A trip to the sportsbook at the Wildfire Casino on Boulder Highway in Henderson is like taking a trip back in time.
The space is small. There’s no LED boards displaying the lines. Instead, it’s an old fashioned white grease board with nameplates for the teams. If you want a cup of coffee, it’s there for the taking. You don’t even need to ask. Same for donuts.
Chris Jenkins remembers when the books around Las Vegas did it the way he does as Wildfire’s operations manager. He may only be 29, but he’s a life-long Las Vegan and he understands the concept of hospitality.
“I want us to have an environment where you feel like you’re going to somebody’s house and you feel comfortable and at home,” Jenkins said.
And if you’re hosting a guest, you’re going to offer them coffee and cake, aren’t you?
Jenkins may splurge a little for his staff and his customers if he manages to win Gaming Today’s Bookies Battle contest. Going into Monday’s Packers-Vikings game and with one week to go, he’s still in the hunt for the $1,000 prize that goes to the winner at 132-107.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said of being a first-year participant. “I wasn’t sure how well I would do but I’m proud to be doing this well.”
Wildfire is part of Station Casinos and there are seven of them in Southern Nevada. They’re more like a neighborhood bar than a casino except they have a sportsbook. There’s no table games. Just video poker and slots.
The book itself at the Boulder Highway location is tiny. There are just nine seats. But there’s a restaurant right next to the book that has seven televisions and adjacent to the book is a bar and lounge which has 22 total TV screens. So you don’t have to be in the book’s actual space to feel like you’re in it.
And unlike Station’s larger properties that cater to tourists and locals, the majority of the Wildfire locations are frequented by the residents. Again, that neighborhood bar vibe comes into play.
“When people come here, we make them feel like they’re at home,” Jenkins said.
He himself has had opportunities to move up in Station’s casino ranks. He turned down an opportunity to work at Sunset Station to stay at Wildfire and he recently moved from the Boulder Highway location to run the Anthem Wildfire as well as The Greens in Henderson.
“I’m comfortable with the environment (at Wildfire),” said Jenkins, who is a father of two — a 9-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. “It’s a great place to work and the Stations people have been great to me. We have a small staff so we work well together. I like where I’m at.”
Like many in the industry, Jenkins had no intention of running a sportsbook. He began his casino career working security at Wild Wild West, a Station property on Tropicana Avenue near Interstate-15 on the other side of T-Mobile Arena. He quickly moved into management and transferred to his first Wildfire gig at the Wildfire Lanes Henderson location which was formerly Renata’s.
“I’ve met some great people and learned so much from so many,” he said of his upward mobility within the company.
His friendly personality comes through when you talk to him. Some of his customers at Wildfire Boulder made it a point to say hello, chat with him and inquire about his new location in Anthem. It was like coming back to the old neighborhood and reconnecting with your friends.
But what made running a book such a natural fit for Jenkins is that he’s a huge sports fan. He loves the Golden Knights and is a Philadelphia Eagles fan as well.
“It’s awesome having our own team to root for,” Jenkins said of the Knights. “Not in a million years did I think we’d have all these professional sports teams here in Las Vegas.
“Before, we used to root for someone else’s teams and adopt them as ours. Not anymore. Now that we have our own team, we can’t be called ‘fake fans’ anymore.”
Jenkins’ dad roots for the Raiders. And even though the Silver and Black are coming to his town, Jenkins is staying loyal to the Eagles.
“Come on now, I can’t root for the same team as my dad,” he said.
He did pick the Eagles against the Cowboys last week. But he said he focuses on the traditional handicapping angles before figuring out how the line comes into play for his selection. He also gets advice from a couple of friends before settling on his picks every week.
“I try to look beyond the lines,” he said of his formula for success in the Bookies contest. I think having to make the picks early helps me because I feel it’s easier to make the decisions then than wait until the end of the week. You get new information and it can influence what you originally going to do and could steer you off the side you really liked.”
Whatever Jenkins is doing, it’s working. And it’s brought some positive attention to Wildfire and he said that’s great.
“I’ve enjoyed the competitive nature of the contest,” he said. “Jeff Smith at Wild Wild West was my general manager. he gave me my start in the business. So when I went ahead of him, I gave him a little good-natured nudge. But he’s a great guy with a great sense of humor.
“Just to be in this position has been tremendous. Our sportsbook is small and humble. It’s awesome that people will read about us and hopefully they’ll come and visit us.”
If you do swing by in the morning, the coffee and donuts will be on the house.