If you’re looking for Raphael Esparza, manager of the Strip’s newest race and sports book at Aria, there’s a good chance you won’t find him in his office. Instead, he’s apt to be out on the floor greeting customers and making sure everything is to their liking.
"That’s my retail background showing," the affable ex-Chicagoan says. "Customer service is very important in the retail business and it’s just as important here. Service is our No. 1 goal.
"I try to walk the floor several times a day and I encourage my supervisors to get out from behind the counter, too. People appreciate the opportunity to give us feedback and get their questions answered."
The most pressing question on players' minds at the plush new digs?
"How big is that TV?" Esparza says with a chuckle.
They’re referring to one of the two gigantic 9’ x 16’ screens in the sports area, which combined with the other screens total 90 available viewing options. It gets a little mind boggling when Esparza explains that each of the smaller screens, measuring 32" to 103," can be divided into four viewing areas and the behemoths can each be configured for up to 32 subdivisions.
"We also have over 50 DirectTV boxes, more than any of our other books, which give us a lot of options. Our customers will be able to watch almost any game that’s available."
So how does a guy who sells jewelry become the head honcho at this plush, new race and sports venue with the cozy lounge attitude? The old fashioned way – climbing up the ladder from the bottom rung.
Raphael hit town around 1997 and continued his career in retail jewelry sales. For recreation, he used to hang out at the sports book at Caesars Palace and eventually got to know Vincent Magliulo and Richard Baccellieri, who both worked there at that time.
When an admin position opened up, Raphael applied for and got the job. Later when Richard moved to the MGM sports book, Raphael followed and got experience as a ticket writer and cashier.
The next rung up the ladder was a promotion to supervisor at the New York-New York sports book. By 2005 he moved up to manager, and in August of this year his duties doubled. He was named manager of Aria’s race and sports book, but also continued as manager of the book at New York-New York until the actual opening of Aria Dec. 16.
"It was a challenge, but I enjoyed it," Raphael said.
Now, he has a brand new book with all the bells and whistles, comfy amenities and endless possibilities for great customer service.
NEW YEAR’S AT NOON: It’s been many years since we went out for New Year’s Eve. It isn’t for lack of someplace to go. Las Vegas probably has more parties than almost any other city.
It has nothing to do with money either. There’s a gala to fit any budget. Prices range from $20 at the Fremont Street Experience downtown ($10 if you show Nevada ID) to $100 at M Resort’s Ravello Lounge to $250 for the Grand Ballroom at The Mirage.
No, it’s just that midnight is past our bedtime. No matter how we try, we can’t seem to stay awake past 9 or 10 p.m. Since it’s rude to sleep at a party, we just don’t go.
But, to our delight, there’s a solution for people like us. South Point offers New Year’s at Noon in their Grand Ballroom for $19 a person, one of the best bargains in town. Tom Stevens as Dean Martin and the Swing City Dolls will entertain. Stevens also does Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, Elvis and others. In addition to the show, we’ll have party favors and champagne for toasting.
Maybe we’ll see you there. If not, see you around town.