Growing up in my Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn, it wasn’t hard to find someone to place a bet with. Or borrow money from to do so.
You ventured over to the candy store where Rocky was sitting at one of the far stools and you transacted your business. If you were short on money or your credit was no good, Pete would take care of you, for a five-percent vigorish every week. And if you were smart, you paid up promptly.
But the need for Rocky and even Pete are diminishing. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in May to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Provision Act of 1992 gave the states the right to join Nevada and offer legalized sports wagering to its citizens.
New Jersey, which had led the fight to PASPA’s repeal, quickly got its operations up and running. Delaware, which already had a limited form of sports betting, expanded its scope of wagering. Mississippi got on board. So did West Virginia.
More states are going to join. And why shouldn’t they? It’s an untapped revenue stream for their coffers and who knows? Maybe they’ll use the revenue gained for something important, like education and giving teachers a raise. Or helping bolster law enforcement and fire services.
But these states would be wise to take a look at history before they proceed.
In 1971, New York City got into the gambling business by taking bets on horse races. It was called Off Track Betting and the idea was to not only generate revenue for the city, which was hurting financially, but eliminate some of the illegal bookmaking operations.
It should have been a success. But mismanagement, political patronage, poor customer service and a myriad of other problems eventually forced OTB to go out of business in 2010.
So as states begin to get into the sports book business, a word of advice — look at the NYC OTB model as the way NOT to do business.
Fortunately, several states are enlisting the help of experienced sports book operators to help start up their ventures. Many are from Las Vegas and they learned the ropes from some of the industry’s best and brightest.
They learned how to be efficient. They learned how to put up good numbers. They understood the way those on the opposite side of the counter thought and how smart those professional gamblers were.
They also learned the value of treating customers right.
When you’re visiting a sports book, you’re essentially a guest in someone else’s home. You want to be made to feel comfortable and appreciated. Whether you’re betting $10 or $10,000, the smart sports book directors make sure everyone who visits feels like they’re special.
Recently, I visited The Meadowlands, where FanDuel has set up its sports book operation and Monmouth Park, which has William Hill running things. William Hill also handles action at Delaware Park.
At Monmouth, there were a couple of areas where a bet could be made. One was a bar area which was glass enclosed and had tables and chairs for customers. There were betting windows and LED boards and TVs displaying the latest odds and betting information.
Across the way, on the opposite side of the pari-mutuel windows for horse racing, was another area for sports betting. Again, LED boards, TVs were in abundance and there were plenty of windows in which to make a bet.
It wasn’t glamorous. Instead, it was smart utilization of space. At Monmouth, you’re not charged to park if you’re going to the sports book, which is something not to be overlooked.
Delaware Park’s operation is similar. It too utilizes space previously reserved for horse racing to accommodate sports bettors. There’s a snack bar and a restaurant within steps of the windows. The LED boards and TVs are also there. And like Monmouth, there’s no lack of places to wager and parking is free. There are also kiosks at Delaware to make a bet if patrons are so inclined.
The Meadowlands operation run by FanDuel had a different feel to it. Yes, it is also operating out of a racetrack, same as William Hill does at Monmouth and Delaware Park. But the Meadowlands is a fairly new facility as the grandstand was relocated a couple of years ago from the original built in 1976. It also has multiple areas in which to watch and wager from.
The main part of the Meadowlands/FanDuel operation has a segregated area from the race side. It is a big room which includes a restaurant, bar and plenty of windows. But it also has another wagering area with TVs and betting windows opposite the track’s simulcast room.
The customer service at all three facilities is good. William Hill has people there to help those who don’t understand the world of sports betting and so does FanDuel. There is literature on how to wager and the ticket writers appeared to be knowledgeable and engaging.
Everyone appeared to be having a good time, which is the most important thing. And that is the essence of what should be the ultimate goal for every state that is planning to offer sports betting. Make sure your customers come first. Treat them with respect and make them feel at home.
It’s a formula that has worked well in Las Vegas for years.