Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Las Vegas Race and Sports Book Notes: Derby Week

Derby Day A Chance For Race Books To Shine

By Micah Roberts

Derby day is a huge event in Las Vegas Race Books
This weekend’s Kentucky Derby is more than just the biggest horse racing day of the year for Las Vegas race books, it’s a showcase event. Race books around town get show everyone how polished they are from guest service, cleanliness, video presentation and amenities offered. This is their chance; their one shot to win over a new crowd that rarely visits the book, but now does so because of tradition. Derby day in the book is almost like church where we see the two busiest days being Easter and Christmas.

“The Derby is the most well known horse racing event and attracts the average guy, where as the Breeders Cup attracts most from the horse racing community,” says Cantor Gaming’s Race and Sports Director Mike Colbert, “With the Derby you get both factions making it a huge event. My parents even bet the Derby every year and they won’t make a horse bet for the rest of the year, which is kind of what we get with the Derby most of the day.“

Race books around town know the people are going to come and some offer enticing little gifts to ensure a visit to their property. Jay Kornegay at the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book will be giving away commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses with every $20 wager. Kornegay is also using the day to try and educate many of the first time bettors with hopes of making them regular bettors throughout the year.

“I like to use this opportunity, with having so many new faces attracted to horse racing for the day, to try and create more horse racing fans long term,” Kornegay explained. “Beyond just teaching them how to correctly place a wager for the Derby, I like to show them how much of an opportunity there is for getting a piece of the huge pools in all the races.

Derby day attracts them all
“Most bettors like to bet a little to win a lot, whether it’s a parlay in sports or hitting a big price in the horses. For a small amount in horse racing, you can really hit something large when playing some of the exotics. I want them to know what a pick-4 is, or how a trifecta works where they can experience some huge payouts and then, hopefully, endear them to horse racing on more days other than just the Derby.“

That kind of forward thinking by Kornegay is what is needed for not only every Nevada race book, but also for the entire Horse racing industry as the sport has kind of lost a generation to sports betting and poker. Pari-mutual handle in Nevada has been sliding the last five years, yet Derby day still holds its grip year-over-year with slight increases or flat numbers.

The art of handicapping a race is somewhat of a lost science, but hopefully all the wisdom from the likes of local handicapping legends like John Kelly, Pat McQuigan, Richie Saber, Ralph Sciroco and Dave Tuley can be extracted and bottled up for the current generation to tap into. The Palace Station and South Point are offering free handicapping seminars on Friday to not only help novices better understand horse racing, but also educate the regulars on what horse might be good plays to cash in on.

Most of the Las Vegas race books are pretty nice as is, but the angle of getting something for free is always a huge catch. Local bettors have come to expect some kind of gift for their wagers. This year the South Point is giving away food and drink vouchers with a $20 wager along with expanding their race book for the day.

The South Point already has one of the nicest race books in the city simply because it doesn’t have any conflict with those noisy sports bettors. It’s the only real stand alone race book in Las Vegas and has and old school type of feel of feel. It’s not old by any means, in fact it’s brand new, but it’s old in the sense of having that horse racing feel like so many of us know from midwest and east coast OTB parlors.

Lots of free stuff being given away 
Despite having a huge room with nine betting stations, South Point race book manager Mary Jungers is opening a brand new extension of her race book in the giant ball room upstairs just to accommodate the thousands expected to come through the door. She’ll have seven bet stations giving her a total of 16 windows that will all be open throughout the day.

Over at Station Casinos race books across the valley, bettors get the best of both worlds with free stuff, $20,000 up for grabs and watching the races in luxury. Stations has the biggest conglomerate of large race books in town with the best combined viewing experience. Have you seen those video walls? No matter where you are in the casino, you’ll be able to see the massive movie screen HD picture of the Derby.

If that’s not enticing enough, for a $20 wager, every Station book will be giving away free Derby t-shirts while supplies last. For a $2 wager, bettors also have the opportunity to get a piece the guaranteed $20,000 Twin-Quinella, a massive overlay that the Station books combine to pay for.

Bob Scucci’s chain of sports books for Coast Resorts will also be giving away official Derby t-shirts for a $20 wager while supplies last. His Orleans race book will be expanded for the day to the ball room to accommodate the crowd.

I don’t even know who I like to win, but I’ll keep a close eye on what our local experts like and try some of their strategies. What I do know is that I want some free stuff. I’ve got a collection of Derby glasses that need this years version, so a visit to the Hilton is a must. I’ll also re-gift the t-shirts I collect to family across the states who love that kind of stuff. It’s a total win-win for me and the results of the race aren’t even in yet.

