Steve Harvey has seen the hectic and laidback versions of sports books, making him a perfect fit for the sweeping changes at Golden Nugget downtown.
"This is the nicest downtown hotel," said Harvey, who learned how to run race and sports books from Jay Kornegay, Art Manteris and Chuck Esposito — gentlemen he calls "The Who’s Who."
"The future is bright," Harvey continued. "It’s just a matter of being patient. Since Landry’s and owner Tillman Fertitta took over here, every improvement has been top notch. First it was the poker, then Keno, now us. We’ll be in our new book by mid October."
Often when improvements are made, it becomes necessary to take a step back before moving two steps forward. For now, the sports book is a makeshift two-person station sandwiched between the brand new Poker and Keno rooms, an extra-point kick away from the upscale Round Bar.
"We’re small, but very cozy," Harvey said. "All of us are anxious to see October arrive when we can operate in the new book and take full advantage of the NFL season. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised at what they will see when the new book is done."
The improvements call for 88 seats in Race and Sports, TVs at each race seat, adjacent snack bar, regular bar and an upscale viewing area called Ultra Lounge, where major wiseguys and VIPs will likely reside. And, the nearby critically-acclaimed steakhouse Vic and Anthony’s will only adds to the Book’s appeal.
"Our goal for the Race and Sports book is to create a country club atmosphere," Harvey said. "You will see a classy, intimate book similar to the old Desert Inn. We’re not about being loud, but the final product will make noise in downtown Vegas."
That would be great news for downtown, where the Nugget is following in the footsteps of the El Cortez and Plaza by redefining image through renovation.
"The name Landry’s means top of the line, and Tilman Fertitta cares about the Nugget," Harvey said. "Steve Wynn years ago made the Nugget the class of downtown and it carried over to the resort in Laughlin when I was there. Of course, Laughlin is a lot slower and a much different operation compared to Vegas, but each one attracts the people we want."
The Nugget plans to maintain competitive lines in the new book, with six different football parlay cards and maximum wagers of $5,000 for NFL and $3,000 for college football.
"We will have eight windows available for football that will be open at 7 a.m. on weekends and close at 2 a.m.," Harvey said. "Plenty of time to make a bet. We don’t have any race contests planned yet, but it’s something we will definitely consider down the road."
For the present, Harvey will continue to greet his steady customer flow on a first name basis and wait for the run in football.
"Growing up as a kid in a football hotbed like Massillon, Ohio created the passion I feel for my job," Harvey said. "There were three famous people from Massillon — Paul Brown, Chris Spielman and Steve Harvey."
Harvey is the one that didn’t own and coach the Cleveland Browns and wasn’t an All-America linebacker at Ohio State and All-Pro for the Detroit Lions. "I’m the one with the understanding wife and a good memory of our customers."
THE HARVEY FILE
”¡ Age: 43
”¡ Born: Massillon, Ohio
”¡ Personal: Married, 3 step-daughters, fourth child due late August.
”¡ Resume: supervisor positions at Las Vegas Hilton (8 years), Golden Nugget Laughlin (left Sept. 2004), Golden Nugget Las Vegas (Sept. 2005 to present).
”¡ Influences: Chuck Esposito, Art Manteris, Jay Kornegay.
”¡ Goal: "Creating a book where the customer is a person, not a number."