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Welcome to Las Vegas, William Hill

June 19, 2012 3:00 AM by Micah Roberts

Welcome to Las Vegas, William Hill.

We’ve done a lot of speculating on what might happen from the time the British bookmaking giant paid $53 million in 2011 to acquire American Wagering Inc. (AWI), Brandywine Bookmaking (Lucky’s) and Club Cal-Neva. It will finally become a reality this Thursday when the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s recommendation gets approved.

More Casino Industry ArticlesThe British have arrived and the impact to Nevada, and hopefully soon the USA, should be huge. The strategy put in place to attack the market will be quite enjoyable to watch by outsiders like myself. Ask anyone in England about Hill and they’ll tell you the company doesn’t necessarily offer the best odds, but are consistent plus convenient.

That’s all most bettors can ask for out of their book.

With their purchase of the three Nevada companies, William Hill will control 55 percent of the sports betting market in Nevada through 164 locations. Quite an angle to work with and mirrors the percentage they have in England where they run over 2,300 bet shops.

While it’s sad to see three betting outlets consolidated into one, the good news is Hill brings their English pounds to America. That includes converting some of those pounds into $10 million dollars to expand and refurbish their current holdings.

The big prize at the end of the rainbow is the hope online wagering across state lines is approved in the near future. The purchase alone without that dangling carrot might have been a grind Hill probably would have never gotten into. If and/or when online comes into play, this deal will be the steal of the century because revenues will approach billions.

Until that day comes, Hill is going to have to run its Nevada operation in a very competitive market. Unlike England where there are hugely populated cities, Nevada has Las Vegas in Clark County accounting for the bulk of state revenue. The 15 other counties offer minimal contributions to the overall pie.

The Hill game plan in the immediate future will be known at the end of this week as CEO Ralph Topping meets with the media to discuss their plans.

For the last two weeks I’ve been attempting to get any information I can from the three companies involved in the deal about what lies ahead, but have been thwarted on all avenues. No one wants to say a word.

With positions being decided within the newly restructured company, it’s quite understandable no one would want to say anything. Who wants to make a bad first impression by leaking information?

The questions are what bookmakers of the three companies bought will eventually be in charge, when will the transformation take place and what is the overall Hill game plan when finally having total control?

Will an influx of British operators take control? When will the regal crest of William Hill’s flag fly at all locations? What happens to the Lucky’s bookmaking staff that includes Las Vegas legend Jimmy Vaccaro? How about one of the true Nevada mavericks with Cal-Neva’s Nick Bogdonovich?

And then you have a bookmaker like Leroy’s Bob Smith who teaches college classes on the art of bookmaking; what about him?

Multiple sources outside the company privy to information say a few of the top positions within the company will be held for a few of the up and coming British star performers. This has to have many of the directors in high positions for all three companies bought in a state of flux.

Sources have also informed us two of the companies bought will be switching to software run by AWI’s subsidiary, Computerized Bookmaking Systems (CBS), within the next three weeks. Lucky’s and Cal-Neva have been using Stadium Technologies software. They will have to switch over to the CBS system, one Hill now owns.

The massive changeover might have been hard to handle for CBS in regards to obtaining hardware in such a short time frame. However, sources say CBS was able to buy back several machines for a small fraction of the price paid from a locals chain.

The mystery of who that chain is will stay out there because every local property has switched from CBS to Stadium Technologies or developed their own in house system within the last five years.

It may take a few months, but eventually bettors across the state can expect one central William Hill line source with all 164 outlets using the same numbers. All we know for now is that Lucky’s CEO Joe Asher will run Hill’s U.S. Division as initially expected.

While it’s unfortunate that several high paying jobs may be eliminated during this entire transition, the good news is Hill brings a vibrancy to Las Vegas that could shake up the market. We have already seen what Cantor Gaming has brought to Las Vegas with their brash Wall Street nature, and it’s helped raise the bar.

Most interesting about Hill coming to America is seeing a little bit of how they cornered the market in England. We expected to see them aggressive not necessarily from an odds standpoint, but rather from convenience. They don’t have a locals book under their umbrella that yields all the high hold percentage numbers, but Hill will find a way to get one somehow.

The one golden goose might be strengthening their grip on all the local PT’s Pub locations throughout the state now offering Leroy’s betting lines through kiosks that were unveiled just prior to the 2011 football season. The ease of betting closer to home than ever before found quite a few regular players in the same fashion Hill did in England with all its bet shops.

Hill may find Nevada and the U.S. far more constricting than England, but will find a way to make it work. With Nevada the first nibble of the big USA bite, Hill is in a great position because they now book in Delaware where Brandywine has been the sports book manager for the last three years.

Delaware’s House recently passed a bill that would allow for more sports book locations throughout the state. Once the state Senate passes the bill, books will be popping up throughout Delaware’s major border highways. Delaware bettors can only bet three-team parlays or higher – no straight bets. Once New Jersey and California push their own agenda, we could see an entire swing in sports betting as we know it.

When that time comes, companies like Hill and Cantor are going to be flying high in the cash. Despite huge lease offers to run big name Las Vegas sports books, the Las Vegas companies are also waiting to see what happens. The possible future reward in sports betting is too large to give away.

Right now, there is no better prospect than being a licensed sports book in Nevada with everything that is about to occur. This is why William Hill’s top competition in England – Ladbrokes – has burst into the market with their purchase of a piece of Stadium Technologies a few months ago. With everything that is on the table in the U.S. market, something tells me Stadium Technologies won’t be the last we hear of Ladbrokes.

As for Hill, we look forward to all the positive changes to come but hope the bookmaking standard created by Lucky’s and Cal-Neva won’t be anything less than we’re accustomed to. They always offer some of the fairest and most unique wagers available in the state, making both places a must stop for the thousands in search of the best line out there.

Paddy Power!

While several bettors felt they got the shaft betting Manny Pacquiao last week, the Irish bookmaking firm of Paddy Power gained favor from their betting public by compromising their revenues for the sake of marketing. It seems at least once a year when a massively wagered upon event has a controversial ending Paddy Power balances the scale of justice in their own way.

The logic behind the refunds is brilliant. A controversial outcome like what occurred last week in Vegas creates headlines and gossip that go on for months. It’s the type of buzz no public relations office could ever think of generating.

Just say Paddy Power has a marketing expense of $3 million per year with part of that number built in for these type of extraordinary events. Let’s say that the amount wagered on Pacquiao was close to $1 million. The terrible decision and the buzz created from it was the perfect time for Paddy Power to step in and reap the benefits. These type of losses are built into their business model.

By announcing they were refunding wagers, they put the spotlight on themselves as the good guy while creating havoc for their competitors. What it also did was create brand loyalty for Paddy Power to even those who didn‘t wager on the fight.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a soccer match, rugby, snooker or boxing, if the public cries foul, Paddy Power listens and finds an angle for themselves to dive into a market filled with William Hill and Ladbrokes bettors.

My good friend Billy O’Gorman who used to work for a William Hill book in Coventry, England, three decades ago told me the story of a neighborhood bookmaker and how he always won favor with his clientele.

The bookmaker and clients would always meet at a pub on Tuesday night to settle up and on this particular day, all the favorites had won in the Premier League on the previous Saturday. The Bookmaker lost over five figures, but yet after paying out, bought all his clients a pint.

Billy asked his friend the bookmaker, “You just paid thousands to everyone in the pub, they’ve got plenty of money from Saturday’s games to buy their own. Why would you do such a thing?”

The bookmaker replied, “They’ll be back next week and I want them to know who their real friend is when they spend their money again.”

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