LAS VEGAS — Circa Sports Operations Manager Jeff Benson has some strong opinions, and he’s not afraid to share them on Twitter or elsewhere.
A lot of people like to talk about transparency, but it’s a central pillar of how Benson and Circa operate in the post-modern era of bookmaking.
Benson started as a ticket writer and graduated to line supervisor at Palace Station before joining the management team at Circa when it opened in 2019.
Benson dished on a variety of industry topics during a recent sit-down interview at Circa’s three-story sportsbook in downtown Las Vegas.
Gaming Today: What’s a typical day, if there is one, like for you here at Circa?
Jeff Benson: I’m usually in the office five or six days a week, at least 12 hours a day. When you’re in the sports betting business, it’s 24/7. There’s really no punching out or turning off the clock, per se. Things can happen at any time, day or night. Given that Circa is 24/7, meaning the counter is open the entirety of the year, and you’ve got the mobile app in all three states (Nevada, Colorado, and Iowa), you make sure that we’re always on top of things and responding to guests. It’s really hard to turn things off from that perspective.
Gaming Today: How are Circa’s football contests doing this year? Are registrants up for the Million and Survivor?
Benson: We guaranteed $12 million this year: $6 million in Circa Million and $6 million in Circa Survivor. We reached the guarantee in Circa Survivor with 6,133 entries. In Circa Million, we had a little over 4,600 entries, so we had a little more than a $1.4 million overlay. By and large, the contests continue to grow each and every year.
Gaming Today: Who’s influenced your career the most? Who’s helped you along the way?
Benson: I came out here at 22 right out of college and very naive in experience. I had no idea what to expect in the industry. I’d be lying if I said I learned much of anything from my time at Station, other than how not to operate a sportsbook. But getting to work for Matt Metcalf, our sportsbook director here, he’s really taught me everything that I know. There’s not a better oddsmaker or bookmaker in the world.
Gaming Today: You first met Matt while working at Station when he was on the other side of the counter, right?
Benson: I did. He used to bet with me at Palace Station, and we struck up a relationship. I gave him fantastic service. We have the same thought process and approach when it comes to customer service. Our goal is when somebody walks into the book, looking at that player not as a criminal with a ski mask on ready to rob the book, but as somebody who can help build our business, whether they’re going to be a long-term winner or long-term loser. For me, nobody’s been a bigger mentor and someone I’ve relied on more than Matt.
Gaming Today: Sportsbooks typically take a back seat in terms of overall casino operations. What makes Circa different?
Benson: In the industry as a whole, they don’t view sports betting as something that’s front and center in the casinos. With what we’ve done being an attraction-based hotel, and building the world’s largest three-story sportsbook, a lot of what we do is centered on our sportsbook and sports programming in general. We like to use the phrase, ‘We built a sportsbook so big, we had to build a casino around it.’ Most places tuck a small sportsbook in the corner and don’t put much effort or pay much attention to it.
Voice of Reason & Advocate for the Player
Gaming Today: You’ve built a nice following on Twitter with a no-holds barred type of approach and an emphasis on educating customers. How has social media helped your business?
Benson: I’m very outspoken on Twitter, as is our corporate account, which I don’t run. We try to be engaging in terms of answering questions. People really want answers whether you’re a recreational customer or a non-recreational customer — understanding how much you can get down on something, whether you’re going to offer this proposition, what your hours are, or a complaint about something that happened. In most sportsbooks I go into, it would be a Christmas miracle if I get any of those questions answered, let alone one of them. We just try to be transparent.
Gaming Today: We know that you’re a big proponent of the low-hold/high-volume approach to bookmaking. Do you ever envision a day when that will become the norm in the industry?
Benson: I don’t. I’m very outspoken on it, but the industry isn’t really going to listen to a 33-year-old kid pumping his chest about low hold and high volume when they’ve been doing it one way for so long. When you look at those soft book operators, they kick out anybody who has a pulse and anybody who is winning. By doing so, the only people you can book to is the recreational customer. At that point, you’re price gouging and running more of a high hold-low volume model.
Gaming Today: What upsets you the most about current industry trends?
Benson: The limiting of players in what I’d like to think is a free, fair, and transparent marketplace. From an ethical standpoint, it’s really disgusting. Secondarily, you look at guys like Dave Portnoy that have such a platform and a voice, and they speak as sports betting having entertainment value only, and that it can’t be something that people treat as non-entertainment in the sense that it’s a primary job.
What we’re doing is really the antithesis of that, and I think that it can be both recreation and non-recreation based on how the specific player wants to look at it. Giving people that option and not just cornering them into ‘it’s only a recreation box’, I think it’s really disingenuous from a lot of these operators. We’re just trying to be a net-positive in the industry.
Gaming Today: Do you get a lot of blowback on Twitter, and how do you handle that?
Benson: Yeah, absolutely. Are there quite a few, to put it mildly, that don’t care for me or the sentiments I express? Everyday. But that’s not gonna change what I do and say when it comes to what I believe is right. I mean, you look at the industry as a whole, and it’s cookie-cutter. It’s a for-entertainment industry, and they only want for-profit players. I could say all of the things I wanted to say as a bettor, but it should hold more weight given I’m working for an operator behind the counter, and I’m advocating on behalf of the player.
Tiered NFL Limits & Big Bets the Norm at Circa
Gaming Today: How do your tiered limits work for NFL sides at Circa?
Benson: We open our NFL limits on Sunday night, and sides will be $5,000. Once the market settles, and we’ve seen some bets 2-4 hours in, we’ll be at $10,000 on sides, and then it’s a progression as the market matures and becomes more efficient. I think it’s really how every operator should do it in a price discovery sense. With our risk room, the goal is to utilize that sharp information that these winning bettors are giving to us, and get to the right number as quickly as possible. Then just write the bets and worry about the rest later.
Gaming Today: So, what’s the limit on NFL sides at Circa on Sunday?
Benson: $200,000 on sides. We take that from anybody in the world, whether that’s Billy Walters or your dad walking in off the street. We take a bet at $200,000 and if we move the number, you can hit it again. If we don’t move the number, you can re-bet within 60 seconds. The goal is to write bets and earn to them.
Gaming Today: Is that a common occurrence at Circa?
Gaming Today: Yes
Benson: Yeah, we’re known for big limits. When you look at what we’ve done from a limit and transparency perspective — never booting anybody who was a winner — people know they can walk in our doors and have their positions filled. So, yeah, I would say we’re regularly getting $200,000 bets on NFL sides on the day of (games).
Gaming Today: What’s the worst bad beat you’ve ever had, whether it came in front of or behind the counter?
Benson: The 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl with the Niners being up two scores late and the way that game unfolded with the Chiefs running off three TDs in the fourth quarter. We took some pretty big bets on exact score results of 31-20 (for KC, a win that hit). It ended up being a pretty poor outcome, in addition to getting dinged pretty good on the sides. I’d say that was one of our worst beats since we opened.
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