Derek Wilkinson grew up in Charleston, S.C., loving sports.
He rooted for the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Braves. And like all South Carolinians, he had to make a choice: Gamecocks or Tigers?
Like the rest of his family, he chose South Carolina over Clemson.
After high school, he attended the University of South Carolina for three years, studying hospitality, before getting the itch to head westward.
Eleven years later, Wilkinson is the executive manager of race and sportsbook operations at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
He is putting his expertise to good use. Wilkinson has been near the top of the standings for most of the season in this year’s gaming Today Bookies Battle contest. And as the NFL heads into its Thanksgiving weekend of games, Wilkinson is doing the SuperBook proud. He is tied for third place with an impressive 96-80 record.
He never envisioned himself being in this position and representing a casino in a football betting contest.
“I originally came out to Las Vegas with the idea of being a casino host,” Wilkinson said.
But after a few years working in marketing departments of a couple of companies, he realized he wanted to do something else. He became intrigued by a couple of friends’ stories of the sportsbook world.
“I love the casino atmosphere — how fast-paced it is, the gaming side of it,” Wilkinson said. “I ended up getting a job at Station Casinos about eight years ago and worked my way up to supervisor.”
Four years later, Wilkinson heard from Jay Kornegay, the SuperBook’s vice president of race and sports operations, and got what he called “an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“I couldn’t say yes fast enough,” Wilkinson said.
Before being promoted to his current position, Wilkinson got to spend time in the back of the book, learning odds- and line-making and risk management.
The SuperBook has a team of five to six people who go over the numbers for a day’s or week’s games. That team makes their own lines while monitoring the market — including overseas sportsbooks — for the particular sport.
Once different books have posted lines, Wilkinson says, the numbers tend to settle close to a consensus.
“Sunday afternoons, after the (1 p.m.) games are over, we all get together in the back,” Wilkinson said. “If you go too far off the market, what that market says the number should be — we might think a spread should be 10, but if everybody else has it at eight, all the wise guys will hit that 10 all day long.”
Wilkinson contrasted the “Las Vegas way” of bookmaking, taking a stand on a number, with the European model, which seeks to split the bettors’ action 50-50.
Even though he is involved in making numbers and managing the SuperBook’s risk on wagers, Wilkinson isn’t averse to putting his own money in play. For the most part, he goes against the public.
“I love (betting sports),” he said. “If the public is betting one way, usually I’m waiting for that number to get high enough so I can bet the other side. We’re privy to a lot of that information, and we generally — but not always — know which way the line is going to go.”
But Wilkinson says he doesn’t always fade the public’s choices.
“I do think it’s important for betting purposes to not always be on the sharps’ side,” he said. “Favorites win sometimes. I’ve tried to do that in the Bookies contest — not being so obsessed with being on the sharps’ side.”