Cantor Gaming and William Hill are playing Vegas like Monopoly.

Jul 5, 2011 3:10 AM

 

Picture a monopoly board and instead of Atlantic City street names lined around game’s route insert Las Vegas sports books.

This is the game currently being played in the city as a few of the players are acquiring books in a series of power play moves. The two major players in the game right now are Cantor Gaming and William Hill and they are both making extraordinary counter moves in their match.

The latest move came from Cantor as they secured the rights to put their race and sports book operations inside the Venetian and Palazzo casinos, two of the more elite gaming operations in the world. This is a major revelation in the industry because it’s uncommon to see a major Las Vegas casino’s sports book on the Strip change over like this without a merger.

The fact that Cantor Gaming was able to go in and make Robert G. Goldstein, president of global gaming operations for Las Vegas Sands Corp., an offer he couldn’t refuse says a lot about Cantor’s commitment to the future of Las Vegas.

Perhaps the stakes went up a little higher for Cantor when William Hill burst onto the scene earlier this year buying out Leroy’s, Cal-Neva and Lucky’s sports books, which account for 115 of the 183 Nevada sports books. Although those three chains of books overall cumulative handle doesn’t come close to their percentage of Nevada properties run, it was a major acquisition that gave the appearance of tilting the scales in the English bookmaking firm’s favor in the territorial battle between the two race and sports-only operations.

Cantor Gaming came onto the scene with their first book at the M Resort in 2008 and have been one the favorites of bettors – both sharp and casual – across the valley for their numerous propositions, willingness to take large bets and innovative technology. They then struck a deal with the Hard Rock Hotel, the new Tropicana and Cosmopolitan offering all the great amenities the M does.

But the Venetian and Palazzo is an entirely new wave of takeover. Las Vegas Sands is one of the best run gaming corporations in the world. Their high roller players are the ones hosts from other casinos all over town are trying to woo to their property. That high end play – from relatively square bettors with lots of cash – should send Cantor to the new frontier they’ve been looking for.

The down side to the takeover is that the race and sports book staff of the Venetian will be without jobs next week with the Palazzo likely to change over in November. However, each one of the employees will have their chance to be re-hired this week for the new book as Cantor has begun an interview process. There is no guarantee all will be taken back, but it is a good sign that at least the Venetian staff will have the first crack at it.

For bettors, the loss of the Venetian means dropping another unique line option on the Strip. For future bettors, the Venetian was always one of the fairest in town offering one of the lowest – if not THE lowest – theoretic holds in the city, hovering around the 30% hold mark for index’s offering 28 to 32 options.

They’ll still be running the same operation out of the Palazzo for a few months as Cantor builds their book inside the Venetian, but inevitably, the Venetian line will soon be gone for good.

With all the consolidation going on around Nevada and smart phones having screens displaying lines for every book, the days of the "runner" are pretty much gone. Not in the present sense that ticket writers still refer to some of the big money players today, but in the old sense where guys would actually run the Strip shopping for the best prices because there were dozens of shops within a short distance of each other with differing odds.

This is the new age of Las Vegas and it will likely only grow larger with the possibilities of the Federal government wanting to keep American betting dollars within the U.S. to be taxed. Sports betting may be further off than poker or other casino games, but not too far off.

William Hill didn’t just come here to take a piece of the Nevada money, they came with hopes the U.S. would soon relax their stance on Internet wagering. Cantor Gaming will be in the same boat ready and waiting with their technology as well.

You may ask what sports book may be next for either William Hill or Cantor Gaming to take over because there still may be more. For more than three months it’s been rumored Cantor would take over the Caesars Entertainment sports books, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Some have speculated that MGM Resorts may be willing to listen, but it doesn’t seem logical for them to go through with it just because of the possibilities that lie ahead with interstate wagering. Why would a giant like MGM want to give up, or share, possibly billions of dollars on future earnings with anyone for short term gains?

Cantor’s Lee Amaitis drives a hard bargain and it’s tough for anyone to pass up leasing the space on their floor with all the zeroes attached to the price of his deals. But for the sake of having multiple betting lines to choose from around the city, let’s hope a few sports books do find a way to resist.

In order to do that, it’ll take a lot more to convince casino presidents not to make change than just keeping the customers happy.

The bottom line is what it’s all about. If Cantor comes in with a figure that guarantees more money than what their book made the previous year after labor and expenses are deducted, it’s a hard deal for them to pass on.

Cantor has built a solid brand and reputation within Las Vegas. Their books are immaculate with their own special flavor that tells you immediately you’re in a Cantor book. Between knowing the book will be beautiful with unlimited resources, high tech, eliminating the uncertainty of sports book win and no longer having to deal with regulatory controls of the department, it’s easier to understand why executives of companies would be tempted to go with Cantor.

I’m excited the direction the race and sports book industry is going in with William Hill and Cantor specifically because that’s all they do. Race and sports priorities don’t get shuffled with the needs of keno and weighted behind the big money departments of table games and slots like most do now as part of a casino operation. They are progressive and forward thinking in race and sports only, which should help them prosper and create plenty of jobs throughout the state as they both grow.

While they grow, I still feel there is a place for everyone else to survive and continue to have their own niche. Someone in a sports book recently told me, "If there’s a Macy’s on every corner, doesn’t that make the one Nordstrom that much more desirable?"

Micah Roberts will be guest hosting Sports Book Radio on Fox Sports 920 AM Tuesday through Friday from 2-3 p.m.