Sands to build a $1 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium on UNLV-owned land across from the school’s campus.

Among reasons for Vaccaro’s optimism are pressure from other owners and a progression of knowledge on the gambling industry.

Johnny Avello, executive director of Wynn Las Vegas sports book, remembers decades ago when the prevailing thought from professional leagues was that any potential local team would not be available for wagering. But he’s not sure that’s the case anymore, not even with the NFL.

“We don’t know what the stance is from the NFL or the commissioner,” Avello said. “But now we’ve been booking for years with the UNLV basketball team. We’ve done the NBA Summer League. We’ve done NCAA, preseason games and all of that. You can just look at the history here and see it’s not unusual.”

The NFL could conceivably petition the Nevada Gaming Control Board to disallow betting on the local team. But it would have to expect a fight from the casinos, a fight that might be tipped in the house’s favor.

“I understand there could be a lot of hurdles,” Vaccaro said, “But I believe the hurdles would be overcome.”

Gambling has hardly gotten mentioned in regards to the rumored NHL expansion team, partly because the sport drives such minuscule action at betting windows. Any abnormally large wager would automatically alert bookmakers and make them suspicious.

Vaccaro estimated an average hockey game attracted a maximum 1/100th of the betting volume of an average football game. So would the excess handle make a local team in the state’s most bet-on sport more difficult to monitor?

Bookmakers categorically deny the possibility, stressing that they’re as invested in the integrity of the game as the league themselves with the liability of losing millions of dollars.

“It’s still just gambling,” Avello said. “We have an endless track record, and a good track record.”

The perception might be that sports books’ business would boom with an NFL team based in Las Vegas, but officials aren’t so sure. The NFL is already so popular to bet on that the team wouldn’t significantly boost handle.

“Let’s say we take $100,000 on a game,” Vaccaro said. “We’re not going to now take $500,000 because the game is three miles away. It will have an effect, but not as much as you might think.”

Avello projected a moderate increase on games in Las Vegas, but not enough that he would have to adjust the line to account for a bias on the home team.

“My only fear is I won’t have anyone to work with me on Sunday because half of my staff are Raiders fans,” Avello laughed.

Off the top of his head, Avello set the odds on the Raiders actually relocating to Las Vegas at 20-to-1. Vaccaro felt the chances were stronger, imaginarily installing his price at 3-to-1 with his justification being the power of Las Vegas Sands Corp. owner Sheldon Adelson and the desire of UNLV to house its football team at the stadium.

He even joked that he was ready to post a point spread on the Raiders’ first home game against the rival Chargers — Las Vegas minus-1.5.

“Open for business, and why not,” Vaccaro said. “I think it’s going to happen. I don’t think the betting is as big of an issue as some think.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or case.keefer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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