Atif Chaudry is no artist. But he knows what to do with a blank canvas.
Chaudry was given the task of developing the new sportsbook at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino outside of Pittsburgh. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and in the three months he had as the property’s sportsbook manager, he also knew he had to work quickly.
The result? A room with seating for 150, 18 high-definition televisions, five betting windows and 18 self-service kiosks.
“We want to have a place where you felt comfortable and welcome,” Chaudry said of the book, which is part of a $16 million overall facelift of the property that includes an events center and a food court. “We’re in a competitive situation (with Rivers) so we need to do something to stand out.”
Chaudry, who is representing the Meadows in Gaming Today’s Bookies Battle contest, is holding his own. He was above .500 at the midway point of the NFL season and said it has been a fun thing to participate in.
“I’m competing against friends,” said Chaudry, who has a 68-67 record through nine weeks of the contest. “So that makes it a cool thing. But I’ve had to adjust my picks because I’m used to waiting and seeing the number move. Here, it’s a static number and you’re making the picks on Tuesday instead of the weekend when there’s more information available. So I’ve been picking more underdogs.
“I’m probably not going to win it. But Max Schmerin (of Rivers Pittsburgh) is one of my closest friends and if I can beat him, I’ll be happy with that.”
Meadows, which is owned by Penn National Gaming and has its numbers produced by Kambi Sports Betting Services, has only been open a couple of weeks. But Chaudry has noticed an uptick in traffic on the property, which has live harness racing as one of its attractions.
“We embrace racing,” he said. “We have two horse racing kiosks in the sportsbook so if you want to make a horse bet, you can do so without leaving the book.
“The sportsbook is impacting the handle at the track. People come to make a sports bet and they’ll stay and play a couple of races and vice versa. We have people come for the racing and they’ll come by the sportsbook and make a bet. It’s been a great relationship.”
A Pittsburgh native, Chaudry, 40, has a marketing degree from Penn State. He uses his education to help come up with creative ways to drive traffic to the sportsbook. He made sure the sportsbook was integrated into The Meadows’ player loyalty card program called “mychoice” where you earn points which can be redeemed for various perks. On weekends, there are drawings for $500 betting vouchers. There’s a bar and restaurant adjacent to the book, making it easy to grab something to eat and drink while tracking your wagers.
“One of the most fun things was working with the different departments to make this a reality,” he said. “To create your own culture is a unique opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.”
Chaudry was working at Rivers Pittsburgh prior to heading to The Meadows. While there, he tapped into the wisdom of Jimmy Vaccaro, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the industry.
“Jimmy would always say, ‘What’s the game plan for today?’” Chaudry said. “He always said preparation was the most important thing along with relationships. You want to put on a friendly face and make sure the customers are having a good experience. I want our customers to feel like we’re looking out for them.”
Chaudry, who loves playing Poker and makes annual treks to Las Vegas to participate in cash games during the World Series of Poker, has visited some of the sportsbooks in town and picked the brains of some book directors. All that knowledge and information came back to one thing — good customer service.
“I tried to take the best of everything and fit it into what we’re doing here (at The Meadows),” he said. “The Penn National people have been very supportive and allowed me to create the environment we have.”
Chaudry played tennis at Penn State (he walked on) and while he loves the sport, football’s in his blood.
“You can’t be from Western Pennsylvania and not love football,” he said. “My 8-year-old plays flag football and I love sharing the experience with him. He loves playing and he thinks I have the coolest job in the world because I watch sports. He’ll give me his picks and who he likes and he’s pretty good straight up.”
While things are off to a good start at the Meadows, the big push is about to take place with the activation of mobile betting from the property. The Meadows is partnering with DraftKings and Kambi on their app and it went live Monday.
“We expect it to be a game-changer for us,” he said. “Live betting is a strength we have with the Kambi system and the mobile app will spike business considerably.”
Chaudry said The Meadows is ready to accept more business.
“I love this job,” he said. “It’s something I’m passionate about. I love being around there action and being around the customers. It’s the perfect gig.”