A fresh face to sportsbook scene in Pittsburgh

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It never hurts to have experienced voices to listen to when you start a new venture.

Max Schmerin was fortunate to lean on some veteran sportsbook operators when he began working at the Rivers Pittsburgh book last year. He could get advice from Bill Keena and for a while, the legendary Jimmy Vaccaro. For Schmerin, who at 27 was a sportsbook supervisor in Rivers after having worked in slots, he was wise enough to pay heed when Keena or Vaccaro spoke to him.

“It’s such a different world than what I was used to,” Schmerin said. “You run into a lot of challenges, the biggest being the unknown. But Bill is so easy-going and very supportive. Nothing fazes him. And Jimmy was a fantastic resource for me.

What was Vaccaro’s best piece of advice?

“He said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, kid,’” Schmerin said.

Schmerin, a rookie contestant in Gaming Today’s Bookies Battle, is off to a great start. He went 12-4 in week 1 and has a share of the lead.

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A Pittsburgh native, Schmerin was a pretty fair athlete growing up. He played junior hockey but gave it up to focus on tennis. He earned a scholarship to Youngstown State in Ohio and having played both team and individual sports helped prepare him for life in a sportsbook, though he had no idea at the time that would ultimately be the case.

“When you play hockey, you’re relying on your teammates,” he said. “You’re together in the locker room, working together to try and win. In tennis, it’s you alone, making decisions by yourself and living with the consequences. There’s no one to help you.

“At Rivers, I’m blessed to have a great staff that works really well together. But sometimes, I have to make the call on something by myself. So all that experience from playing sports helps me with my job.”

Schmerin didn’t gamble as a kid. He knew about point spreads but not how they were formulated. And even when he started work at Rivers in the slot department, he still wasn’t fully educated on how to make book on a football game. Of course, Rivers along with the rest of the state of Pennsylvania hadn’t been licensed yet to take bets on sports.

But when that changed last year, Schmerin was offered an opportunity to be part of it as Andre Barnebai, Rivers’ vice president of gaming, offered him a chance to work in the casino’s newest venture.

“I was a slot supervisor when Andre talked to me about going into sports,” Schmerin said. “I thought it was a great opportunity and even though I didn’t know much about the industry, I jumped at it.

“I learn something new every day. It’s a fascinating business and I’m really enjoying it.”

One thing Schmerin learned during last year’s Super Bowl that when it comes to proposition bets, it helps to make it easy on both the customer and the ticket writer.

“We didn’t have numbers signed to each wager and that really slowed the process down,” he said. “We had long lines and that’s something we learned from. We won’t make that mistake again.”

By the time Super Bowl LIV rolls around in February, Rivers is going to be in its new sportsbook which will have 35 self-serve kiosks and six betting windows along with two massive video walls.

“It’s going to be state of the art and a great place to watch all the games,” he said of the new space which opens late this month. “People can use the kiosks to make in-game wagers and I think our customers are going to love it.”

Schmerin knows how passionate Pittsburgh fans are about sports and he has a steady clientele built up from last year which he figures will only grow with the new book on the property.

“I bleed black and gold and we’re not far from the stadium (Heinz Field) so we see a lot of traffic on Sunday,” he said. “But our customers are great. They’re really positive. I enjoy interacting with them. It’s one of the parts of the job.”

Schmerin is considered an underdog to win the Bookies contest (Vaccaro said a Nevada contestant is -150 to prevail). Still, he hopes to make his casino and city proud.

“I didn’t even know there was such a contest until I was entered,” he said. “But I hope to take the number by the horns and bring the title to Rivers.”

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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