Texas Station’s bookmaker Mario Jackson

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As a child growing up in Peoria, Ill., Mario Jackson was forced to watch the Chicago Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle” video too many times.

“My dad was a die-hard Bears fan,” Jackson said. “Whenever the Bears would win, he would make my brother and me sit down and watch that video. I saw that thing so many times.

“So, the first time I sat down to really watch a football game, it was the Bears vs. the Eagles, and just to make my dad mad, I started rooting for Philly.”

Thanks to the play of former UNLV quarterback Randall Cunningham, then directing the Philadelphia offense, Jackson’s Eagles fandom stuck.

Today, the NFL is the biggest part of Jackson’s work week. Since 2016 Jackson has been race and sportsbook manager for both Texas Station and Fiesta Henderson.

His knowledge in the industry appears to be paying off. Jackson is tied for first place after three weeks of Gaming Today’s 2019 Bookies Battle contest at 31-17.

“That was a surprise to me,” Jackson said with a laugh, claiming he doesn’t have a specific formula for picking games.

Jackson said mostly he goes with his gut. He peruses the numbers looking for lines that seem off.

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He played football himself in high school, first as a freshman in San Diego County, before returning to Peoria. Soon after high school, Jackson fled the Midwest for the excitement of Sin City.

“There’s really not much to do Peoria,” he said. “As soon as you graduate, you can either go to work for Caterpillar or — that’s about it.”

His dad and brother were living in Las Vegas at the time, and Jackson decided the heavy-equipment business wasn’t his calling.

“So, I decided, ‘you know what? I’m going to go check out Vegas,” Jackson recalled. “And now I’ve been out here since ’97.”

Jackson started out on the hotel side of the hotel-casino business as a night auditor at Texas Station. He got his foot inside the sportsbook door as a ticket writer at Fiesta Henderson.

With the expansion of sports wagering in the United States and a sharp increase in the number of betting options available to customers, the job of sportsbook manager has become much more complex. When the calendar rolls around to September, things can get hectic.

“The biggest change is the advancement in technology,” Jackson said. “Every year or so, there’s something new. I see the potential for how far it can go.”

While Texas Station doesn’t yet offer wagering kiosks, Station Casinos is deep into mobile wagering. Jackson argues that the proliferation of sports betting has not hurt Nevada but rather boosted his products.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who would walk by the sportsbook now starting to take an interest,” Jackson. “Now we’re explaining wagering to a lot of people.”

Despite the time demands a sportsbook manager experiences during football season, Jackson, who turns 40 next month, has managed to schedule a rather large personal event. He and his fiancée, Julia, are getting married this week.

“My family knows that from mid-August till about the second week of February, I’m pretty much tied up (with work),” Jackson said. “But my fiancée is understanding. She knows the business that I’m in.

“Obviously she wishes that I could cut down on how many hours I work. But she understands.”

Like many sportsbook employees, Jackson says that when he’s not being paid to watch sports, he spends a lot of his free time watching sports. On those rare occasions when he takes a break from the sports world, Jackson, who’s also an avid target shooter, likes to sit pondside at Tule Springs, casting for catfish.

“Being outdoors is a good way to clear your head,” he said. 

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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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