There was a sign taped to one of the betting windows that had a picture of a clock with the words “BE BACK AT” with the hands pointing to 10.
Mike Guernsey had arrived right before the top of the hour and in a matter of seconds, was paying off wagers made by customers at the Joker’s Wild. He also took a couple of bets on the College Football National Championship as his day was underway.
Guernsey, 60, has been with Boyd Gaming for 16 years. He probably could’ve found work as a bellman given he had experience in the field from having worked at the swank Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. Instead, he has been writing tickets in the sportsbook on Boulder Highway in Henderson.
“I love sports,” he said. “And the best part is I get paid to watch sports.”
Guernsey is one of the 10 finalists participating in Gaming Today’s Bookies Battle Playoffs contest. He acquitted himself well during the regular season, going 138-118 during the regular season. He was 1-1 in last Sunday’s conference championships and takes a 5-5 record into the Super Bowl in less than two weeks.
“I’ve been in it a few years and this was the closest I came to winning,” Guernsey said. “I was right up there for a couple of weeks late in the season but I think I had one bad week that did me in.
“It’s a hard contest because you turn your picks in on Tuesday and a lot can happen between then and Sunday. But it’s a lot of fun and a lot of our customers who know me were very happy to see me do well.”
Guernsey said his philosophy is to lean on underdogs and small favorites when making his contest selections every week.
“I don’t like to lay more than a touchdown,” he said. “It’s rare that I’ll pick a big favorite.”
He may work for a large company in Boyd Gaming, but at Joker’s wild, Guernsey is part of a small-knit staff that caters virtually to all local customers. And over the years, he’s developed friendships with many of them. People who come up to Guernsey’s window can expect a smile along with a hello before they bet with him and “good luck” when they conclude their business.
“I get people who are in here five, six days a week,” he said. “You have to be a people person when you’re dealing with the public.”
Guernsey can probably attribute his people skills to his days working at the Del. He spent 13 years there, first as an elevator operator, then as a bellman.
“My dad spent 25 years there,” he said.”It’s a special place.”
He met his share of celebrities during his time there, something he thought was a nice fringe benefit of the job.
“I met Billy Joel once and that was pretty cool,” he said. “Lots of actors and actresses, athletes, entertainers.”
Living at San Diego allowed Guernsey to partake in one of his passions — horse racing. He was a regular at Del Mar during the summer and he has been to a lot of tracks over the years.
In August, he and his grandson drove to Ely and went to the races at the White Pine County Fair. And while the quality of racing wasn’t quite up to Del Mar’s standards, Guernsey said it was a lot of fun.
“We had a great time,” he said of the experience.
He’s also a big baseball fan. As a kid, he went to Candlestick Park with his dad and when the Padres joined the National League in 1969, Guernsey saw every NL team that year at what was then San Diego Stadium.
His favorite teams? The Giants and the Minnesota Twins, who ironically, play in the city where the Giants used to have their minor league Triple-A team when the Giants played in New York prior to moving to San Francisco.
“I lived in Minneapolis for seven years so I became a Twins fan,” he said. “I saw Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and I saw Rod Carew his rookie year.”
If he could win the $500 prize that goes to the Bookies Battle Playoffs winner, Guernsey might be able to make a baseball road trip this summer. But he admitted that might be out of reach.
“I’ve done O.K. but I think I’m running out of games,” he said.