Vegas books take odds on almost anything

LAS VEGAS - From the final ''Survivor'' to who will take home an Emmy, it's a sure bet there will be a line on the outcome posted somewhere in Las Vegas.

Vegas oddsmakers are renown for handicapping events, even when it's illegal to bet on them.

One oddsmaker has narrowed down a list of Catholic cardinals in line to become the next pope. In case you're wondering, the odds are 3-1 on Camillo Ruini of Italy, according to Jackie Dell, who has been setting lines for sporting events and political races since 1952.

Dell, who predicted that Bill Clinton was a 1-3 favorite in the 1992 presidential race, has Vice President Al Gore as the 9-5 favorite come November.

Nevada law prohibits wagers on amateur sports, the outcome of any election for public office and any event involving a professional team in Nevada.

''It makes it prohibitive and pretty much limits (betting on) any event other than horse racing or wagering on sporting events,'' said Frank Streshley of the state Gaming Control Board.

But just because gamblers can't actually bet on posted odds, it doesn't make the process of coming up with them any less challenging, said Joe Lupo, race and sports book manager at the Stardust hotel-casino on the Strip.

''We don't just hang up anything on the board we would be embarrassed by,'' he said.

Lupo recently posted for the first time the odds to win for several categories of the Emmys on Sept. 10.

For example, Lupo has set the odds to win outstanding comedy series at 2-1 for ''Friends;'' 3-1 for ''Will & Grace;'' 3-1 for ''Frasier;'' 4-1 for ''Everybody Loves Raymond;'' and 6-1 for ''Sex in the City.''

Why the Emmys? Lupo said it's because for the first time this year the Stardust gave odds on the Oscars and ''everybody seems to be more familiar with T.V.''

''We're known in the industry to put up the first major odds on all major sporting events,'' he said. ''We really took a lot of pride in the Oscars. We did really well; we got five out of the six winners.''

Lupo said even though people can't bet on his Emmy odds, there has been a growing expectation over the past three years to speculate on such events through the oddsmakers. He attributes the demand to Las Vegas' growing reputation and heightened competition on the Strip from the new megaresorts.

''A lot of people that come in want to bet on it (the Emmys),'' said Lupo, who has been in the business of making odds for 12 years.

Oddsmaking on the Emmys or the ''Survivor'' television show is sheer entertainment, said John Avello, director of the race and sports books for Bally's and Paris hotel-casinos.

''I'm in the entertainment business, not only for our guests but for the entire country,'' he said. ''In true oddsmaking, when you take wagers, you try to make a book to bet so you get equal balance on all the players. I think the line I put up (on ''Survivor'') would have done that. I think Rudy (Boesch) at 4-1 would have attracted a lot of money.''

But the lines aren't always right, as any savvy gambler can attest. For example ''Survivor'' odds at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel-casino favored Susan Hawk at 2-1, while former Las Vegan Kelly Wiglesworth was second at 5-2 and the ultimate winner, Richard Hatch, came in at 3-1.

Avello, who claims to be the first one in Las Vegas to set odds on the ''Survivor'' winner, said he was inundated with media calls and appeared on the ''Today'' show, CNBC and Fox news as well as numerous radio shows.

Whenever there is a conversation about who is going to win a competition, everyone looks to the oddsmaker to see what he's thinking, Avello said. He took over the Bally's race and sports book about seven years ago.

The most unusual odds he has ever set were on the annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest held on the Fourth of July in Coney Island, N.Y.

''I know all the players,'' he said of the contest to see who can eat the most hot dogs in a minute. ''They compete in other competitions like cheeseburger-eating contests and that's how I handicap it.''

Avello likes Kazutoyo Arai of Japan, if you're willing to bite on 3-1.

Some believe oddsmaking can be dangerous. The fact that oddsmakers will create a line for nearly anything is a reflection of America's gambling binge, says the Rev. Tom Grey, an anti-gambling proponent.

''There are odds on everything,'' he said. ''And if people are willing to bet, you can guarantee that Las Vegas wants the action.''

Grey, a spokesman the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said the danger lies not in whether it's legal to establish a line on the next pope or U.S. president, but whether it is appropriate. Grey believes if there is a line, people will cast their bets outside the casinos.

''Any time money is involved, then you obviously have the possibility of a fix,'' he said. ''We have seen what betting has done to college sports. Money begins to corrupt the very things you are betting on.''


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