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Lucky's stresses customer service

22 July 2008

Las Vegas Sun

By Liz Benson

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For many gamblers, placing a bet in a sports book doesn't have the glamour of a blackjack game or the comfort level of a whirring slot machine.

Although many big casino books long-ago evolved from a grouping of uncomfortable, cigarette-burned chairs facing wipe boards into upscale theaters with walls of shifting LED screens, they largely continue to offer the same bets with similar lines and limits. Customer service may be limited to making sure the flurry of bets that accumulate before kickoff are accurate rather than chatting up players.

For all of their high-tech bells and whistles, sports books aren't a priority for casinos because they don't make much money.

A new sports book chain, Lucky's Race and Sports Book, hopes to change that by emphasizing custom bets and friendly customer service.

Rather than going the traditional route of renting space from smaller casinos that can't afford or don't want to operate their own books, Lucky's is striking revenue-sharing agreements with bigger casinos, such as Reno's Grand Sierra resort and the Plaza in Las Vegas, that would normally operate their own books.

The strategy, executives said, is simple: If gamblers want to bet on something a bit obscure or that isn't offered on the board, Lucky's books will attempt to make a line while you wait. They will also accept winning tickets years after they have expired rather than the standard 120 days. And they pledge to do it all with a smile.

"If someone wants to bet on the Tour de France, we will put up a line within an hour," said Lucky's Chief Executive Joe Asher, who equates the strategy to a homey restaurant's whipping up up a meal that's not on the menu.

Recent gambler requests have yielded quinella bets on NASCAR and a separate line for bettors wagering more than $50.

The latest blue plate special: A bet on how many home runs A-Rod will have by Madonna's 50th birthday.

Some bookmakers are skeptical. Exotic betting lines could spell disaster, especially for a startup, they said.

"You need a lot of volume and you need a lot of players playing to make the odds viable," said John Salerno, director of Leroy's, Nevada's largest sports book operator with 61 books statewide. "If you have one guy making that prop bet it's pretty tough to (take that bet). You're really taking a gamble."

Leroy's and Cal Neva, which operates more than 20 sports books in Nevada, have long dominated the business of third-party sports book operators.

Salerno said most books already offer lines on less mainstream sports such as tennis, soccer and mixed martial arts. But he won't touch events like the Tour de France, which he believes involve too much risk.

Asher, who once worked at racetracks and handicapped horse races for a Delaware newspaper, said players will appreciate basics that are now lacking.

"I went into a major property in Las Vegas and the ticket writer did not say a single word to me throughout the transaction," he said. "I find that unacceptable. People like to do business with people they like and people who appreciate their business."

Sports book employees, who make little more than minimum wage aren't expected to engage customers the way dealers and waitresses do. Asher, who is hiring 20 bookmakers to make lines, says he's prepared for the extra expense.

"Some people just want to get their bet down and get their extra half a point. But there are a lot of people who don't want to feel like (employees) are doing you a favor by cashing your ticket," he said.

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