A word from Jimmy Vaccaro

Jul 29, 2008 6:56 PM

On The Mark by Mark Mayer | On Friday, the Plaza downtown gets "Lucky." And if this new Brandywine operation has its way, Las Vegas race and sports bookmaking may take on a whole new form.

"Itís a different world today than back when I was running the Mirage in 1989," said Jimmy Vaccaro, one of the pioneers in Las Vegas casino bookmaking operations. "Back 20 years ago, 75 percent of the revenues came from table games and slots. Now itís much about dining, and entertainment.

 "Everybody has a club," said Vaccaro, the director of bookmaking operations for Luckyís. "You can make a lot of money charging $500 a bottle. Race and sports changes are too slow, almost microscopic. I am
not the ultimate answer, but I can find solutions."

Luckyís will take over race and sports operations at the Plaza, which will be a satellite to the companyís hub in Reno. Last month Brandywine opened two Luckyís locations in Elko (High Desert Inn, Red Lion Inn). Luckyís began operating a site inside the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, which is the companyís hub.

"This generation likes things fast," Vaccaro said. "They like progressives, big payouts and everything going 250 miles an hour. For us to have a successful first year, people have to know we are here. Then we move forward. Weíre going to be cautiously aggressive."

The oldtimers in Vegas will remember the Sport of Kings, located across from the Las Vegas Convention Center on Paradise Road. Luckyís isnít Sport of Kings, but Vaccaro would like to incorporate the ideas that made that operation work and improve on moves that caused its demise.

"The Sport of Kings relied on race and sports only, as we will," Vaccaro said. "They were ahead of their time. Unfortunately, they operated in second gear when they should have stayed in first. We wonít make that mistake."

The new Luckyís race and sports books are Nevadaís first independent operation aside from the ill-fated Sport of Kings since Leroyís won approval from regulators some 30 years ago.

For year one, Luckyís intends to gain a following behind a plan, plenty of capital and lots of patience.

"We canít ramrod this thing to people," Vaccaro said. "Places have tried to make it in the industry and failed. They were underfunded, impatient and didnít understand how stringent the regulatory process is."

Luckyís does get it. Owner Joe Asher has a Wall Street background and endured six months in that intense Nevada regulatory process. Tony DiTommaso will be handling the day-to-day operations. Vaccaro is sure to be in Asherís ear.

"I told Joe the same things I told Michael Gaughan 30 years ago and what I told Steve Wynn at the Mirage," Vaccaro said. "This is still Bookmaking 101. To make this work you have to be fair and consistent with the public. That means no absurd money lines and the house not changing bets at the window."

The Plaza is the fourth Luckyís property that will be running, though it will be undergoing major renovation. Casino Fandango, in Carson City, becomes the fifth Luckyís site next month.

The Plazaís improvements will be along the line of the recent remodeling of the race and sports book operations at the neighboring Golden Nugget.

"The Nugget is a beautiful property," Vaccaro said. "The fact they do things so well creates competition, and thatís only good for business. Eventually we would like to capitalize on promotions in the same way the Jay Kornegay and the Hilton does."

Luckyís will succeed, says Vaccaro, due to an aggressive approach to making lines.

"If a game is dead, that means the number is perfect," Vaccaro said. "We will do things to that line to interest bettors. That creates volume. The importance of limits is a myth. Set a $3,000 limit and you can accommodate 98 percent of bettors. What makes or breaks an operation is customers. Thatís what we want."

Through volume comes expansion. The grand plan is for 20 properties around Nevada in three years.

"If we get there, then weíre in great shape," Vaccaro said. "I didnít need to get back in the business. Luckyís is a very exciting time in my life and I hope will make a big difference in the race and sports industry. Itís been stagnant too long."