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Sonya Padgett

Mirage sports book staff sets odds by gauging public reaction

3 September 2012

LAS VEGAS -- There's some obscure horse race showing on the big screen in The Mirage sports book.

It's a Wednesday, a slow day by sports standards, so the 30 television screens broadcast a baseball game, a sports talk show and horses.

The room is quiet and nearly empty, save for a handful of men who have commandeered comfortable leather chairs that seem more fitting for a living room than a casino. Suddenly, as the horses enter the stretch on the main screen, a guy stands up and yells. Maybe he's forgotten that he is in public but he hollers at the screen as though the horses and riders can hear him.

"Go five! Go five! Go five!" he yells.

No. 3 wins. The race fan lets out a frustrated sigh and returns to his seat.

Meanwhile, in the back of the house, it's almost library-quiet as Donie Callahan watches the same race, and a couple of others, on several small television screens. He sits behind his computer and alternates between watching the action and sending race updates to the sports book board. Next to him, Jim Sundblom watches baseball and keeps his eye on the scores. The only sound is the clicking of their keyboards.

This, says Jay Rood, the vice president of sports books for all MGM Resorts International properties, is where the magic happens: The Mirage sports book control room. With the screens, desk and computer equipment, it looks like a set straight out of the HBO show "Newsroom."

And the room serves a function similar to a television news control room, Sundblom says. It is in this room where they control what games and races the public sees in the sports book. Here, Rood also sets the odds for every event the book takes action on for a particular day.

On this recent day, Rood has NFL football on his mind. Though the official start of the season is Wednesday, he has already been planning and anticipating the action. Last season was hard for the sports book, because there were few good teams and a lot of predictability to the games, he recalls. Teams that were expected to win usually won.

This season, Rood thinks there will be more parity in the league. And that will help him with his job, which is to manage risk and limit liability.

"If we can break even, we're doing OK," he says.

Rood, who studied hospitality management at New Mexico State University, has a thing for numbers. When he was a kid growing up in New Mexico, his mother had friends who owned and raced horses. She often took Rood with her when she visited them.

He minored in math, even considered doing a double major. Little did he realize, basic math was all he would need.

Rood, 44, has worked for MGM for 18 years. He got his start in sports books after graduating from college and moving to Tahoe. One day, he went in to Caesars Tahoe to apply for a job as a change person and heard about an opening for a race and sports book writer. Where he is from, they call those people mutuel ticket cashiers.

"I said, 'I can write a good article.' I thought the job was for a writer," Rood recalls.

Despite the misunderstanding, it turned out to be a good fit for Rood.

Sports books seem to have a mystique surrounding them; people think that there's a lot of glamour to setting the line on a game, Rood says. And when he picks right, people mistakenly believe he has some unique ability to guess the winners of games. But that's not the case, at all.

"People think this indicates who we think will win," Rood says about setting the line. "But it's really about how we think the betting public will act."

Got that? While Rood knows his sports and the players involved, he is not so much concerned with who will win and who will lose a game. He concerns himself with how the public thinks and acts.

For instance, at the end of last season, the Denver Broncos were a long shot to win the next Super Bowl. Odds were 75 to 1. When quarterback Peyton Manning signed with the team, people started making that bet.

With a superstar quarterback running the offense, the public started thinking that Denver had a chance. And if the team won? Well, the payoff would be huge. So, as the action increased and more people took the bet, Rood had to adjust. On this recent Wednesday, Denver was a 7-1 favorite to win.

If that's confusing to you, think of odds like a stock in a company. Once the price is set for a stock, it increases or decreases depending on investor interest and action.