Hockey bettors on ice

Feb 22, 2005 7:26 AM

Hockey has never been wagered heavily in Las Vegas, so this year’s cancelled season is having a predictable reaction. None.

"I didn’t lose any sleep over it," said Lamarr Mitchell, race and sports manager at MGM Grand. "It’s too bad for the fans and the sport, but interest out here is very minimal. I would say perhaps no more than two percent of our total sports handle."

Hockey, along with "other" sports such as golf, NASCAR, boxing and tennis, accounted for only $6.3 million in Nevada sports books last year, or 5.6 percent of the total win of $112 million.

Even with hockey betting, casinos won $6.5 million booking "other" sports in 2003, a paltry $200,000 more than last year.

"Obviously, hockey bettors — though loyal and probably the most knowledgeable of all sports fans — don’t account for much of the sports books’ bottom line," said a shift supervisor at Green Valley Ranch Station.

Even at the Imperial Palace, which had weekly Wednesday night hockey specials, this year’s demise of the NHL and Stanley Cup has barely been a ripple in the water.

"Sure, it affected us more than most places," said Mark Bornstein, Imperial Palace sports manager. "We would have bets each Wednesday on periods, raffle off items, the usual stuff. But, the NBA outweighs the NHL out there. If it was basketball, it would do far greater damage."

Bornstein said he was surprised at how few comments pro or con he received about the NHL lockout, especially because of the large number of Canadian tourists that stay at the Imperial Palace.

"Hockey is Canada’s sport," Bornstein said. "In the U.S., the NHL takes a back seat to the other three major sports (baseball, football, basketball)."

Mitchell agreed, noting that the publicity would be far greater if it was the NFL in a lockout.

"You would see ESPN all over the story every day and the national newspapers carrying it on the front page," he said. "The hockey strike is back page material in terms of interest."

Chuck Esposito, vice president of race and sports operations at Caesars Palace, said the loss of hockey betting was not hurting his book very much.

"As a fan, I miss it," said Esposito. "But professionally, it hasn’t hurt us."