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Taking a Gamble on Sports


In 2006, $2.43 bln was legally wagered in Nevada's sports books, less than 1% of the annual $380 bln the National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimates is spent on illegal sports betting.

A week ago, the Nevada Gaming Control Board released the statewide casino take for the month of May.

Casinos recorded their highest-ever one-month take, lightening gamblers' wallets by $1.143 bln, $2 mln more than the previous record set in January 2006.

Numbers like these make companies like Wynn Resorts (WYNN), Las Vegas Sands (LVS), and Station Casinos (STN) very happy.

In a note to investors, gaming analyst Brian McGill of Wachovia Capital Markets -a subsidiary of Wachovia Corporation (WB)- said, "While the numbers look relatively weak on the surface, after adjusting for the timing of gaming revenue collections and normalizing the hold percentage, we believe results were stronger throughout the state."

This is important because May began and ended in the middle of the week, which meant there was no carry-over in slot machine revenues, which often happens when the month ends on a weekend.

Sports books accounted for $5.8 mln of Nevada's May figures- a 478% increase from a year ago.

In 2006, $2.43 bln was legally wagered in Nevada's sports books, less than 1% of the annual $380 bln the National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimates is spent on illegal sports betting.

Opponents of sports betting fear that it threatens the integrity of amateur and professional sports, vis-a-vis attempts by people to fix games.

An article in today's New York Post highlights those fears with a sobering story.

While conducting an unrelated organized crime investigation, the FBI got wind of an NBA referee who was allegedly betting on basketball games that he was officiating during the past two seasons.

The ref, whose name is being withheld pending his arrest, was involved with "mob-connected bookies" who had him make calls that affected the point spread, guaranteeing their payouts.

Point spreads even out the market so there are equal numbers of bettors on each side of the wager. When large bets come in, one bookmaker can "lay off" his risk by buying bets from someone else.

With the help of this crooked referee, the bookies were able to set an artificial spread, encouraging large layoff bets from others carrying too much action on teams that, because of the unusually wide spread, were almost certain to lose.

Bob Delaney, another NBA ref, stands on the opposite side of the fence.

Bob Delaney

While working as a trooper for the New Jersey State Police, Delaney went undercover as "Bobby Covert" from 1975 to 1977, infiltrating the DiNorsico crime family, part of the larger Bruno family of Pennsylvania.

Angelo "The Gentle Don" Bruno

He set up a front trucking company, Alamo Transportation, as part of "Project Alpha," a joint operation between the NJSP and the FBI focused on the transportation of stolen goods, extortion, and loan-sharking.

"Covert" wasn't a bad play on words, transparently referring to Delaney's "covert" operation.

The state police searched death records in New Jersey, looking for someone who died at birth and was in the same age group. They found Robert Allan Covert, born Sept. 29, 1949-a perfect match, as Delaney was born Nov. 1, 1951.

Delaney played his role flawlessly, with one by-product being the 45 pounds he gained from late-night plates of pasta at Santa Lucia Villa in Newark and Angelina's in Bayonne.

Project Alpha resulted in 29 indictments.

Ten years later, Delaney turned in his badge and joined the NBA.

As exciting as it is to be on the floor during an NBA game, some players seem to find Delaney's past life more so.

Kobe Bryant approached Delaney on the court a few years ago and whispered in his ear:

"That mob stuff is deep. What was it like wearing a wire?"
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