Sports bet terminal gets regulators’ OK

Oct 29, 2002 5:57 AM

   VirtGame, inventor of a cashless sports betting system, had a choice: Go for an 18-month license on a unanimous vote of the Nevada Gaming Commission, or try for a 24-month license and risk a 3-2 vote.

   “We’ll take the former,’’ said company president and CFO Bruce Merati.

   With that, VirtGame won approval to develop a revolutionary, multi-purpose betting terminal designed for Nevada sports books. The go-ahead came after a months-long investigation into the firm’s suitability, and questions about its financial viability.

   Part of the concern revolved around VirtGame’s foray into Internet gaming back in 1997. But the company and major investor Daniel Najor shifted gears and opted out of Net-based casino action.

   “I believe the Internet can be defeated,’’ Merati said, estimating that up to 70 percent of the gamblers using offshore betting services are U.S. citizens playing illegally.

   Turning to “closed loop,” casino-based systems, VirtGame expects to have its prepaid, cashless wagering system submitted for Nevada laboratory testing in December. With approval, Merati predicted that installation could come as early as February.

   Partnering with Coast Casinos and Las Vegas Disseminators, VirtGame said it still needs to rustle up an additional $5 million in capital in the next two weeks. And Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander warned VirtGame executives about spinning “erroneous public relations’’ in touting their product.

   Commission member Augie Gurrola asked about electronic blackjack or other games that could be added to the VirtGame system. Merati said that’s a consideration for the future, but not now.

   Three prospective VirtGame execs -- Leo George, Joseph Paravia and Scott Walker — voluntarily withdrew their applications without prejudice, clearing the way for approval of the company’s 18-month license.

   Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard praised state regulators’ work, calling it “one of the best investigations I’ve seen.’’

   The commission also heard more testimony about revised work cards. Amidst continued concerns about gaming employees’ “invasion of privacy,’’ the panel sent the matter back for more staff work. Another hearing is set for the commission’s Nov. 21 meeting in Las Vegas. Adoption of new rules allowing the use of a single, statewide card is tentatively set for Dec. 19 in Carson City. Regulators face a legislative deadline to complete their work by January.