It makes for a strange juxtaposition when the boss of a major offshore bookmaking outfit visits the Strip, sips coffee at a bar just a couple of lengths from the entrance to a tony Las Vegas race and sports book, and expounds on the state of his art.
Remember, offshore bookies are supposed to be the natural enemies of the Las Vegas sports betting industry -- outlaw characters from third-world islands, with few scruples but lots of bandwidth.
But there was Rob Gillespie, looking for all the world like any other buttoned-down executive, talking business and politics -- and, oh yeah, sports -- during a brief stopover in Las Vegas last week before flying back to his digs in Costa Rica.
Gillespie, the president of BoDog -- a sports book, casino, online poker parlor and all-around Internet gambling powerhouse -- cringed only a little when the subject came around to the U.S. presidential election and whether he and his offshore colleagues had a dog in that fight.
You could sense he had been through it all before. And although Gillespie is a Canadian national, the fact remains the U.S. Justice Department considers gambling on the Internet a violation of the law.
"Republican leadership will probably be a little worse for us in the short term, because they're more likely to take a more aggressive approach with the Patriot Act," Gillespie said.
In the long run, however, Democrats might cause more headaches for the offshore betting industry, he said, as they seem amenable to exploring the idea of legalizing some form of Internet gambling. A congressional bill that could have led to a commission to study the regulation of online gambling surfaced briefly last year under Democratic sponsorship.
"If they ever made it legal for these companies" -- he named the major Nevada gaming corporations, including the owner of the casino we were sitting in -- "to take bets on the Internet, that would make it really tough for the operators in places like Costa Rica to survive."
After all, he said, if you bet sports online and had the option of sending your cash to Belize or to (fill in the name your favorite Las Vegas megaresort here), which would you choose?
This year's Internet gambling market has been estimated at $7 billion in a study by BetOnSports.com, and it was projected to grow to $18.4 billion by 2010.
"As it gets bigger and bigger, it's going to be more and more difficult for the U.S. government to take the approach of saying, 'Gambling is bad,' " Gillespie said.
Buzz Daly, a local authority on both the Las Vegas and offshore sports book scenes, agreed with Gillespie's assessment.
"Once gambling is perceived as not being this horrible vice, this thing that leads you straight down the road to hell, then it could lead to an environment where there's some sort of regulation," Daly said.
"At some point, we might get a change in the composition of Congress where there are enough younger people in office, or just people who are cognizant of the economic impact of online gambling and they finally say, 'This (prohibition) is insane.' Once it becomes a fait accompli, it could evolve pretty easily from there."
Offshore bookies should be concerned with the individuals in U.S. leadership roles rather than which party holds power, Daly said.
"I've talked to a lot of guys offshore about that, and for them it's not so much a party as a person," Daly said.
"When you have a radical nutcase like (outgoing Attorney General John) Ashcroft in there, he's going to make it difficult for anyone to take the position that maybe Internet betting should be regulated, because for him it's a moral issue.
"Now (former Attorney General) Janet Reno went after the offshore books, and went after them pretty hard, but she was concerned about the economics of it. For her it was not a moral crusade."
Gillespie said that while sports betting and the Internet are perfect together, Las Vegas resorts have the edge in most other forms of gambling.
"With casino games, the whole allure is the lights flashing, the free cocktails, the pretty girls," Gillespie said. "The best part of craps is high-fiving the guy next to you. With horse racing, here (in a Las Vegas race book) you can watch eight tracks at once on big screens. You can't do that at home."
Gillespie kept a close eye on the presidential race for a more prosaic reason as well: His company took approximately $1 million in wagers on the outcome -- $600,000 on Bush and $400,000 on Kerry.
"I get the sense there was more energy and more involvement among voters in this election," Gillespie said, "and that was certainly reflected in the betting action."
By continually adjusting the odds, Gillespie said, BoDog was able to lock in a profit of about $25,000 on the election -- no matter which candidate won.
Las Vegas Sun, Nov. 10, 2004