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Bookies find action on the 'lesser' sports

Jun 24, 2008 7:04 PM

by Kevin Stott | Perceptions abound but realities reveal that the "other" sports Ė meaning not football, baseball or basketball Ė do their fair share of business for the sports books in Nevada.

When you try to talk to some people about the NHL or the WNBA or soccer you get the feeling youíre talking Chinese to them. And when you bring up others that have grown recently in popularity like MMA or golf or NASCAR, you would think that everyone is betting them because of the excitement the UFC or Tiger Woods or Kyle Busch has recently brought to those respective sports.

The truth is, they all matter and they all do have their share of dedicated fans that go to the ticket windows to wager on their favorites. But another truth is that these "other" sports combined had a total win amount statewide of just $11.8 million in 2007 Ė out of a total of $168.4 million won Ė or 7 percent of all the stateís sports book win for the year.

That percentage was up decently from 2006 where the "other" category registered a 5.6 percent win ($10.9 million held). In 2005, the books had just a 4.5 percent win amount in the category and won $5.7 million in all of these sports.

But before you go thinking this category is some monster money-maker for the house, consider that the total win amount from parlay cards alone last year was $20.3 million (which had a healthy 29.56 win percentage for the house). Makes you think.

Trying to get specific breakdowns on amounts bet on these "other" (as categorized by the Nevada Gaming Commission) sports Ė which include hockey, auto racing, MMA, boxing, tennis, golf and soccer, among others Ė is a hard thing. And, with a little digging you can see itís really all about football ($73.5 million hold for sports books in 2007) in the Silver State.

"When we get our tax returns, we break out sports into football, baseball, basketball and other and we donít get a breakdown of other," said Frank Streshley, Nevada Gaming Control Board analyst. "We know it (other) is NASCAR, golf, tennis, boxing, hockey, etc. but I couldnít give you any growth rates within those sports."

So who to go to, to try to get some skinny on what people are actually betting on? How about Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook sports book director Jay Kornegay, the man who puts up lines on almost everything Ė even Mexican soccer.

When asked individually about all of these "other" or secondary sports and how much is wagered on them and if their betting amounts keep growing yearly, Kornegay said they all have their own loyal followings and that they all seem grow a little bit very year.

"They all have their own group of fans, whether itís the Spanish League, Mexican League (both soccer), WNBA or arena football," he said. "Whatís really helped the secondary sports is all the media coverage. That has really helped them get a little attention."

Mixed martial arts, or the MMA Ė of which the UFC is the most well-known league Ė has grown quite a bit in the last five years, but the translation to betting interest hasnít quite grown as much as the sport itself has.

"It seems like every major event gets more and more action," said Kornegay of MMA."I donít think any other secondary sport is growing as fast as MMA. I think that golf and NASCAR obviously have some interest and continue to increase slowly, but I think if they were to look in their rearview mirror theyíd see MMA coming."

Kornegay said he thought last yearís hold in boxing at the Hilton was "fairly close" compared to MMAís.

As far as hockey, a sport often declared dead by many who arenít interested in it, Kornegay said, "Itís a clear-cut fourth" in terms of betting dollars. But when one realizes footballís win in the state was $73.5 million last year, basketballís was $37.5 million and baseballís was $25.4 million, the reality of these "other" sports totaling just under $12 million is put in its proper perspective. And thatís not to mention the $93.9 million win in the stateís race books in 2007.

Prodded on whether gamblers are interested in other perceived lesser pro sports like the WNBA and AFL, the Hiltonís odds wizard said they both get their fair piece of the gaming pie.

"The one thing about arena football that you have to take your hat off to is that itís been a secondary sport since its inception 20 years ago, but itís held its own," Kornegay offered. "Itís been here, it hasnít folded up or dropped off the radar and gets its share of fans in here to watch their games."

And Kornegay said a lot of bettors have started to focus on these "other" sports in recent years.

"Since weíve been here, a lot of these guys have educated themselves on the secondary sports," he said. "They follow it now. And itís not like theyíre busting down the doors, but you have more of a handle on these sports than we did four years ago."

But seriously, Jay, they really bet Mexican soccer?

"Iíll tell you, Mexican soccer gets a lot of action," Kornegay said. "It really does. We have a pretty loyal Latino following around here and you can always see that the Mexican games get pretty healthy action on (them) for a secondary sport."

But with football always being the big dog on the porch in Nevada, how much action does the SuperBook take on all of these lesser sports together?

"I would have to take a look at that but itís probably between 5 and 10 percent Ė all of those secondary sports combined," Kornegay speculated. "But thatís just on those sports. You donít know how much (money) that brings in on those other (football, basketball and baseball) sports."