BetMGM’s Mitchell has rolled with ups, downs

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Longevity can be a beautiful thing when it comes to carving out one’s career. It can also be challenging, especially when that career is in the casino industry.

Lamarr Mitchell has worked at MGM Grand Resorts International since 2000. He has been the senior director of the property’s race and sports book since 2005. Suffice to say, he has seen a multitude of changes over the years.

He’s had three different big bosses — Terry Lanni, Jim Murren and currently, Bill Hornbuckle. He has dealt with a couple of crises — the Great Recession of 2008 and the current coronavirus pandemic — which has impacted business. He has also seen his industry pivot technologically to mobile betting as a way to attract and maintain customers.

Yet through it all, Mitchell remains positive and optimistic. His BetMGM Race and Sportsbook at the MGM Grand remains a vibrant place to watch and wager and his place has been busy on football weekends throughout the fall.

The skyboxes, which were installed in 2004, remain a nice amenity to the book. The television screens were upgraded a few years ago. And the BetMGM mobile app has helped bring business beyond the sportsbook and increasing handle with in-game betting.

“The skyboxes remain popular, even during a pandemic,” he said. “But the new app has really gone over well. We’re getting quite a few more locals signing up and it’s been marketed well. We’ve also got more betting options and the in-game betting is a popular feature. Functionally, it’s easier to use than the previous app.”

A veteran of Gaming Today’s Bookies Battle contest sponsored by Station Casinos, Mitchell knows the challenges that come with trying to successfully pick NFL games every Tuesday for that week’s slate. This year has been unique with COVID-19 cases popping up throughout the league and rendering a pick on Tuesday nearly useless come Sunday.

Such was the case with the Denver Broncos, who Mitchell had selected last week, getting 5.5 points from New Orleans on the contest’s betting line. But then word came the Broncos’ quarterbacks were all unable to play because of coronavirus-related issues.

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The Saints, who have their own QB issues with starter Drew Brees out with cracked ribs, closed as 16.5-point favorites at kickoff. They won, 31-3.

“It’s always a challenge because of the way the contest is set up,” he said. “But this year, with the virus and everything, it’s been like trying to throw darts in the dark. It’s really hard because you don’t know what’s going to happen later in the week.

“Denver is the perfect example. I can’t remember a time when an NFL team lost all its quarterbacks before a game. It made for an uncompetitive game and it was tough for the books to make a number.”

Fortunately for Mitchell, he doesn’t have to concern himself with coming up with the right numbers. The BetMGM hub handles that for him and the other MGM properties.

“Yeah, it’s been a struggle this year for me,” said Mitchell, who is five games below .500 at 84-89. “I’ve been in the contest for 20 years and I can usually tell how I’m going to do for the year by how I do in the first couple of weeks. If I do well, I’ll have a good season. But this year, I started a little slow and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since.

“My goal is to finish at or above .500. I’m good friends with Richard McInerney, who is at New York-New York and runs their book. He’s in the same boat as me so we have a little competition between us to see who finishes with the better record.”

Mitchell, 52, had worked eight years at Caesars Palace as a writer and supervisor prior to coming over to the MGM Grand. He has had a lot of good mentors, from Vinny Magliulo and Lou D’Amico at Caesars, to Richie Baccellieri, who hired him at the MGM Grand, along with John Vidmar and Robert Walker. They all emphasized the importance of customer service, staying on top of your numbers and not being afraid to be creative and adjust when necessary.

“I remember when he first came to Caesars and he was looking to make a career change,” Magliulo said of Mitchell. “He was working in men’s clothing and I asked him what he was doing and he said, ‘I’m a haberdasher.’ Right there I knew he was a smart guy.

“Lamarr is dedicated and level-headed. He’s a people person, which is important in our business, not only in dealing with the customers, but on his side of the counter dealing with the staff. But what makes Lamarr special is after 25 years, he knows there’s always something to learn and take from the job every day.”

Mitchell said: “I was blessed to have so many great minds to learn from. But I have a motto for running a book, which is ‘Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.’ There are so many strange things that can happen, you have to be ready to adjust quickly. Especially this year. To say it’s been strange is an understatement.”

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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