LAS VEGAS - Nevada gaming regulators soon will allow a desktop gambling operation to offer sports bets to state residents, but they don't see the trial project as a step toward Internet wagering.
Within the month Nevada residents will be able to legally place bets 24 hours a day on baseball games, horse races and other sports on a computer site operated by Coast Resorts Inc.
But just because gamblers can use their home PCs to put money on their favorite teams, don't confuse the sophisticated telephone betting system with Internet gambling, said Dennis Neilander, a member of the state Gaming Control Board.
''It's an extension of telephone wagering using modems and a PC,'' he said Friday.
Just as for telephone wagers, desktop sports bettors must sign up at the casino's sports book and deposit front money in exchange for a password that allows their computers to dial directly to a modem in the sportsbook using a closed-loop connection.
''In order to cash in your bet, you have to go down to the book,'' Neilander said.
While the state board approved the wagering communication technology this week, Neilander said the software will be put on a 30-day field trial before receiving the green light.
Only Nevadans are allowed to use their telephones to place sports bets with local casinos because the system is designed to block out-of-state calls according to regulators and casino operators. State law says no sports wager can be made from outside the state.
There is virtually no distinction between making a telephone bet and using a computer to call a local sportsbook, said Brian Sandoval, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission.
''It's modem to modem,'' he said. ''They are not using an Internet service provider.''
Coast Resorts Inc., which owns and operates the Suncoast, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast and Orleans hotel-casinos in Las Vegas, is the only company to offer patrons telephone betting using their home PCs.
The practice initially was approved by the state about two years ago and used briefly but unsuccessfully by another company.
''It's not online gambling, it's like a phone account,'' said Barry Lieberman, general counsel for Coast Resorts. ''It's no different than the Mirage telephone system, but we offer the convenience of betting directly from your computer.''
Virtgame.com has a contract with Coast to provide the closed-loop virtual sports-betting site. The San Diego-based Internet company's website describes its agreement with Coast as ''a landmark in the evolution of legalized online gaming. Our agreement with Coast Resorts is to develop an online sports book for Nevada residents only, in our Nevada Closed-Loop format.''
Sandoval doesn't see it as the next step toward Internet gambling.
''It's more of an evolution of telephone betting than Internet betting,'' he said. ''We're not opening the door to Internet gambling.''
Neilander agreed with Sandoval saying desktop gambling is just a method of convenience.
''There are a lot of things out there that make wagering more convenient, but they don't necessarily open the door to Internet gambling,'' he said.
Even the pending legislation in Congress that would make Internet gambling illegal includes an exception allowing telephone wagering. Federal laws already prohibit transmitting bets over state lines. Casinos risk losing their licenses if they break the law, even inadvertently.
The Virtgame system has the ability to verify that a call is coming from Nevada and no where else, Lieberman said.
''It will not accept anything from blocked caller ID and it can also detect whether call forwarding or three-way calling is being used to make sure no one can circumvent the computer,'' he said. ''We do check and we keep logs.''
Control board officials unsuccessfully attempted to crack the system before granting approval, Lieberman said. The new system, which will have a limit of $1,000 per bet, should be in place within a month.
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