How Many Race and Sports Books Will Stay With CBS?

T-3 terminal
Whenever the GCB approves William Hill to begin business in Nevada, there is likely going to be a chain reaction of changes that occur in regards to one of American Wagering’s subsidiary companies, CBS, which has agreements to operate and maintain several Nevada race and sports book betting systems.

CBS has lost quite a bit of business over the last six years after being the only show in Nevada since the early 1990’s when it was mandated by the GCB that all race and sports books have a computerized system. Vic Salerno was the brain child of the operation and pretty much saved the day for the sports books everywhere by having an approved system ready for everyone to use, of course, for a monthly fee.

As those fees for software and hardware upgrades became egregious over the years, some companies started to look for alternatives, either outside sources to get a system approved or having their in house I.T. departments get something going like Station Casinos did.

The problem now is that William Hill’s operation will essentially have access to all the data and information of every race and sports book that CBS services which covers almost half the state. Confidential information like category analysis, monthly and yearly win reports as well as a data base of player information.

There is a conflict of interest that most sports books won’t be able to swallow. When Cantor Gaming bought out Las Vegas Sports Consultants, it didn’t take long for LVSC to lose creditability within the industry because most of their clients stopped paying for the service due to Cantor’s other business of taking bets at their own sports books.

Sports Books may not feel too good about new service 
Even though LVSC still put out great lines as always, the perception was already cast. Just about every sports book chose to go with Pete Korner, an oddsmaker who just makes odds as his business for everyone equally.

The possibility for Salerno and his Leroy’s sports books to have already snooped through his competitors files existed, but Salerno’s relationship with everyone in town is golden. His reputation and integrity known by all has garnered the respect of everyone to know all the confidential files they had within the system was secure and safe.

Leroy’s sports books also weren’t considered aggressive competitors. Salerno took his little piece of the cake and never tried to bully anyone for a larger share of the market. He balanced the two businesses quite well and made them both a success without stepping on anyone‘s toes.

Many sports books specifically stayed with CBS and didn't look for alternatives just because of Salerno and the relationship they had with him.

No one really knows how William Hill‘s books will operate when they take over the Leroy’s and Cal-Neva books, but everyone knows they are well financed and it’s assumed by most that they will try to make a big splash. There is somewhat of a fear and with that fear, also comes distrust, something that was never a concern with Salerno.

My guess is that within two years most of the Nevada sports books that aren’t owned by William Hill will be operating a different system than CBS’. Some sports books have contracts that run for up to two to three years that technically binds them to CBS as their service provider, but because of the sale and William Hill’s other perceived intentions, that contract most likely will find a way to get terminated by the casino’s corporate legal teams.

Baseball Betting Notes
Angels have been very good on the road
We don’t think of home field being that much of an edge in baseball in the same manner which it is for basketball and football. For the Anaheim Angels -- I refuse to say Los Angeles -- they‘re sitting in first place with a losing record at home (6-7) while doing most of their damage on the road (10-5).

After starting the season losing three of four at Kansas City, they have gone on a road tear winning four of five at Tampa Bay on two separate visits, sweeping at Chicago, took two of three at Texas and now start a four game series at Boston.

The Boston series becomes critical for the Angels psyche because the Sox swept the Angels in Anaheim last weekend. In that series, Dan Haren took his first loss of the season, but Boston was able to avoid red hot Jared Weaver who would go on to shutout the A’s the very next day after Boston left town.

The flu-like symptoms that caused Weaver to be scratched from his Sunday start almost looks to be too convenient. Even though it’s only May, it’s not improbable to believe that Mike Scioscia wanted his best being represented on the mound to avoid what happened the last time the teams met. Because of past history between the teams facing each other often in the post season, these matchups do have some importance for the future.

The Rays also have a losing record at home (7-9) while winning regularly on the road (8-4). They have been on of my favorite teams to bet because they are sound in almost every category. Even their revamped bullpen, with no holdovers from 2010, has been as steady as one could expect from a brand new staff.

The Phillies have been good at home and away, but the other NL divisional leaders seem to like the road much better. The Cardinals have been less than stellar at Busch stadium (6-6) while pounding the ball on the road (10-6). Even though they have played four more games on the road, the Cardinals have hit 12 more home runs and have a slugging percentage .120 higher (.495 to .375). The Red Birds batting average is .52 points higher on the road.

