Kentucky Derby best shot for racing to gain new fans

May 3, 2011 6:04 AM

This weekend’s Kentucky Derby is more than just the biggest horse racing day of the year for Las Vegas race books; it’s a showcase event.

Race books around town show everyone how polished they are from guest service, cleanliness, video presentation and amenities offered. This is their chance; their one shot to win over a new crowd that rarely visits the book, but now does so because of tradition.

Derby Day in the book is almost like church where we see the two busiest being Easter and Christmas.

"The Derby is the most well known horse racing event and attracts the average guy, where as the Breeders’ Cup attracts mostly from the horse racing community," says Cantor Gaming Race and Sports Director Mike Colbert, "With the Derby you get both factions making it a huge event. My parents even bet the Derby every year and they won’t make a horse bet for the rest of the year, which is kind of what we get with the Derby most of the day."

Race books around town know the people are going to come and some offer enticing little gifts to ensure a visit to their property. Jay Kornegay at the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book will be giving away commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses with every $20 wager. Kornegay is also using the day to try and educate many of the first time bettors with hopes of making them regular bettors throughout the year.

"I like to use this opportunity, with having so many new faces attracted to horse racing for the day, to try and create more horse racing fans long term," Kornegay explained. "Beyond just teaching them how to correctly place a wager for the Derby, I like to show them how much of an opportunity there is for getting a piece of the huge pools in all the races.

"Most bettors like to bet a little to win a lot, whether it’s a parlay in sports or hitting a big price in the horses," he continued. "For a small amount in horse racing, you can really hit something large when playing some of the exotics. I want them to know what a pick-4 is, or how a trifecta works where they can experience some huge payouts and then, hopefully, endear them to horse racing on more days other than just the Derby."

That kind of forward thinking by Kornegay is what is needed for not only every Nevada race book, but also for the entire horse racing industry as the sport has kind of lost a generation to sports betting and poker. Pari-mutual handle in Nevada has been sliding the last five years, yet Derby day still holds its grip year-over-year with slight increases or flat numbers.

The art of handicapping a race is somewhat of a lost science, but hopefully all the wisdom from the likes of local handicapping legends like John Kelly, Pat McQuigan, Richie Saber, Ralph Siraco and Dave Tuley can be extracted and bottled up for the current generation to tap into.

The Palace Station and South Point are offering free handicapping seminars on Friday to not only help novices better understand horse racing, but also educate the regulars on what horses might be good plays to cash in on.

Most of the Las Vegas race books are pretty nice as is, but the angle of getting something for free is always a huge catch. Local bettors have come to expect some kind of gift for their wagers. This year the South Point is giving away food and drink vouchers with a $20 wager along with expanding their race book for the day.

The South Point already has one of the nicest race books in the city simply because it doesn’t have any conflict with those noisy sports bettors. It’s the only real stand alone race book in Las Vegas and has and old school type of feel of feel. It’s not old by any means, in fact it’s brand new, but it’s old in the sense of having that horse racing feel like so many of us know from midwest and east coast OTB parlors.

Despite having a huge room with nine betting stations, South Point race book manager Mary Jungers is opening a brand new extension of her race book in the giant ball room upstairs just to accommodate the thousands expected to come through the door. She’ll have seven bet stations giving her a total of 16 windows that will all be open throughout the day.

Over at Station Casinos race books across the valley, bettors get the best of both worlds with free stuff, $20,000 up for grabs and watching the races in luxury. Stations has the biggest conglomerate of large race books in town with the best combined viewing experience. Have you seen those video walls? No matter where you are in the casino, you’ll be able to see the massive movie screen HD picture of the Derby.

If that’s not enticing enough, for a $20 wager, every Station book will be giving away free Derby t-shirts while supplies last. For a $2 wager, bettors also have the opportunity to get a piece the guaranteed $20,000 Twin-Quinella, a massive overlay that the Station books combine to pay for.

Bob Scucci’s chain of sports books for Coast Resorts will also be giving away official Derby t-shirts for a $20 wager while supplies last. His Orleans race book will be expanded for the day to the ball room to accommodate the crowd.

I don’t even know who I like to win, but I’ll keep a close eye on what our local experts like and try some of their strategies. What I do know is that I want some free stuff. I’ve got a collection of Derby glasses that need this year’s version, so a visit to the Hilton is a must. I’ll also re-gift the t-shirts I collect to family across the states who love that kind of stuff. It’s a total win-win for me and the results of the race aren’t even in yet.