Rampart’s Sportsbook Dynamic Duo

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Duane Colucci was a typical New York sports fan growing up in Queens. He bet horses at Aqueduct and Belmont, and he rooted for the Knicks. 

But there was one way he didn’t fit in. 

Colucci, the assistant sportsbook manager at the Rampart Casino, admits with a sheepish laugh that he’s a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. 

“It was rough (rooting for Dallas in New York),” Colucci said. “I always loved Tony Dorsett and Roger Staubach. I grew being enamored with America’s Team.” 

Colucci rooted for the dominant Cowboys teams of the 1970s and early 1990s. All of his friends hated the Cowboys for their success. 

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“The glory years were great in the ’90s,” Colucci said, “but it was rough growing up, ’80s, late ’70s as a Cowboys fan. The Giants were very good in the mid-’80s with Parcells.” 

Every one of Colucci’s friends rooted for the Giants.  

“Being a Cowboys fan in New York was tough,” he said. “They make fun constantly. And now with social media and all the Romo parodies — forget about it. 

“It’s rough.” 

Colucci’s boss, Steve Mikkelson, race and sports director at the Rampart, had no such problems. 

Mikkelson is a life-long Detroit Lions fan. He grew up in Illinois but adopted his father’s favorite team. 

“First of all, nobody hates you because of the team you root for, because the Lions have never beaten anybody in any game to get anyone to hate them,” Mikkelson said. “If you’re a Bears fan, you hate the Packers, but the Lions are just neutral. 

“Nobody likes my team, but nobody hates my team.” 

While he has remained loyal to the Lions, his dad had seen enough and abandoned them. 

Mikkelson, a 32-year veteran in the gaming industry, got his start in college. 

“I was going to San Diego State, turned 21, got a summer job up in Reno and thought it would be pretty cool to get paid to watch baseball games,” Mikkelson said. 

Before the end of the summer, Mikkelson, was promoted and immediately transferred to Nevada. 

Baseball was Mikkelson’s first love — he’s a Boston Red Sox fan. He was an avid bettor. But running sportsbooks has damped his enthusiasm for his own wagering. 

“I wagered for many years,” Mikkelson said. “But when you run a book — and I ran a stand-alone book for many, many years — you find that basically your job is gambling, and it’s tough to root for your own bet when you’ve got to root for the house. Gambling for me has taken a back seat.” 

Colucci remains a big horse player, and he can wager without remorse. Under horse racing’s pari-mutuel system, “the house has no liability.” 

As a toddler, Colucci, 47, was taken to the track in a stroller by his father. He got his first taste of Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York in the mid-’70s. It stuck. 

He went to Saratoga for 20 straight years, and since relocating to the West, he has been to Del Mar 26 years in a row. 

“(Saratoga) is so nostalgic, the property there,” he said. “It’s a landmark. I saw some of the greatest racing ever.” 

One day at the track, Colucci approached a man engrossed in that day’s Ragozin Sheets. The man kindly taught Colucci, a young boy at the time, how to parse all of that data.  

He met Andrew Beyer several times at Saratoga, and while he says he has great respect for the developer of the most popular speed figures, Colucci remains a “Sheets” devotee. 

Colucci got his start in the gaming industry as a sportsbook ticket writer. He was hired by the late Sid Diamond, a Las Vegas legend who himself started as a ticket writer. 

“I just love race and sports,” said Colucci, who has also been a pit boss, “and they hired me as a writer.” 

In his 16 years at the Rampart, Colucci has seen a lot of changes at the property. The sportsbook specifically. 

“It’s evolved,” he said. “It’s a 360. We went from kind of a social club-type atmosphere — a very small, intimate book — to now (when) we’re catering to the masses. The place has taken off.” 

Colucci credits Michael Gaughan Jr., the Rampart’s general manager, for much of the property’s improvement, including big restaurant upgrades. 

Speaking of restaurants, one of Colucci’s favorite places followed him to Las Vegas. 

“I love eating,” he said. “I love to go to good restaurants. I’m Italian, and I love great Italian food.” 

His favorite: Rao’s at Caesars Palace. 

“They only have three restaurants (Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York),” he said. “The New York one was established in the 1930s. My dad was able to get us a table (at Rao’s) once a month. It was the hardest reservation to get. 

“A friend of mine worked at Caesars, and said, ‘That restaurant you’re always talking about is opening here.’ I couldn’t believe it.” 

Mikkelson, whose daughter followed him into the business in Reno, was asked if sportsbook managers take vacations. 

He laughed. 

“I will tell you, the life of a sportsbook director is fantastic,” Mikkelson said. “We get paid to watch and talk about sports.” 

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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