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Arnold M. Knightly

It's game on as Bally's reopens book

28 August 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada –- Elpidio Bustira arrived early at the Bally's sports book Wednesday morning, happy to be back after a forced five-month hiatus.

The book's owner, Harrah's Entertainment, closed the book in late March to save money, sending loyal Bally's customers, such as Bustira, next door to Paris Las Vegas.

Although he liked Paris Las Vegas' sports book, Bustira missed the familiar faces and surroundings at Bally's 256-seat book. He's glad the facility is reopening in time for football season.

"It is more alive here during football season than any other sports book," said Bustira, a Bally's customer since 2003 who also bets on horse racing.

The sports book is reopening two weeks before the National Football League season kicks off on Sept. 10 so Bally's can promote the book's return, said Frank Kunovic III, special games manager for Bally's and Paris Las Vegas.

Bally's is lining up celebrity appearances by sports figures and promotions with local vendors to bring attention to the book's return.

Three longtime customers were at the book when it reopened at 8 a.m., Kunovic said, adding that some customers may not be aware that the book was ever closed.

Bally's hired back five of the nine workers laid off in March; the other four found work elsewhere or moved. Four new workers were hired.

Bally's also took the time during the closing to do some minor remodeling at the bar and a total remodeling of the VIP room overlooking the sports book.

New televisions were added in some areas, updated in others.

Although the company saved money on operations, how much was lost in revenues is hard to gauge. Harrah's Entertainment doesn't report its sports book winnings separately from casino revenues.

Clark County sports books, however, won $116.7 million on non-horse-racing event bets last year, control board figures show; 28.9 percent came from football bets and 32.8 percent came from basketball bets.

The sports book was closed for the majority of the baseball season, which accounted for 17.9 percent of 2008 sports books' winnings in Clark County.

The counters were also closed during the bulk of the horse-racing season, which generated $70.9 million in winnings last year.

Bill Zimmer, vice president and casino manager of Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, said the closing was a business decision that was right for the time.

"Keep in mind, it is an extremely slow period (for sports betting) coupled with a real tough economy," Zimmer said. "The fact that we had Paris, we were able to continue to service our guests. So from their standpoint it was not a problem."

An annual closing of the Bally's sports book during the summer will not happen, he added.

"It is not something we are planning on closing every summer," Zimmer said. "I want to make that clear."