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House of Cards The biggest betting day of the year - Super Bowl Sunday - has come and gone, and the numbers are in. Legal wagers in the State of Nevada totaled $93.1m, down slightly from last year's figure of $94.5m.

The Super Bowl is the holy of holies for sports books, and the real money was pulled in by the online and back alley bookie crowd. Overall wagering was estimated at $8bn this year, up from between $6-7bn last year, which leaves an illicit windfall of just over $7.9bn in the pockets of those in the unregulated part of the business.

The local bookie looks like the big winner in this year's event - and even those guys have migrated online, if anecdotal evidence in the Wall Street Journal is to be believed.

"The likely impact is that people who previously wagered on legal, regulated sites ... will now call a local bookie or bet on an unregulated site," as Alan Feldman, a spokesman for casino giant MGM Mirage, noted.

Take that, Department of Justice.

Antes up, panties down

Paddypowerpoker.com decided it was time to repair those relationships shattered by the male instinct to gamble himself into oblivion. Variable reinforcement - the brainwashing technique beloved of animal trainers and casino operators alike - has sundered many a relationship, and these guys decided to throw a lifeline to those still hanging on.

In the week leading up to Valentine's Day they offered their "antes up, panties down" promotion, a daily freeroll poker tournament in which a $200 lingerie gift certificate was up for grabs.

Whether or not the "win her knickers" concept will succeed depends on whether the lady in question resents the days obsessively spent playing poker in the run up to Valentine's Day more than she appreciates the gift of knickers on the day itself.

This appears to be a sucker's bet, but we give them credit for trying.

Going Dutch

The Dutch government last week announced a three-year licensing deal with Cryptologic, the leading software provider to the online gaming market, to provide online gaming services to the Dutch market.

The deal does nothing to eliminate the government monopoly on gaming services, and in fact entrenches it by marketing an online version of the government- owned Holland Casino. Whether or not this will play with the European Commission is another question entirely.

The Dutch government is only two years removed from a lawsuit against British provider Ladbrokes, which has since been banned from marketing itself in the Netherlands. Ladbrokes never had a license to operate in the Netherlands, and Dutch Lotto sued the company successfully on those grounds.

Just how the Dutch government plans to offer online gaming services without opening its market to foreign competitors remains to be seen. It should provide ample ammunition to those seeking more transparent, competitive markets.

It's official...Macau overtakes the Strip

The official 2006 numbers are in, and the former Portuguese colony has beaten out the Strip in Las Vegas in overall gaming revenue.

The 23 casinos in Macau posted $6.87bn in revenue last year, compared with $6.69bn put up by the 39 casinos on Vegas’ legendary Strip. No surprise there, and it underscores the importance of Asia to the future of the gaming industry.

Of course, those numbers still pale in comparison to the estimated $240bn the Japanese pump into pachinko machines annually.

Bonkers for bingo

For whatever reason, gambling by playing bingo has been associated more with old ladies and church charities than with traditional casinos, which are peopled in the popular imagination by hordes of degenerate gambling zombies.

Whether or not bingo should be treated differently than poker is debatable, but according to Pressbot.org, the phenomenal growth in online bingo has as much to do with keeping seniors mentally healthy as it does with the excitement of winning cold, hard cash. For those who have played this ancient Roman game in a smoke – filled room full of overweight octogenarians this might come as a surprise, but they do have some empirical evidence on their side.

Best-online-bingo.com recently completed a study of 1000 online bingo players, and found that players do play as much for fun as for money. To buttress their case, bingo enthusiasts cite the work of Julie Winstone, of the Centre for Visual Cognition at Southampton University’s Psychology Department, who conducted a study of bingo in 2002. Her study revealed that the game of bingo can advance the speed and precision of short-term memory and delay the mental decay associated with aging.

Primarily due to the time constraints of the game, those who play bingo regularly show higher concentration abilities and a higher level of short-term memory than individuals that complete crosswords or play backgammon, chess and bridge.

PartyGaming parties on

Despite bailing on the US market last October after the passage of the UIGEA, Gibraltar – based PartyGaming PLC announced that its online division expects to post a profit of $140m for fiscal year 2006.

Paradise Poker gets bossed around

At the other end of the spectrum, Sportingbet.com has abandoned its proprietary software used in its Paradise Poker room for the more profitable Boss Media platform. Once the largest online poker lounge around, its player numbers never recovered from the pullout from the American market.

Liquidity is the name of the game for poker rooms, and merging its platforms should provide increased liquidity for players. Sportingbet PLC will have to eat about $110m worth of software to do it, but they obviously feel it’s worth it in the long run.

'Not a chance in hell'

Those were the words of American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf, when asked by the Las Vegas Sun last week about the odds of getting poker classed by Congress as a game of skill, rather than one of chance. Such a classification would exempt poker from the purview of the UIGEA, and has been seen by some players as the first step toward a rationalization of American gaming laws.

Poker tournaments have become wildly popular on television in the US, and it does seem strange that American players aren’t allowed to play online. Fahrenkopf sees more hope for progress at the state level than at the federal, though it’s hard to see the feds ceding their jurisdictional ambitions on this issue to the states. That would be the legislative equivalent of pulling a straight flush. ®

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