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February-21-2007,
Risk Versus Reward in the New Offshore Gambling Climate...By Jay Graziani

The recent shakeup of the offshore industry has left many bettors wondering where and for how long their offshore funds might be safe. The money transfer complications brought on by the exit of NETeller and other processors from the U.S. market have given slow-pay and no-pay books yet another excuse for delay or even outright theft of player funds. A diminished (and increasingly skeptical) customer base is slowing the flow of funds offshore and this, combined with increased competition among the remaining sportsbooks, is sure to exert pressure on the weaker members of the offshore industry.

With the traditionally slow season of summer right around the corner, it would not be surprising to see a number of offshore operators close shop before next football season arrives to replenish their pocketbooks. Furthermore, the threat of U.S. legal action and uncertainty about how it will affect the industry as a whole means that everyone is at risk for having funds frozen in limbo or lost permanently if any significant legal events were to transpire rapidly.

A major (and often underappreciated) facet of the offshore game over the past few years was the ability to rapidly and reliably transfer funds stored in processors like NETeller to offshore sportsbooks and vice versa. This afforded the sharp player plenty of opportunities to move quickly in and out of books to take advantage of bonus offers and favorable lines. Now that moving funds has become more of a hassle than a convenience, careful allocation of deposits among sportsbook is crucial.

Clearly the risk-reward characteristics of offshore gambling have changed dramatically in the past few months. While players are always at the risk of being "stiffed" in this mostly unregulated industry, there are a number of precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk of losing your offshore funds.

Most importantly, players should keep significant balances only in the most reliable and established offshore sportsbooks. Any of the numerous sportsbook rating sites are a good place to start. For instance, MajorWager.com's Sportsbook Reviews section has more than 300 user-submitted ratings on over 100 sportsbooks. Restricting yourself to books rated 3.5 (out of 5) or higher with at least 10 reviews gives you a quick "top 10" list (actually "top 11") of offshore operators that still cater to U.S. players. These ratings can be compared to lists available on other offshore-focused websites to give you a general idea of where a sportsbook stands on the risk spectrum.

Currently, sportsbooks that seem to be consensus choices for safety include The Greek, WSEX, and BetCRIS, along with their associated books (BetJamaica with The Greek and Matchbook with WSEX). Bodog, Carib, Cascade, 5Dimes and the VIP group are also commonly mentioned, although picky players may find issues with some or all of these books.

Before depositing at any sportsbook, players should investigate two issues. First, search a gambling forum like MajorWager.com to check for recent complaints or payment issues. While all anonymous internet postings should be taken with a grain of salt, most major issues will be publicly exposed on the forums to some degree. Recent or repeated disputes or payment delays provide a good warning sign before depositing. Second, make sure to contact a customer service representative from the sportsbook about currently available withdrawal methods. With the recent money transfer chaos, withdrawal methods are limited and vary between sportsbooks, and the sportsbook web pages often lag behind the rapid changes that are occurring. You should be asking three questions before depositing:

(1) What withdrawal methods are available? Some sportsbooks are only offering checks or book-to-book transfers, others might be limited to Western Union or Moneygram. Make sure there is a method available that suits your needs so you can be assured of being able to receive your payout when the time comes. (2) Are their any withdrawal minimums or maximums? Smaller players should be aware of minimums that may cause problems in withdrawing by their method of choice. For instance, some sportsbooks might have minimums of $2000 for book-to-book transfers, eliminating that option for smaller recreational players. Higher-limit players may be inconvenienced by being forced to make multiple withdrawal requests to obtain their entire balance. (3) Are there any withdrawal fees? For example, some sportsbooks may make the player cover Federal Express fees if they want their check to arrive faster than the 3-4 weeks for standard mail. Fees can really cut into smaller players' returns and should be considered when evaluating profit potential at a given sportsbook.

Also make sure to be wary of books that seem desperate for customers. This is often a first sign of financial trouble. Increased, persistent cold-calling or spam and excessively generous bonus offers may be early indications of a book on its last legs; in conjunction with withdrawal delays, these are definite signs to stay away.

Once you have established which books are acceptable to deposit, be sure to only send funds that will not be needed immediately. With sportsbooks sometimes taking weeks to process withdrawals, you unfortunately cannot be assured of having your deposit (along with any winnings) returned promptly. Be prepared to have your money tied up longer than expected. You also may wish to avoid bonus offers with large rollover requirements. As the environment seems to sometimes change dramatically by the day, you may want the option to close out an account quickly if conditions warrant.

Astute bettors will plan ahead to get the most bang for their buck. If, like many players, you have decreased the total amount of offshore funds, make sure to choose sportsbooks that can cater to all of your needs in order to eliminate the hassle of unnecessary transfers. If depositing for the upcoming March Madness season, you may want to consider books that will also be playable for baseball or other sports. If you wager on props, halftimes, or small-market sports, make sure you have enough "outs" to cover all your normal wagering activities.

Finally, the current environment requires increased diligence on the part of all participants. Keep abreast of current news by reading forums like MajorWager.com regularly. Maintain balances for all of your accounts at levels that are appropriate for your risk threshold to avoid taking a big hit if disaster strikes. And, most importantly, keep a cautious attitude and avoid anything that seems "too good to be true". Remember that sportsbooks are largely unregulated and can (and have) walked away with players' funds in hand. A cautious attitude, and some simple safeguards, as described here can keep that from happening to you.

02-21-07
Jay Graziani
MajorWager.com
graziani@majorwager.com



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