Staying calm in storm of sports bets

Jan 25, 2005 5:13 AM

Lou D’Amico is an old hand at the race and sports book business and he doesn’t get visibly upset easily.

Now working out of the Plaza while setting the line for two of Barrick Gaming’s properties, D’Amico says "nobody can rattle my chain. If you and your loved ones have your health, nothing else matters. I don’t get mad. I don’t scream at people. If you don’t treat people with respect, how are you going to get respect back? It’s not going to happen."

D’Amico gets lots of respect from people throughout the gaming industry. Maybe some of them know that he served his country in Vietnam. More likely, it’s because he conducts himself with a calmness in a business in which a mistake could cost his employer thousands of dollars.

For instance, he didn’t lose control of himself back in the late 1990s when he was working at the Las Vegas Hilton and a player put down a $10,000 Kentucky Derby future bet on 30-1 shot, Real Quiet.

He remembers that the bet was made about a month before the race. And during the race, another horse was gaining on Real Quite with every stride as the horses were pounding the home stretch. Through it all, he never yelled at the television screen.

"I needed one more jump and we would have dodged that bullet," he says, thinking back with a quiet laugh at a bet that cost the book $300,000.

D’Amico, a 57-year-old native of Brooklyn, N.Y., has a track record of not being afraid to go out on a limb. Earlier this year, right after he had left Caesars Palace to take the job of setting the lines for the Plaza and Las Vegas Club, he put up a line for NFL games.

All of the games.

A player could get his action down on any game played from week one through week 16. It took D’Amico about a week to do it, but he said it was worth it. "We did good. We got some great publicity," he says, and the new feature attracted action, too. He recalls a man who showed up at the Plaza’s sports book in early September and bet on the Atlanta Falcons for the whole season.

He is undertaking the same adventure for the upcoming arena football season. He does it to give the infrequent visitor to Las Vegas a chance to bet on any game on the schedule. It was a creative move and one of the reasons why he left Caesars to take the job with Barrick.

"We had accomplished so much at Caesars that the drive wasn’t there anymore," he says. "This was a challenge in uncharted waters."

It wasn’t the first time D’Amico left a job at Caesars Palace. He worked at perhaps the Strip’s most glamorous sports book from 1985 to 1994, the last five years as director, before he left to try his hand in the retail arena.

He had started out in the industry in 1975 at the Rose Bowl race and sports book, where he learned the basics well enough to move up to manager before he left for the chance to work at the Dunes sports book.

After a three-year stint away from sports betting, he got back into the business he loves at the Las Vegas Hilton, where he was the manager from 1997 to 2000 before he was moved back to Caesars Palace.

He has no regrets about leaving Caesars last August to take the Barrick job. "There haven’t been any disappointments at all," he says. He adds he didn’t leave Caesars because Barrick offered him a lot more money. "I needed to be creative and to (be) thinking (about) marketing and having my people think marketing. Money doesn’t satisfy me."

There have been some changes in the bookmaking industry that clearly leave him less than thrilled. For instance, the people who run the books today are not like the men who ran them back when he was breaking into the business.

"In the old days, race and sports bookmakers were Damon Runyonesque," he says. "I remember Jimmy Vaccaro and a few others who had personalities. They were unique in their own way. Now (the bookmakers are) more corporate."

The other change he has noticed over the years has been the rise in proposition bets, which he says used to be posted only for special events like the Super Bowl. "Now it’s for the whole year," he says.

"The job demands more ”¦ unique bets for our customers, if we can come up with them." He says potential players today are likely to come up to the board and say something like, "Is that all you got?" in the way of betting possibilities.

But D’Amico is not complaining. Married for 30 years and with a son who is the supervisor of valets at the Palms, he is comfortable with his career and especially his new location. He said he worked 50 to 60 hours a week during the football season and expects to be able to cut back to 40 or 50 hours once the Super Bowl is played.

Asked whom he liked in the Super Bowl, he replied, "Maybe it’s Philadelphia’s year."