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Distaffers find home
in sports books

May 4, 2004 7:58 AM

The ladies have arrived and they’re doing just fine.

At casinos around Las Vegas ”” and at a big one across the country in Connecticut ”” women have been put in charge of the sports books and to the surprise of some men, the sun is still rising in the East and setting in the West.

The arrival of women in what had been a male domain did not come without some bouts of awkwardness, but the ladies persevered and they are now entrenched in an area of casinos where sexism used to be as thick as the cigar smoke.

Kitt Langvad, the race and sports book manager at Arizona Charlie’s West, says "It was very tough at first. You still get men who come in and want to speak to the person in charge. You don’t get it as much anymore, not like it use to be."

Like the other female sports book managers, Langvad can tell stories of male bettors who would ask her a question and then turn to the male sports book writer standing next to her to ask him if her answer were correct.

Nikki Commisso, who runs the sports book at the Gold Coast, says "It’s easy to live in a man’s world because I’ve been here so long."

Commisso, 32, started working as a sports book writer the day she turned 21. Now married and the mother of two girls ages 9 and 6, she says she wouldn’t want to see either of them work in a casino when they’re adults, even though she has a lot of fun with her job.

She says her position "is not as hard as men crack it up to be." Commisso, a native New Yorker, says men "don’t trust your judgment because you’re female. New bettors look at you not expecting to see a female in charge. I like working with all men. I used to be intimated but not any longer."

Some men, of course, take an age-old approach toward the young sports book manager. "I’ve heard every line there is," she says. "I’m waiting for the new ones to come out. It doesn’t faze me.

"You’ve got to love what you do," she says, and one of the reasons she does is because the crew at the Gold Coast is "like a big family."

Like Commisso, Langvad doesn’t want her 16-year-old son to follow in her footsteps as a casino employee ”” "I want him to go to college and find his own calling" — but also like her opposite number at the Gold Coast, she says she is employed by a wonderful company. "I enjoy the people I work with and most of the people I deal with," she says, but "I don’t want my son in the casino business. I don’t want him to be around gambling his whole life."

The staff of 15 she has working under her includes a woman supervisor and three female writers. She thinks two of the four women have management capabilities and three of the 11 men could eventually fill her position. "I have a wonderful staff," she says, and it helps her with the part of her job which she calls both "the hardest and best part — dealing with people."

If there is one thing she would change about her job, it would be setting her own lines for Arizona Charlie’s West. "In the old days, you did your own" handicapping, she says. "That was the fun part of the job.’’ But now, "Only a select few do it (set the line) any more — a very few." In her case, "One person does it for the whole company" and that person, Robert Jaynes, works at the Stratosphere.

Langvad knows what she is looking for in applicants for sports book positions at Arizona Charlie’s West. The native of Warren, Mich., whose husband is Arnie Lang, a writer who had stories published in Gaming Today for a number of years, says she looks for personality, flexibility, and the willingness to be a team player. "Everything else you could teach them," says the former Las Vegas bartender.

Langvad added that in her job "It’s nice to make people happy," including a woman from California who won $100,000 in a season-long football pool.

Carol Boyd has a simple explanation for her rise in the sports book business. "It’s a numbers business and I’m a numbers person," says the 42-year-old California native.

She says she got into the business as the result of a friend who was a sports book writer at Sam’s Town and her rise to supervisor and then ultimately manager at the Fremont Hotel happened relatively quickly. "Women were not respected" in the world of race and sports books, she says, but the atmosphere changes "once you’ve proven yourself and earned their respect and you get to know your customers."

Boyd calls it "an excellent field" and one that "gets in your blood." Nonetheless, she wants her 22 year-old-daughter, a pre-med student, to stay focused on her academics and not join her mother in the world of sports gaming.

Across the country, at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, Karen Klimas has been the sports book manager for seven years. "It’s really a fun job," she says. Note that Foxwoods handles horserace betting only; there is no legal sports betting outside of Nevada.

She started in the gaming world as a teller at a dog track in 1983 and then went to Foxwoods as a sports writer. Asked how she got hired at the sprawling casino complex, she laughs and says "hopefully for my looks. I wore a short skirt and black nylons. I was hired on the spot."

The 47- year-old divorcee who has two sons in their early 20s, says she is not sure male bettors have changed all that much over the years in their reaction to a female head of a sports book. "Their eyes (still) go right to the boobs," she says.

Klimas says she has 26 writers working under her and 23 of them are women. Her most memorable day at work was her first Kentucky Derby day at Foxwoods. "We were packed. We didn’t look up from punching tickets all day."

Back in Las Vegas, Jamie Shea runs the sports book at the Hard Rock Casino and calls it "the best job in the world." Shea, 32, is single and a native of Jupiter, Fla. She says her exposure to gambling came early in life as her father owned race horses and a dog who was entered in several races.

Shea, who graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans with a degree in elementary education, says she got into the sports book business through Bob Gregorka, a well-known gaming figure in Las Vegas, who she met at the now-demolished Sands Hotel. After stops at the Flamingo and the Venetian, Shea has settled in at the Hard Rock, which just re-opened its remodeled sports book on Saturday.

Shea says she "never had a problem (with men who work) in the industry." She describes her male colleagues as being "good guys, supportive" but she says "it’s tough to keep women" working in a sports book when some of them find they can make more money as, say, cocktail waitresses at the same property.

"I have the best time," Shea says, partly because, as an independent property, "we set our own line." She describes her first NFL Sunday as a sports book manager as "huge" and "thrilling" and says she "never gets bored."

None of the female sports book managers seem to be headed for an action-packed Mother’s Day. Commisso said she was planning to spend part of the day having breakfast at Lake Mead with her daughters and some girl scouts.

Boyd she was planning to spend the day on an in-town vacation before the football season starts. She said she has to plan her vacations for a time period "when there is not a lot of major events."

Shea said she was probably going to go to dinner with her mother, possibly at a restaurant in the Hard Rock Hotel.

Langvad said she probably was going to go to Florida to help her ailing father.

And in Connecticut, Klimas said she’ll be working at the Foxwoods’ sports book, just as she has for the last 21 years.