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Technology driving sports gambling industry

| Saturday, June 27, 2015, 9:30 p.m.

From animal bones ground into dice to telegraph wires to the Internet to smartphones, “gambling has always changed to keep up with technology,” said David Schwartz, director of the UNLV Center for Gaming Research.

Technology, he said, “lets people do what they want to do.”

More than ever, what people want to do is gamble, especially on sports. Estimates of illegal sports betting in the United States reach $380 billion, dwarfing the $3.9 billion bet in Nevada, the only state where sports betting is fully legal.

But legal sport betting is on the rise, too. Because of the Internet and smartphone apps, it is easier than ever to place a bet, legally through a Nevada casino or sports book and illegally on one of a few hundred offshore websites.

“Technology is a factor,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US, the American affiliate of the United Kingdom's largest bookmaker. “You have this massive illegal market that exists. Type in ‘sports betting' on Google, and you can find a way pretty quickly to make a bet illegally.”

(Seven of the first eight results of that Google search lead to a sports-betting website or a link to top such sites.)

In other words, “If you can use a mouse, you can place a wager,” Schwartz wrote in his book, “Cutting the Wire: Gaming Prohibition and the Internet.”

The same can be said for smartphones. Apps have made legal betting easier in Europe. Now Nevada casinos have their own apps that can be used anywhere within the state.

The ease of funding accounts also has facilitated the process. Lee Amaitis, president and CEO of CG Technology, a global technology solutions provider for lottery, gaming, race and sports wagering, said account-based wagering, a cashless wagering system, has replaced “the over-the-counter, cash-at-the-window business model.”

Earlier this month, Asher's company announced plans to allow customers with the William Hill app to deposit money into their betting accounts at Nevada 7-Eleven stores and retailers with the PayNearMe cash payment system.

In November, an op-ed piece in the New York Times by NBA commissioner Adam Silver calling for legalized, strictly regulated sports betting seemed to galvanize the subject and advance conversation. But Paul Bessire, who created the website predictionmachine.com that provides betting information, said that was not the primary driver.

“Everything circles back to technology and the widespread access to everything the Internet has given us,” he said.

Although those who wager illegally online rarely, if ever, are prosecuted, the security of legal betting would cause the Internet market to “explode,” Bessire said.

That would include the market for “in-running” or “in-game” betting, where wagers can be placed on various outcomes before the final score has been determined. Will there be an empty-net goal? Who will score the next touchdown or even throw the next strike?

This is a primary form of betting in Europe, done largely on apps and mainly on soccer. In the United States, the choices would be greater.

Amaitis and others believe technology would play a significant role in regulating legal sports betting, and taxing it.

“Technology helps monitor accountability,” he said. “Our technology makes it easy for us to keep track of players. Once customers sign up for an account, they give us their details. If they don't pass the system's criteria, we don't take them on as customers.

“Our technology keeps track of customers' activity and creates reports for regulators so that we comply with all state and federal laws.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BCohn_Trib.

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