Books ride Smarty all
the way to the bank

May 4, 2004 8:07 AM

The Kentucky Derby carried the race and sports books around Las Vegas into the winners circle, according to sports book managers all over town.

David Lee, the corporate director of Mandalay Bay’s race and sports book, said the crowd at his casino was "excellent" and the handle was up by 48 percent over last year, a figure helped by a couple of big players who come down regularly from the Northwest.

At Caesars Palace, Lou D’Amico estimated that at post time there were as many as 1,000 people around his race and sports book, a gathering that he said would rival the crowds for NCAA basketball tournament action. He said the handle was "very, very good, maybe 5 to 10 percent over last year."

D’Amico said Smarty Jones will "definitely" be the favorite "not only with the bettors but with the fans" to win the Preakness, and possibly the Triple Crown.

"This country is waiting for a Triple Crown winner," D’Amico said, adding that the Belmont Stakes will attract the casual racing fan if Smarty Jones takes the Preakness and enters the Belmont.

Casey Lewless said that while the crowd at his race book at Circus Circus was "pretty good," the race might have been hurt by not having a dominant favorite.

"I think the race plays out the same way if the track were fine," Lewless said. "I think there was a lot of mediocre horses" in the Derby.

He said that while this time of the year is "a fun five or six weeks," the public won’t care who wins the Belmont Stakes "if you don’t have a horse going for the Triple (Crown)."

Tom Foster, the day supervisor at the Golden Nugget’s race and sport book, said his place "was packed from 8 a.m. until the race was over" and by post time a number of bettors were "really, really drunk." He said the race book was so crowded that there "were two or three times when security had to come in to make an aisle."

Foster, who said his book’s handle "was really good," said that if "Smarty Jones wins the Preakness, then the Belmont will be almost like the Derby."

Rich Taylor, who runs the race and sports book at Jerry’s Nugget, said Derby Day at his place produced a "good handle, a good race, a good crowd." He said the handle was about 15 percent better than last year. He added that the crowd was "above average" and most of the bettors started arriving about noon.

Taylor said he expects the Preakness will be "a heck of a race" if both Smarty Jones and Lion Hart are entered and it might have a different outcome because of the different distance and sharper turns as compared to Churchill Downs.

The race and sports book manager at Bally’s, John Avello, said it was "a good weekend" with "good crowds, as good as it always is. It’s always a good event."

He said that if bettors "handicapped the track and not the race, you did OK." He predicted the Preakness "will be a nice event" because "the public has already embraced Smarty Jones."

At the Bellagio, Jimmy Croley said Derby Day was "very, very good" with the crowd being "wall to wall" and the volume being very close to last year, which was the best ever. "We were right there," he said of Saturday’s volume as compared to Derby Day 2003. He predicted the Preakness "will be our best ever."

Nationally, the Kentucky Derby drew record betting. According to Churchill Downs, bettors plunked down $99.3 million at tracks and simulcast outlets across the country.