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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Casinos and Football: The Power of Pigskin

2 September 2003

It's game time.

It's first and 10. Time for sports books to get busy and coffers to get full. Locals casino operators are ready for some football, and, the bosses say, so are Las Vegans.

After teasing football fanatics with preseason pro games and a few dozen college games the past two Saturdays, the National Football League kicks off its regular season Thursday night.

Next weekend, both the college and NFL slates will be full, and executives for the biggest Las Vegas locals casino operators eagerly await the action.

Football games are vital attractions that lure Las Vegans to the dozens of casinos sprinkled around the valley, locals bosses said.

It's a given that locals casino sports books make most of their revenue during football season, tapping the public's readiness to bet on games and to play ultraprofitable -- for the books -- parlay cards.

But football is much more than a sports book revenue driver; it's a key factor in getting Las Vegans back into the habit of regularly visiting locals casinos, the bosses said.

"Football re-energizes the properties after the (citywide) summer lull," Station Chief Operating Officer Steve Cavallaro said. "Locals are back from vacation, and our football contests are in full swing."

Casino action heats up earlier on Saturday and Sunday mornings during football season, as East Coast games draw early crowds to sports books, locals operators agree.

"Our business picks up noticeably when football season starts, in the sports book and on the casino floor," Station Casinos Chief Financial Officer Glenn Christenson said recently.

Many Station Casinos properties and Sam's Town have installed flat-panel television monitors around their table game pits, improvements operators say moves the excitement of the book to the pit.

Customers can keep tabs on games they're interested in while still playing blackjack or shooting craps, execs say.

Icahn Gaming spokesman Mike Gilmartin said football is vital to the two Arizona Charlie's properties.

"Football has become such a huge part of the year," Gilmartin said. "It's become part of the culture. Casinos and football just go together, especially here in Las Vegas. You can root for your team, bet on the game and watch four or five (or more) different games at the same time."

Gaughan and Cavallaro said their properties add some staff to the end of their weekend graveyard shifts during football season.

All of the big locals operators offer either paid-entry or free football contests, enticing players to visit at least once per week to submit their picks in exchange for a chance at cash prizes.

With a 17-week NFL season, plus a few weeks of NFL playoffs and college bowl games, football season takes up almost 40 percent of the year's weekends.

"Football is the only sport where the sports books make money," Coast Casinos Chairman Michael Gaughan. "Everybody bets football."

Gaughan said he tells his managers that a sports book is supposed to accomplish three things.

"Bring in (new) people, service existing customers and make some money," Gaughan said. "The only sport that really accomplishes that is football."

Station Casinos sports book honcho Art Manteris said his company's books make money on other sports, but football's the unquestioned king.

"Football is about 40 percent of our handle over the year," he estimated, noting that gridiron games provide more than 40 percent of the books' profit. "The sports book has to be an excitement center. It must offer a competitive product, clean and comfortable, and complement the casino. Bottom line, race and sports players go where they're treated best."

Gaughan said: "Football's just more exciting. It's kind of like the excitement of the start of the NCAA (men's basketball) tournament every weekend."

The state's 159 sports books reported a 33.3 percent increase in the amount won from football bettors during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Football bettors dropped $51.5 million of the total $124.4 million won on all sports. Basketball bettors lost $33.7 million, up 12.2 percent, while baseball wagerers lost $12.2 million, down 16 percent.

Casinos' most lucrative sports betting segment, parlay cards, won $23 million from gamblers, up 20.1 percent. Almost all parlay card bets are made on football games.

"Football is perfect for the masses, for a lot of reasons" Manteris said. "Baseball is complicated, with money-line betting. Football point spreads are easier for the masses to understand. Football appeals to people from all walks of life."

"Everybody bets the NFL," Gaughan said.