Kentucky Derby a huge success for Vegas sportsbooks

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Who said horse racing was a dying industry in Nevada? Obviously someone out there still likes it because racebooks across the state were showing massive handle increases in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby compared to the 2016 event.

“It was a great Derby for us, better than last year, and we still don’t have all the tabulations in from the mobile wagering,” Boyd Gaming race and sportsbook director Bob Scucci said.

MGM Resorts reported race handle down a bit because a few of the regular whales that visit town every year didn’t show up, but they were the only chain of books to report a decline. Business was booming off the Strip at locals properties such as Boyd and Station Casinos.

Station book director Jason McCormick said there were “significant increases at all properties.” When I asked if it was a 12 percent increase, which would have been a monster boost, he couldn’t tell me an exact figure but said it was higher. Impressive stuff for sure, and it wasn’t just the lure of a free Kentucky Derby t-shirt with a $25 wager.

Clean books, great viewing presentation and outstanding guest service can be part of the reason for the spike, but how about the idea that horse racing is cool and swanky again. It always has been, but perhaps Saturday’s spike shows that the generation of horse bettors I feared we lost completely to sports betting and online poker is coming to their senses – horses are cool. Tom Brady goes every year to the Kentucky Derby, so there’s proof of coolness.

Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook VP Jay Kornegay said his book saw a 12 percent increase in handle over 2016, but wasn’t willing to go as far as saying a generation of bettors have been recaptured nor did he take credit for the boost because of his clever marketing skills. “No, I just think our top players did well over the course of the day and rolled it over,” he said.

Yes, I love the churn of cash, and so do the casino executives. The suits upstairs hate the sportsbook because they can’t control win, or at least forecast it as an exact science like they do in table games and slots. But with horse racing there is no risk for the house. The more money a book writes the more they win, keeping 18 percent of everything.

Las Vegas Dissemination Company spokesman Vinny Magliulo said Nevada books wrote $600,000 more this year on the Derby. Last year the state wrote $5 million.

It may not seem like a lot, but it really is. And it’s a positive sign moving forward that these big racebooks across the city might be busier and churning more cash. Everyone wins. The track gets their cut, the racebook gets theirs and then more ticket writer jobs open up.

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