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Arnold M. Knightly

Vegas casinos looking to pool resources

10 August 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada –- There is strength in numbers. Or at least there's the ability to take larger bets.

That's what a group of locals casino operators are planning to do by pooling their sports book bets so their books can handle heavier action.

South Point owner Michael Gaughan received preliminary approval Wednesday from the state Gaming Control Board to pool sports bets with the Palms, both Cannery casinos and the Rampart Casino at the JW Marriott.

The four sports books will add to Gaughan's current pool of bets from the South Point, the El Cortez, and the Casablanca and Virgin River hotel-casinos in Mesquite.

Gaughan has done something similarly in the past, when he owned Coast Casinos and their sports books were run as one big pool.

"We're just doing the same thing," Gaughan said. "It is a little tougher to do with different owners but we're going to try it for a year."

Bert Osbourne, South Point's sports book director, will set the lines for the eight properties, but each book will continue to be owned and operated by its current owners.

Pooling will allow the books to accept larger bets on all sports, but the casino operators particularly wanted to capture a larger college and pro football share when that betting season begins in earnest in September.

Palms' owner George Maloof said the move is operational to allow his customers to wager more while protecting the property from taking big losses alone.

"It just made sense," Maloof said. "We can actually book more action than we could as an independent sports book. It gives us the opportunity to take a little more risk because you're pooling your bets with other properties."

The arrangement will allow the casinos to compete more effectively against larger casino companies that run multiple books, including Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming Corp., MGM Mirage and Harrah's Entertainment.

Gaughan said pooling the bets will allow the books to take college football bets from $10,000 to $20,000, compared with the $5,000 to $10,000 range allowed last year.

The sports books will be able to accept pro football bets ranging between $15,000 to $25,000 a game.

"All we do is share the risk," Gaughan said. "They do their own promotions and advertising; they do anything they want to do."

The properties can't begin taking bets under the new system until the Nevada Gaming Commission approves the plan. The commission is to consider the proposal at its Aug. 20 meeting in Carson City.

Last year, Nevada sports books won $136.4 million on nonhorse racing event bets, with 28 percent coming from football bets and 31.9 percent coming from basketball bets, control board figures show.

Gaughan said Maloof and Bill Paulos, co-owner of Cannery Casino Resorts, decided to try the pooling plan after they talked with him about his current pooling agreement with the El Cortez and Mesquite casinos.

"I'm not sure this is going to work," Gaughan said. "It's worked for me in the past. But this is different personalities. Hopefully it works in this economy."

The pool with the El Cortez is beginning its third year and the partnerships in Mesquite are entering their second season.

"If people become unhappy, after the Super Bowl we can unwind it," Gaughan said. "We'll evaluate during the season, but nobody can get out until after the Super Bowl."