A busy time in Laughlin

Away from what would normally be the hustle and bustle of a football weekend on the Las Vegas Strip, Norm Arnett enjoys a somewhat serene existence.

Arnett, the race and sportsbook manager at the Golden Nugget in Laughlin, has kept his place humming, even during a pandemic. Of course, his clientele is mostly from the area, which includes Bullhead City across the Colorado River in Arizona.

“It’s a little more low-key here than in Vegas,” he said. “We’re the only independent book on the river. We can offer a better price than the other places and the fact we’re different makes it attractive. Plus, we’re one of the few places that offers the NFL package.”

The sister property to the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas seats 50 people. Arnett, who hails from Lincoln, Neb., and spent years overseeing a Keno parlor in his home state, has been on the job at the Golden Nugget since 2016.

“It was a big learning curve,” he said after being hired by Tony Miller. “But I feel I was born for this job. I’m a sports nut.”

The 49-year-old Arnett is a huge Boston Red Sox fan. He has lived to see his team win four World Series titles and he made the pilgrimage to Fenway Park in 2012 after winning a fan contest.

“I went on Opening Day,” he said. Walking down Yawkey Way. Seeing the Green Monster up close. It was so surreal.”

While the Red Sox are going through a down period, Arnett is enjoying the recent success of the Kansas City Chiefs. Normally, he would head back to the Midwest and attend a football game in person as part of an annual visit. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has prevented him from making the journey this year.

“That’s what I really miss, seeing a football game in person,” he said. “I try and go to a Chiefs game or a Huskers (University of Nebraska) game around my birthday (Oct. 5) every year. Hopefully, next year.”

With each passing week, things appear to be picking up in sportsbooks around the state and Laughlin is no exception. Arnett is seeing more traffic at the Golden Nugget and the handle is growing.

“Having football is huge,” he said. “We’re getting the locals in as well as people driving over from Phoenix and Bullhead (City). We’re definitely busy.”

Arnett is not only representing his property in Gaming Today’s Bookies Battle contest sponsored by Station Casinos, he’s the lone bookie from Laughlin participating.

“A lot of my customers are following how I’m doing,” said Arnett, who is 40-35 through the first five weeks. “This is my third year in the contest and I had a winning record each of the first two years. Hopefully, this will be my best season yet.”

Like so many of his fellow competitors, Arnett is faced with the challenge of trying to handicap the NFL during a pandemic. Knowing who has tested positive for COVID-19 can be as important as knowing if a player can play with a sprained ankle.

“It does make it tougher,” Arnett said. “You try and get as much information as early as you can to help with your decisions.”

But like most contestants, some teams simply refuse to cooperate. While Arnett has had some luck with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Los Angeles Chargers have been an albatross for him.

“Right now, I can’t pick the right side with the Chargers,” he said. “I’m at a loss with them. I have trouble zeroing in on them.”

Arnett’s just glad he has football games to watch. When the Golden Nugget was forced to shut down operations in mid-March, Arnett had to shelter in place at home with his wife Swanna, who had supported his move from Nebraska to Nevada back in 2016.

“The first month was almost like a vacation,” he said. “But we really missed the NCAA basketball tournament. That’s one of our biggest events of the year.

“I played a lot of Call of Duty while we were in quarantine. But after a while, you want to get out and do something else. It was getting boring. So I was glad when baseball finally started up in July.”

And even though his Red Sox didn’t make the postseason, Arnett was happy to be watching baseball, getting back to work and mingling with his customers. And with Nebraska ready to finally kick off its Big Ten season in a couple weeks, Arnett’s world almost feels normal again.

“I’m looking forward to the Huskers playing,” he said. “Our college football handle is down a smidge. But with the Big Ten and Pac-12 starting up soon, I anticipate that things will pick up with people betting college football.”

Arnett is glad things have stabilized to a degree and he’s back working.

“I love this job,” he said. “I will always be grateful to Tony Miller for taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity to work in the industry.”