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Joe Gibbs’ return really was a surprise. A 100-1 surprise.

“Shocking. Just shocking,” says oddsmaker Dan Johnson.

Johnson works for CasaBlanca Sports, an Internet gambling service that runs the Web site BetCBS.com. Shortly after Steve Spurrier’s singularly inept resignation was confirmed, the company put out a press release announcing it had set up a betting pool around the question of who would replace the ex-Gator as Redskins coach.

Gibbs made BetCBS.com’s roster of potential replacements, but just barely: He was listed at +10,000—a number based on the payoff of a $100 bet. Those who were forecast as far likelier than Gibbs to get the Skins’ job included front-runners Jim Fassel, Dennis Green, and Ray Rhodes (all +200, or 2-1), along with relative no-names like Charlie Weis and Mike Mularkey (both 4-1). Even Norv Turner (50-1) had a better chance than Gibbs of returning to D.C., according to the BetCBS.com line.

Only Spurrier himself—at 500-1—drew longer odds than Gibbs.

So anybody who put a Ben Franklin on Gibbs’ coming back to the scene of his former glories got a bounty of 10 large from BetCBS.com. Johnson says the company paid out $80,000 to cover its Gibbs bets. But don’t feel sorry for the casino: “We had a lot of money bet on Fassel and Green and Rhodes,” Johnson says. “So we did OK.”

Putting money on Steve Spurrier’s replacement, like many of the wagers that BetCBS.com offers, is illegal in the United States. But no matter the laws, a whole lot of Americans want to bet on sports. To accommodate and exploit our desires, thousands of opportunists have set up so-called offshore betting outfits all over the Third World since the Internet’s advent.

BetCBS.com is based in San Jose, Costa Rica. That country has become a particularly popular home base for the online betting boutiques. One Costa Rican newspaper report estimated that more than 120 such sports books operate there and are responsible for an annual handle of more than $4 billion, most of it from the United States.

But just because so much American money now knows its way to San Jose doesn’t mean the locals are uniformly grateful. Outside a hotel there in which an “Internet gambling summit” was being held last year, a Costa Rican labor-union official predicted that the boom in online casinos could turn his country into a “laundromat” for organized criminals from around the world.

“I don’t think Costa Ricans realize how much this country has become a form of fiscal paradise for all types of lucrative activities, both legal and illegal,” Albino Vargas, secretary general of the National Association of Public and Private Employees, told a San Jose newspaper. “Costa Rica is [hosting] businesses that, by their nature, are very susceptible to receiving illegal money, such as that of drug traffickers.”

Because the opportunities to bet are now so plentiful, the individual casinos have to devise new ways to attract the gamblers’ attention. With a few exceptions (over/under betting, for example), the heavily regulated Las Vegas sports books can offer basically only wagers on who’s going to win and by how much. But there are no such rules limiting what the Costa Rican establishments can put on the table.

BetCBS.com takes advantage of the freedoms afforded the offshore houses. Johnson says he’s in charge of setting the lines on so-called proposition bets, which include the odd wagering pools like that for Spurrier’s replacement.

The Web site has also come up with lines for whether Roger Clemens would come out of retirement (opened at 1-4 that he would stay retired); whether Maurice Clarett will play again for Ohio State; and separate pools on whether Pete Rose will be reinstated (even money on “yes”), inducted into the Hall of Fame, and managing in the Major Leagues by 2005.

In the quasi-sports category, BetCBS.com lets you bet on whether Kobe Bryant will be acquitted of rape charges. Most of the money coming in so far has been saying that Kobe’s going to get off, so the bettors on“not guilty” will have to put down $300 to win $100. (“The legal experts that we’re in touch with,” says Johnson, “told us that’s a really weak case.”) In a wholly nonsports offering, Johnson has put the Michael Jackson case in play. Jackson, in the eyes of the bookies, is going to have a much harder time than Kobe staying free: Bettors will have to bet $160 on “guilty” to win $100.

“I really work hard at finding information out about this,” says Johnson. “We don’t want to get caught off guard.”

The way he did with Gibbs’ hiring?

“Well, we had Joe Gibbs at 100-1, but at least we had him listed,” says Johnson, with a chuckle. “Nobody else was even talking about Joe Gibbs.” —Dave McKenna