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March 28, 2023

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Sports books get OK to take bets on nonsporting events

For years, Johnny Avello has drawn the attention of Hollywood and moviegoers worldwide by posting odds on who will win the Academy Awards.

Avello, executive director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore and an avid movie buff, says the smart money this year is on “The Social Network” to win Best Picture, Colin Firth for his portrayal in “The King’s Speech” for Best Actor and Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” for Best Actress.

It’s all in fun, of course, because you can’t legally bet on things like the Academy Awards.

Until last week.

The Nevada Gaming Commission unanimously approved amendments to gaming regulations that allow the state’s sports books to take action on events other than sports.

The question now is whether sports books will jump through the hoops necessary to allow bettors to wager on events such as presidential elections, on who will be the next “American Idol” and, yes, on who will be presented Oscars.

The big rub for the casinos is the new regulations require sports book operators to prove that wagering is fair to the betting public.

Specifically, the regulation requires information or documentation that “the event could be effectively supervised, would be verifiable, the outcome would be generated by a reliable and independent process and that the outcome would not be affected by any wager placed.”

In other words, they have to prove that nobody can cheat.

Now, it’s up to the books to determine whether to post odds for a nonsports event, especially because betting limits probably would be low for something like the Academy Awards. There may be little demand for some events, but every piece of new wagering action can help a sports book’s bottom line.

Regulators don’t know how much money the revised regulations could mean to Nevada race and sports book handles, but they figure any increase would be welcome.

“It’s hard to say whether I’d want to pursue Academy Award bets,” said Avello, whose Oscar favorites have hit more often than not. “If it’s an easy slam dunk, I’d be OK with it. But if it would be a long, drawn-out process, it may not be worth it.”

The potential for more revenue prompted the commission to approve the new regulations, and one of Avello’s colleagues is optimistic.

“I think it could be a great opportunity for us,” said Jay Kornegay, director of the Las Vegas Hilton Superbook. “By accepting nontraditional wagers, we could compete with some of the offshore books that offer these things.”

While betting on the Academy Awards may not be something sports books are attracted to, other wagers that hadn’t been allowed are more likely to be featured on sports book betting line boards. The most likely event: Caesars Entertainment’s World Series of Poker.

Requests by some casinos to take bets on the industry’s largest poker event helped drive the approval of the new regulations.

Mark Lipparelli, chairman of the state Gaming Control Board, said efforts to modify regulations began about two years ago when a group of horse-racing enthusiasts approached the board with proposed changes to racing regulations.

At about the same time, other groups sought changes to enable betting on tournaments involving billiards, darts and bowling.

“The whole notion was that there was limiting language in the regulations that some could interpret as prohibiting wagering,” Lipparelli said. “People were saying, ‘Darts are not a sporting event, so darts aren’t allowed,’ and then a group would line up and say darts should be eligible.”

The ultimate is-it-a-game-of-chance-or-is-it-a-game-of-skill? question rises in the treatment of poker. Because most experts agree the answer lies somewhere in the middle, the state needed language in its regulations to allow wagering on poker tournaments.

The debate eventually morphed into a discussion of permitting wagering on other events beyond sports, but requiring the industry to prove that any wagering would be aboveboard.

Betting on nonsporting events is nothing new to residents of Great Britain, where sports books take action on what color the queen’s dress will be at a state function and on how long a celebrity marriage will last.

“The Brits kind of laugh at us for not taking some of these types of bets,” Lipparelli said. “But we’ve always been a little more conservative when it comes to competitions that involve voting or judging.

“They feel quite proud of building highly sophisticated risk groups,” he said. “They have mathematicians who look at volumes and volumes of algorithms and history to come up with their betting lines.”

So what can Nevada gamblers look forward to betting on?

As a regulator, Lipparelli can’t say yes or no to hypotheticals, adding that it’s his job to protect both the betting patron and the industry in the state.

As for the Academy Awards, Avello thinks it’s possible to convince regulators that wagers should be allowed because more than 5,000 people vote in the competition. The novelty of betting on the outcome could attract some action. He speculated that there would be low limits on betting and that wagering could be cut off well before all the voting is completed on the presentations.

The Golden Globes, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t interest sports books because there are fewer than 100 votes cast and a greater chance for collusion.

Kornegay thinks betting on the presidential election would be a big hit -- although a state law prohibiting bets on elections would have to be repealed for that to happen.

“As close as the last race was, I could see a lot of interest in something like that,” he said.

Avello disagrees, saying some things just shouldn’t be bet on.

So what are the odds that sports books will take action on the next presidential vote?

It’s hard to tell, but it’s possible now in this state to place a bet on it.

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