Sports betting biz as an ‘Art’ form

Mar 29, 2005 9:24 AM

Art Manteris is at a station in life he doesn’t wish to change. And, he arrived there by the numbers.

"I saw the opportunity for the sports book industry to expand just when I was getting involved," said Manteris, Station Casinos vice president of race and sports operations. "At that time, the federal excise wagering tax (the tax on a book’s handle) had dropped from 2.0 to 0.25 percent. That was the trigger for legalized sports books in Nevada and (helped me) make the best decision I ever made."

Manteris has learned from the best in the business during a 28-year rise to his current place in the executive branch of the Station empire.

"I had the luxury of working for great companies like the Las Vegas Hilton and Caesars Palace," he said. "There were areas within operating a business that I was lacking. From my years on the Strip, I had been remiss in not recognizing the importance of customer courtesy."

Manteris said he adjusted to the locals market at Station by preaching three essential ground rules.

"The books must be clean, safe and friendly — period," he said. "No room for error, no falling through the cracks. Also, you have to be competitive in terms of opening time, betting limits and betting menu.

"Finally, you have to be fair and consistent. Don’t offer first-half betting odds one week and then eliminate it. The reason for success here is the way Station treats their guests. Everyone here is expert at it."

Manteris first came to Las Vegas in 1978, transferring to UNLV from the University of Pittsburgh.

"I loved Vegas and sports, so there was no chance of me leaving," Manteris said. "This is where I wanted to get married and raise a family."

Manteris began as a ticket writer in the days when only the Union Plaza, Stardust and Churchill Downs had sports books.

"The repeal of the federal excise tax changed everything," he said. "Before that, we were busy dealing with audio calls on horse races. In my first few years as a ticket writer in the 1970s, we had no live racing. It was much like you saw in the movie The Sting."

Manteris credits both the federal excise tax repeal and the late GamingToday publisher Chuck DiRocco’s influence in the simulcasting of horse racing with making sports books marketable.

"Cable and satellite television helped the industry take off and I wanted to be a part of it," Manteris said. "I believe Vegas is more conservative now than when I began. There is more of a corporate logic than there was in the ’70s and ’80s. We operate in a highly structured government and corporate environment. Trying to bring both together hasn’t been easy."

Manteris felt the story has never really been told about how tough Nevada had it making sports books work against federal government attempts at abolition.

"People came to Las Vegas in the days of the Golden West, where the idea of government dictating to casino operators was foreign," he said. "The Senate was 98-2 against it. Every state was against us. It took a monumental effort of Nevada businessmen and local and state government officials such as Rep. Shelley Berkeley, Senators John Ensign and Harry Reid, Mayor Oscar Goodman and Brian Sandoval. The problem still comes up, but we have lived to fight."

When you ask Manteris about the gaming industry’s future, he will tell it straight even if it exposes a flaw.

"I wish I could say I was a visionary, but I am not," he said. "I didn’t foresee the strength of riverboat gaming and Indian gaming. I never thought our product in Las Vegas would grow from that.

"I am not worried about the future," Manteris added. "The city reinvents itself with bigger and better attractions for the state. There is spectacular big name entertainment here. Vegas is the majors, everyone else is minor league."