Getting a handle on 21st century technology at the sports book
Spending time at the race and sports books of Las Vegas is more inviting than ever. Placing a wager at Las Vegas’ books has never been more convenient. And, as any sharp will tell you, two for two ain’t bad.
Using a combination of the latest in technology, never-before-tried promotions and old-fashioned ingenuity, sports books in Las Vegas are going to great lengths, you might say widescreen lengths, to get bettors through the doors and keep them in their seats (where today they don’t even have to get up from to bet on the horses or play blackjack, in some cases). It all starts when guests first walk into the sports-book area.
“The sports book wants to have the most upgraded TV technology for that ‘wow’ factor,” said Jason McCormick, director of race and sports book operations for Station Casinos. “When you walk into our book and see 64-inch TVs or 100-inch TVs, all in high-def, that’s what makes people say, ‘This is where I want to watch the game.’”
Mainly through practice, Station has become expert in building cutting-edge sports books.
The sports book at Sunset Station in Henderson, one of the company’s older properties, recently underwent a redesign that included new seating, an upgrade from grease boards to electronic boards that use Kelley Technologies and 10 new 64-inch high-definition televisions. Station’s Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, which opened in 2006, features what McCormick refers to as the “video walls” -- three screens that total 96 feet in length by 18 feet in height powered by 18 projectors.
The same shock-and-awe blueprint will be on display at the company’s $675 million Aliante Station opening this month in North Las Vegas. As buyers of a high-definition television can attest, the latest technology doesn’t come cheap. Each of the projectors at Red Rock uses two bulbs that last about 1,000 hours and cost $500 apiece.
“I don’t think you can put a cost on having the newest technology. The guests know the difference,” McCormick said.
Promotions to get sports bettors to return again and again have historically been the domain of the weekly contest. (The top prize of Station’s Great Giveaway pro football contest is a new house.) Station upped the ante this football season when it offered “No Juice” betting, in which bettors didn’t have to pay a vigorish on college or pro football sides, on two separate days in September.
McCormick recalls minus-105 betting promotions (as opposed to the standard 10 percent juice players pay to place a bet at the book), but never before has no juice been offered. He says the promotion received a “fantastic response” and serves as a “head-count driver” to create excitement and get sports fans to the properties.
“In light of economy, we wanted to go out and do something that has never been done before,” said McCormick, who describes handles as more flat than down this year.
Nevada sports books got a little friendlier recently when the decade-long ban on cell phone use was lifted in August. McCormick called the regulation banning cell phone use in Nevada sports books as “outdated” given today’s proliferation of hand-held technology. He said Station sports books are still asking bettors to hang up when they are at the counter placing a wager.
Harrah’s “Sports Pit” took the unprecedented step of moving casino table and video games into the sports book area.
At the vast majority of Las Vegas properties, table games and the sports book are not located particularly near one another. A blackjack player with action on a televised sporting event would have to make a choice to either stay and play at the table while maybe catching glimpses of the game at a distant television screen across the casino or be dealt out and sit at the sports book or bar to watch the wagered-on game.
At Harrah’s Sports Pit, players can sit and play blackjack while watching the game on television screens built into every table or on one of the 38 42-inch HD plasma screens and two 100-inch-wide projector screens in the area. The Sports Pit has 45 seats and includes blackjack tables, craps, an LCD Keno board and video poker stations. It’s a modern multi-tasking of wagering.
“The combination of a race and sports book and a gaming pit allows players to be in action while in action,” Harrah's President Don Marrandino said at the opening.
When compared to advancements made with Internet sports betting seen in the recent past, changes at the sports book might seem modest. Yet, operators and technology providers are determined to make the on-property or remote betting experience as exciting as legislation will allow.
Current and yet-to-be-introduced (and approved) technology is adding automation to the mix. When Station redesigned the Sunset property’s sports book, it added 18 individual player terminals from which horseplayers can bet from their seat if they have an account. Instead of writing down superfecta box wagers and waiting in line, players can bet at their own pace from the IPT machines, which are supplied by the Las Vegas Dissemination Company.
“I think that some people are getting used to the technology,” McCormick said.
“With horse racing you’ve got those guys who refuse to use any new technology, who like their racing forms, putting that cash across the counter and dealing with the teller, which is great, but we also offer this option.”
At its Gold Rush property, Station Casino installed a new touch-screen system in August that allows sports bettors who hold an account to place bets at the terminals instead of going to the window. Both the new sports-betting station and the IPT machines for horseplayers require a player to open a Sports Connection account with Station Casinos.
Station’s Sports Connection accounts were introduced nearly a decade ago to be used to place bets remotely or off-property. The accounts must be used within the state and wagers can be placed over the phone or through an intranet interface. McCormick said that Station is hoping to enhance its remote-betting options in the near future by offering in-state sport betting over the Internet.
“Obviously, there are some gaming control board hurdles to get through but the idea would be that it would be available on the Internet, and users would have an account number and password and get into it from a licensed Nevada book.”
Cantor is currently field testing its eDeck mobile gaming device at The Venetian in Las Vegas. “All indications are positive and we’re hoping to get in front of the board [in September],” said Cantor Gaming’s Marketing Director John Buyachek.
This summer Cantor also announced an agreement with the M Resort Spa and Casino property. While still subject to approval, the deal calls for Cantor to be the exclusive provider of mobile gaming services and will operate the race and sports book at M Resort, which is scheduled for completion next spring at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip. For the time being, Cantor’s mobile gaming is awaiting approval to offer casino-style games such as slots, blackjack, roulette, baccarat and poker, within the casino property but away from the casino floor.
Guests at the M Resort will be able to play on hand-held devices in designated areas throughout the resort and will be able to bet in “unique ways” in the resort’s race and sports book.
Cantor Gaming currently provides the technology that allows for spread betting and in-game wagering in the U.K., the latter Buyachek says has “taken off like a rocket.”
He cites the in-game handle of the men’s tennis finals at Wimbledon during the past two year, both five-set matches. In 2007 the amount wager after the first serve was 30 million pounds while this year it was 42 million pounds.
In-game betting, sometimes called intra-game or real-time betting, has some history in Las Vegas as Progressive Gaming's Rapid Bet Live technology was used briefly at the Palms a few years back, but the format has yet to become mainstream. With in-game betting, dozens of wagers can be offered after the start of the event as bettors use a touch-screen computer monitor or mobile device within the sports book to wager on props such as which team will make the next three-pointer during an NBA playoff game or what will happen during the next at bat of the World Series.
Buyachek said that it is too early to speculate on technology that has not been approved in Nevada, but did say that technology is constantly evolving and his company’s eDeck mobile gaming device is already set to be upgraded.
“There [are] a lot of advances happening and will continue to happen in the coming years,” he said. ”What it will be exactly, we don’t quite know as yet.”