Colorado has played the same amount of games home (7-6) and away (10-3), but their stats aren’t as telling like the Cardinals. We all think of the Rockies mashing the ball with Troy Tulowitzski and Carlos Gonzalez, but they’re the 23rd worst hitting team in baseball at a .239 clip. What has made them so good is consistent pitching, both from their starters and bullpen. Their team ERA is .47 points lower on the road and the bullpen has converted eight saves.

Indians Road Woes to Come?
Big road trip for Indians this week 
The Indians have been excellent at home (13-2) while going 6-6 on the road. Their only home losses came in their first two games of the year to the White Sox. Since then they have reeled off an amazing 13 straight home wins. The wins can be somewhat devalued because of who they did it all against, some of the worst teams in baseball during April. Teams like Baltimore, Minnesota, Kansas City and Detroit have been the teams Cleveland have swept over that run.

Two of those teams, the Royals and Twins, won their series when Cleveland got on the road. This week the Indians go west to face the two best pitching rotations in the AL, beginning Tuesday at Oakland and then Anaheim Friday.

Two of the best young pitchers in the game, Josh Tomlin (4-0) and Justin Masterson (5-0), will be ripe to bet against while on the road. Tomlin has to face Trevor Cahill (4-0) on Wednesday and Masterson goes up against Weaver (6-0) Saturday night. In two of their other games, the Indians also have to face Brett Anderson (2.95 ERA) and Dan Haren (1.23 ERA). Their only luck on the trip is that they don’t have to face Gio Gonzalez’ killer curve ball.

I would be very surprised if the Indians came back home next week with more than two wins making them a great team to bet against this week. It also wouldn’t be much of a shock if they came home empty handed, which may cause me to bet against Cleveland in every game.

For the second time in team history, the Florida Marlins hit five home runs in the same game from five different players on Sunday at Cincinnati. One of those players was Hanley Ramirez (.200 BA) who went deep for the first time this season. We don’t think of Ramirez as a home run hitter, but he has had a succession of good power years hitting 17, 29, 33, 24 and 21 coming into 2011. When thinking about how little of an impact he has made hitting out of the No. 3 hole and where the Marlins are -- nipping at the Phillies in the NL East -- it makes their accomplishments this year even a greater achievement.

The Twins put 1B Justin Morneau in the No. 3 hole Sunday and he responded with his first home run of the season. Unlike Ramirez, Morneau is a power hitter, but like Ramirez, Morneau is not hitting (.225 BA). It’s obvious that he still has lingering affects from a concussion that knocked him out of the 2010 season. Either that, or he is mysteriously experiencing a power outage like we have seen from quite a few players since the 2009 season. Hmmm, wonder what that could be.

Lots of expectations for Carl Crawford
Carl Crawford is still hitting an awful .168 for the season, but the new month began with his best day as a Red Sox player where he had the walk-off single against Seattle. For the month Crawford is now hitting. 500 and I would expect that moment Sunday to be the major turning point on his season. Boston has had several walk-off hits before, but they treated this one, because of Crawford’s slump, like they had just won the World Series. Look for Crawford to soon be elevated to the No. 2 hole and for him to start hitting like everyone knows he can. I would say .380 for month would be a very fair estimation.

As the new month dawns, I’m hopeful that my young pitchers don’t fail me. I’ll already be betting against Masterson and Tomlin this week, but my two other big winners this year have been Baltimore’s Zach Britton (5-1) and Toronto’s Kyle Drabek (2-1).

Britton got the win Sunday against the White Sox and is getting it done with just great pitching using his sinker to get easy outs. He hasn’t overwhelmed anyone yet, but it’s apparent that his team seems to play much better when he’s on the mound.

Drabek finally had the luck run out Saturday at Yankee stadium when he lasted only 2.1 innings giving up five runs in a 5-4 loss. His problem all season has been control, but he has been getting out trouble all year until Saturday when his four walks caught up with him. Because of the short outing, his ERA skyrocketed to 4.45. Nevertheless, cashing in five straight games with him to start the year was pretty nice and made up for my personal loss with him Saturday.

As for the near future for Drabek, he’ll face Phil Coke and the Tigers Friday night in Toronto. I like Drabek better at home, but I know because of the short outing Saturday that he could be gun-shy around the plate even more making him more apt to allowing runs. But the real dilemma is that Phil Coke is pitching who has been a great pitcher to bet against as his team has lost four the last five games he’s started. That might be a day-of decision depending on how the Tigers perform the next few games.


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