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In a time where the sportsbook industry is all about alliances and mega corporations, where phone apps and in-game wagering are all the rage, Doug Castaneda oversees a somewhat old school operation.

Wynn Las Vegas has an independent race and sports book. It chooses to go it alone. Unlike MGM, which has numerous resorts, Boyd Gaming, which is spread out over several states or William Hill U.S., which is all about bookmaking and has no casino operation, Wynn goes about its business quietly and efficiently. It has what might be called a boutique book, which was remodeled two years ago and has more of a lounge feel to it. It also has a small book at its Encore property next door.

Castaneda, who took over for Johnny Avello in November after Avello left Wynn to work for DraftKings, has pleased his bosses with his performance to date. The property did well during football season and also had a strong performance during the college basketball season, particularly during the recently concluded NCAA Tournament.

“Our team has had a good transition,” Castaneda, 47, said. “With the great staff we already had in place, we can handle our department in a different light. We’ve been able to put our stamp on it.”

Castaneda had worked for Robert Walker, Joe Lupo and Bob Scucci at the Stardust and when Vinny Magliulo was brought in to open the Wynn race and sports book in 2005, he was able to get Castaneda to come across the street as a shift manager.

“I was so fortunate to be able to learn from Robert, Joe and Bob when I was at Boyd and with Vinny while he was here (at Wynn),” Castaneda said. 

His entry into the industry came back in 1990 when he took a job working for Jerry Kilgore, who had a business that had the rotation for games and the betting lines in Las Vegas sportsbooks. When customers called to get the latest numbers, it was Castaneda’s voice they heard.

He had been a shooting guard at Glendale (Calif.) Community College but he didn’t have a realistic future in basketball, though he did get to go up against future UNLV star Isaiah (J.R.) Rider. 

But like Rider, Castaneda would also reside in Las Vegas. Lupo hired him from the J.K. Sports Journal in 1995 and he proved to be a quick learner. He worked his way into a management spot and had it not been for the Wynn opportunity, Castaneda could have been running a Boyd Gaming property sportsbook in Pennsylvania or Mississippi these days.

The industry has undergone dramatic changes since then. Betting via  a phone app may be the biggest change and Castaneda has embraced it with heavy promotion. 

“We more than doubled our app signups during the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “We have a young staff that’s technologically advanced. They can help someone who is new to betting on their phone and make them feel comfortable. Though honestly, most young people are comfortable using their phones.”

A father of two teenagers. Dominic, 15, and Gabrielle, 13, Castaneda knows all about phones and technology. He knows it’s the way of the world these days.

When Wynn announced last week a partnership with Scientific Games to launch digital sports betting and iGaming applications in the U.S., Castaneda isn’t surprised. 

The plan calls to initially launch in New Jersey and utilize several Scientific Games products and services including a sports betting and iGaming system; a managed sports trading service and Scientific Games’ market-leading content aggregation system that is home to more than 2,000 digital games.

“We’re looking for growth, but controlled growth,” Castaneda said of the partnership. “There’s a lot of potential for the company.”

Yet despite the growth on technology, Castaneda believes in the brick-and-mortar concept. Having a nice race and sports book is important for both the company and the customers. And while the convenience of using your phone anywhere in Nevada to make a bet is appealing, Castaneda said the communal experience of watching the game with like-minded folk in a comfortable environment can’t be replaced.

“There’s definitely a need,” he said. “People have a sense of community. It’s the interaction with other guests and with the employees. You can’t do that with a phone.”

To that end, Castaneda would like to see the use of the Encore Theater every NFL Sunday, much like the Westgate Las Vegas does with its 1,500-seat International Theater.

The Encore Theater was used during the NCAA Tournament and it was a big success.

“I think it would be the same for football,” Castaneda said. “Certainly for the playoffs and the Super Bowl to start. We could have betting stations there and I think the atmosphere would be terrific.”

Castaneda said his big challenge is to keep traffic flowing into the book.

“We want to continue to cultivate high-end play,” he said. “We have some big players with us and want to build off that.

“I’d also like to see us fill the slow portions of the day, like when the last NBA game is finished or the last baseball game ends. Maybe esports gaming, which is very popular among young people.”

Castaneda can see his book offering prop bets during the regular NFL season. It’s a lot of work but he knows how popular those wagers are.

“Why wait until the playoffs?” he said.

Ultimately, it’s about offering a positive experience to the customers.

“One thing I learned over the years from the guys I worked for is how important customer service is,” Castaneda said. “Whether it’s the appearance of the book, the friendliness of the staff, the ease in making a bet, all of that is important to creating a positive experience for the customer. In that respect, we’re no different than any other part of the hotel and the casino.”

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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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