Has the bubble burst for off-shore sports books?

Mar 26, 2002 9:17 AM

Off-shore sports books have been getting grave reviews.

Over the past couple of months, several prominent sports books based in the Caribbean and North America have declared insolvency, leaving thousands of bettors owed millions of dollars, money they’ll likely never see again.

First it was Sports Market, then Camelot ”” supposedly two well-respected operations. Other sports books reportedly experiencing prob thousands of bettors owed millions of dollars, money they’ll likely never see again.

First it was Sports Market, then Camelot ”” supposedly two well-respected operations. Other sports books reportedly experiencing problems include All World Sports and English Sports Betting, which generated complaints from players who said their winning checks bounced.

Another operation, Timebet, has received complaints from disgruntled customers who complain that the company falsely advertises it is licensed in Antigua. The authorities in Antigua deny they’ve ever had a license.

One Las Vegas bettor, who asked for anonymity, said the actions of Sports Market, and its online site Aces Gold, was nothing short of criminal.

“I was robbed,” the bettor told GamingToday. “They got in trouble with their numbers, and nobody got paid. They declared bankruptcy, and took the money and ran.”

The sports bettor, who said his bets often ran into five figures, said the problems affecting off-shore books stem from poor, if not questionable, bookmaking skills.

“The bookmakers began posting ridiculous lines which, in effect, made them players, rather than brokers,” he said. “When you have the bookie on one side of the action, you’re headed for trouble. And that’s what happened.”

He said that the results of the Super Bowl, in which bookmakers backed the Rams and lost big when the Patriots won outright, was indicative of offshore bookies’ poor judgment. “They did the same thing with basketball, and the results were the same,” he said.

Despite the well-publicized woes of off-shore sports books, supporters of the industry have called for calm. And, in a recent commentary, one writer proclaimed there are good and bad players in any industry.

However, said a Las Vegas bookmaker, there can’t afford to be bad players in the gaming industry.

“Just like there can’t be bad players in the banking industry, or the securities industry,” the sports director said. “These are all money-driven operations, and therefore they’re subject to the integrity, or lack thereof, of its participants.”

While the integrity of off-shore sports books has been questioned in recent weeks, other critics find fault inherent in the nature of the industry.

“Basically, you have an industry that’s shrouded in secrecy,” said a former linesmaker for a Las Vegas sports book. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with. You have no idea of their assets, their resources, their accounting standards. Basically, you know absolutely nothing about these companies, except that they accept bets with a promise to pay off winners. It’s a pretty thin line on which to hinge any kind of real money.”

Indeed, the lack of regulation and accountability has and will continue to be a black mark against the industry.

In Las Vegas, the Rio hotel and casino recently won a judgment against a Costa Rican sports book for infringing on its trademarked name. But because of its location and the lack of jurisdiction, the Rio has been unable to even serve a summons.

“The sports book is virtually untouchable, so any court judgment or summons or injunction probably isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” the linesmaker said.

In the wake of their most recent problems, off-shore sports books have suggested several changes to improve their image. Some have suggested forming alliances and creating insurance-type funds that would help pay gamblers when a book fails.

There’s also speculation that some of the smaller operations will eventually be merged with the largest sports books.

But no matter what the off-shore books do, the betting public still faces the same dilemma: They must rely on the honesty and integrity of untouchable organizations that are virtually unregulated.

“There’s really no recourse when dealing with an off-shore book,” said the Las Vegas bettor. “Sports Market was even one of the off-shore books that was listed on the Don Best web site, but it was no guarantee that they would honor their commitments.”

A spokesman for Don Best said they make no guarantees ”” implied or otherwise ””about the off-shore books that are featured on its web site.