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Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Herbst Gaming to cede bookmaking duties

22 August 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Herbst Gaming is turning over its Southern Nevada sports book operations to Brandywine Bookmaking.

The agreement would give Brandywine, which operates as Lucky's, control of the race and sports books at Terrible's on East Flamingo Road, Herbst's three Primm casinos and the company's two casinos in Pahrump.

Brandywine was licensed in July by Nevada gaming regulators. The company operates the race and sports books at the Plaza, at two casinos in Elko, the Grand Sierra in Reno and Casino Fandango in Carson City.

"It's about increased distribution and having the right properties in the right locations," Brandywine Chief Executive Officer Joe Asher said. "This is obviously a very big deal for us."

Gaming regulators need to approve the deal and Asher hopes to take over the operations in time for the bulk of the college and professional football seasons, which begin in earnest in September.

Brandywine sets the betting lines and handles the wagers and payouts in the race and sports books for the casino. Revenues are shared with the properties. By adding more sports books into the mix, Lucky's is able to offer expanded proposition wagers and betting contests.

Herbst Gaming has been financially strapped for the past year and has said it may have to file for bankruptcy protection unless it can reorganize a new payment structure for its nearly $1.2 billion debt. Part of the troubles have come from decreased visitation at the Primm casinos, which the company bought from MGM Mirage in April 2007 for $394 million.

High fuel costs and expanded gaming opportunities at American Indian casinos have kept Southern California customers from visiting Primm. Asher and Michael Starr, the executive vice president and general manager of the three Primm casinos, said enhancing the sports wagering operation might give customers a reason to make the drive on Interstate 15.

"Sports betting is something not available in the Native American casinos," Starr said. "What Lucky's brings to the table is a great opportunity for us."

Brandywine competes with two other established independent race and sports book operators, Leroy's and Cal Neva. Asher brought in veteran Nevada race and sports book operator Jimmy Vaccaro and Northern Nevada race and sports book executive Tony DiTommaso to oversee the bookmaking and operations side of the business.

Starr said Vaccaro plans to host a sports betting radio show from one of the Primm sports books.

Having an independent sports book operator will allow the casino to accept larger wagers and offer betting lines on different sporting events. The Buffalo Bill's Star of the Desert Arena is now sponsoring boxing events.

"Our goal is to drum up interest in the Herbst properties," Asher said. "If a customer comes in to place a sports wager, maybe there will be a spillover into other parts of the property."