Rolling out the welcome mat

Mike Piranio had been planning to welcome his new neighbors for three years. And now that they’ve settled in, not only have they become well-acquainted with each other, they’re becoming good friends.

Piranio invites them to his place every Sunday for three hours, sometimes longer, and a few arrive early and stay late. Which is fine by him.

This is what happens when your neighbor is an NFL team.

The Raiders’ arrival in Las Vegas and their magnificent $2 billion home, Allegiant Stadium, is just down the street from the place Piranio calls home — Mandalay Bay. As the Race and Sports Senior Manager of the BetMGM sportsbook at Mandalay Bay, he sees a lot of silver and black-clad fans patronizing his establishment.

“We were definitely ready to receive the Raiders,” he said. “So far, it’s been great.”

In order to greet his guests, Piranio and Mandalay Bay management gussied up the race and sportsbook. They upgraded the television screens. They created a lounge area. The Raiders are prominently displayed whenever they play.

“Sports betting these days are more about entertainment,” Piranio said. “So we want our customers to feel comfortable when they visit us and make it a fun environment.”

Piranio, said he expects things to get even busier come 2021 should fans be allowed to attend games.

“We’ve become the die-hard Raiders fan location,” he said. “We expect people to tailgate at our property then have organized marches to the stadium like you see in soccer.”

Piranio, 61, never expected any of this when he left Nebraska in 1998. What he did expect was being warmer in the winter.

“I was working as a manager of a savings and loan and I decided to move away from those Nebraska winters,” he said. “Vegas seemed liked the perfect place.”

He started out as a part-time ticket writer in the sportsbook at The Mirage, then became a supervisor at Bellagio. He kept moving up in the MGM Resorts International chain while heading south on the Las Vegas Strip, working at New York-New York, then Luxor, finally landing at Mandalay Bay in 2009.

“That’s one of the benefits of working at MGM,” he said. “There’s great opportunity to make progress.”

And while MGM, like every company in the gaming industry, as struggled during this year’s coronavirus pandemic, Piranio managed to make the most of it.

“We’ve been busy on the weekends, especially Sundays,” he said of the traffic at his property. “Even in the worst of times, Las Vegas manages to survive.

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“When we were shut down, I tried to get outside and work on my golf game. I was able to get it back in order, so if you see me on the course, don’t play me for money.”

Piranio has also gotten his handicapping skills where he wants them. After a slow start, he is in the hunt in Gaming Today’s 2020 Bookies Battle contest sponsored by Station Casinos. He was in fifth place going into Week 10 and is currently tied for third at 82-62 overall following an 8-6 week.

“The Bookies contest is hard because you’re picking every game,” he said. “Usually, me philosophy is ‘less is more.’ But you can’t do that in the contest.

“To me, the three most important words in handicapping are ‘Dogs, ‘Dogs, ‘Dogs. I’m always looking for underdogs to play when making my picks.”

Piranio admits luck plays a role in the contest.

“Yeah, I’ve been a little lucky,” he said. “I’ve picked a few small favorites and they’ve won. But I think experience helps. They say if you see something 10,000 times you learn something, so maybe I’ve learned a few things over the years.”

One thing Piranio has learned about his business is that the folks on the opposite side of the counter have gotten smarter.

“There’s so much information that comes out that both sides now have access to,” he said. “You really have to stay on top of it.

“Take golf. When we shut down and golf, UFC and NASCAR were the only things you could bet on legally in Nevada with the (mobile) app, people were betting it and since we reopened, they continue to bet on it. Golf betting has really grown and golf bettors are smarter. We did a lot of action on the Masters. But every week, people are betting it. 

 “Football will always be No. 1, but golf has definitely picked up in terms of handle this year.”

The BetMGM mobile app has helped increase business, not just in golf, but everything Piranio’s company books.

“That’s probably the biggest change in the industry since I started,” he said of mobile betting. “There’s so many more ways now to become engaged and our BetMGM app has really been a game-changer for us. We can do so many more things now than we used to.

“We’re still enjoying our camaraderie with our customers, but we do it a little differently now through the app."