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Best of Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
 

Stepping up to the bettor's box

31 January 2007

NEVADA -- Leroy's, which began its sports and racing wagering life as a small and smoky stand-alone downtown betting parlor, has gone high-tech.

Leroy's, which is now a sports book operator with more than 60 locations in casinos stretching throughout all geographic regions of Nevada, has been rolling out a wagering kiosk at which gamblers can book bets 24 hours a day.

The terminals accept wagering on all games and races in which Leroy's has posted odds. The kiosks are connected to a central server on which betting lines and odds can be updated in real time. Gamblers receive a printed ticket, as they would if a wager were placed at a book's counter with a ticket writer.

The kiosks stand in stark contrast to many of Leroy's locations around the state, where the posted odds are still handwritten on boards.

"We watch the customers work the terminals and it's really a personal learning curve," said Vic Salerno, president of American Wagering, which owns Leroy's. "The times sure have changed."

Meanwhile, the primary purpose of the kiosks, to offer sports and racing patrons an accessible way to place wagers, is growing. The kiosks are in more than half of Leroy's locations around the state, and growing. The kiosks are in the Strip properties where Leroy's manages the casino's sports book, such as the Tropicana, Riviera and Sahara. The average bettor's wager is $50.

Salerno said the kiosks allow gamblers to bypass long lines. This could be especially helpful this week as wagering on Sunday's Super Bowl intensifies. As of Tuesday, the Indianapolis Colts were a 7-point favorite over the Chicago Bears. Sports bettors were able to place money on the game or several dozen different proposition bets, such as the first player to score a touchdown and how many touchdown passes Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will toss.

"We're able to put all the up-to-the minute game information on the terminals so everything the bettor needs is easily accessible," Salerno said.

Last year's Super Bowl, won by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-10, over the Seattle Seahawks, attracted wagers of more than $94.5 million statewide, the fifth straight year there was a year-over-year increase in the sports book's handle. Analysts are predicting that Sunday's game will attract more than $100 million in wagers statewide.

Salerno likened the kiosks to the simplicity of using a bank's automated teller machine. He said the terminals also allow the books to be open 24 hours without an employee.

"We always have a (University of) Hawaii basketball or football game that starts at 10 p.m. our time and we had to keep one person in the book," Salerno said. "Now we don't have to do that. It provides bettors the convenience of placing bets at any time."

In addition, Leroy's has been able to offset the costs to produce the kiosk by selling advertising space within the terminal's betting window and on an adjacent television monitor.

With almost 25 percent of Leroy's sports and racing wagers being placed at the kiosks, advertisers are gaining a growing audience.

"For the first time, advertisers have a way of reaching inside the casino," said Bill Stearns, president of ISI Ltd., which is selling the advertising space on the kiosks, which are owned by American Wagering, the company that controls Leroy's. "Twenty-five percent of all Leroy's wagers means we would see an average of some 2 million bets a year on the kiosks. About 70 percent of the wagers are placed by men. That's an unique opportunity for advertisers."

Most of the advertising, such as spots from an automobile dealer, a residential real estate company and a beer distributor, is directed toward a male audience. In many instances, the advertising message is focused on the particular casino and pitches show reservations and restaurant specials.

"Being able to reach casino patrons on the floor is unique," Sterns said.

Advertisers can offer incentives to kiosk users, such as allowing them to print off a free coupon.

The original Leroy's closed in 1996 after a run of almost 20 years. It was the city's last stand-alone sports book when it was shuttered.

Salerno had already begun expanding the Leroy's presence across the state, stepping into small locations where casinos didn't have sports books, and larger casinos where operators wanted to hand off the wagering amenity to a vendor.

Salerno said that depending on the location, Leroy's either pays a rental fee for the space or shares in a percentage of the profits with the casino.

Shares of American Wagering, which trade on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board, rose 5 cents on Tuesday to close at $1.10.