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January 29, 2015

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Romney $10,000 challenge to Perry would have been ‘routine’ in Las Vegas sportsbook

Sports bettor: Such ‘crazy bets’ designed to size up an opponent

Jay Kornegay has witnessed the behavior countless times during his tenure as a Las Vegas gaming executive — one guy calling out another with a sizable financial bluff.

The depth of the offer varies from bettor to bettor. It could be for $20, could be for $20,000. No matter, everyone has a threshold that tests the depth of a personal commitment.

So Kornegay, the Las Vegas Hilton’s vice president for race and sports book operations, wasn’t particularly fazed when he heard Mitt Romney challenge Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet during Saturday’s Republican presidential debate in Iowa.

“I’ll tell you what: 10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet?” Romney said, sounding like an out-of-town bettor with some money to lay out. Perry hesitated and smiled, only to decline the offer.

Never mind the theological implications of a devout Mormon offering some Vegas-style action to a Southern Baptist. The wager spoke more to the depth of the former Massachusetts governor’s bank book than an affinity toward betting, Kornegay observed.

“It’s like when you make an offer to someone that you know they’re not going to accept,” Kornegay said. “I guess you’re calling out the other guy.”

Depending upon your source of political analysis, Romney was either deeply insensitive in making the offer amid the nation’s worst economic climate in 70 years or Perry missed a prime opportunity to score one for the little guy by responding indignantly on behalf of those who lack $100, let alone 10-grand, for a throwaway bet.

No matter your take, this much is certain: Southern Nevada sportsbooks routinely handle $10,000 bets, a threshold that is considered a major yardstick of a bettor’s prowess, wisdom and skillset.

Sports bettor Steve Fezzik, who reportedly has wagered as much as $60,000 a day on sports events and is a two-time winner of the Las Vegas Hilton Handicapping Contest, says he understands the Romney offer. It’s reminiscent of what big-time poker players called “crazy bets,” throwaways that give competitors a chance to size up each other.

“There’s an excellent time to do it and a time not to,” Fezzik said.

So which was this?

“It’s not like poker players trying to relate to each other,” Fezzik observed. “He’s trying to relate to the common man. Saying, ‘I’ll bet $10,000,’ sends the wrong message to someone who’s struggling to pay a mortgage, hold onto a home or keep a job.”

While the size of the wager may have been impolitic, it would not have been unusual for the typical Las Vegas sports book on a college football Saturday, when MGM Resorts’ sports book typically accept five-figure bets between 25 and 50 times. A big fight weekend draws hundreds of similarly sized wagers.

“It’s not that rare, for sure,” said Jay Rood, the company’s vice president for race and sports book operations.

One other thing to consider. Federal law requires that winners of individual bets exceeding $10,000 file the appropriate paperwork with the federal government. The requirement is a piece of the post-9/11 Patriot Act and was designed to prevent money laundering through the nation’s casinos.

If Perry had taken the wager and won, he would have been required to file paperwork with the bureaucracy he routinely rails against.

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