If you’ve ever been in a Las Vegas sportsbook for a NFL Sunday or a busy day during the NCAA tournament, you know that emotion can sometimes get the best of bettors.
The book is often times the loudest room in the casino and it’s nothing to hear frustrated F-Bombs explode after an interception, the escalating jawing between rival sports fans or even a ticket-ripping hissy fit when a last-second three busts open someone’s bet.
So what happens when that tension boils over? What does it take for a sports bettor to get the boot from the book?
Most spots don’t have any sort of code or ratings system, but rather operate on more of a “you know it when you see it” stance.
“There are a lot of things that would get you kicked out,” said Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports for the Superbook at Westgate Las Vegas. “It’s generally summed up as, ‘Don’t act like a jerk.’ It’s actions like anywhere else – I don’t think sportsbooks have any different rules than a restaurant or a bar.
“If you’re being a jackass, you’re gonna get thrown out.”
So, what constitutes jackassery?
“They’re obvious reasons,” said Kornegay, noting hotel security – not sportsbook staff – handles such issues. “If you steal from a guest or you’re being obnoxious, or if you’re drunk and disorderly, that will certainly warrant the exit. Of course, if a guy is drunk, we call a cab for him, or if he’s a hotel guest, we ask him to sleep it off and have security escort him to his room.”
Terry Cox, director of race and sports at the Peppermill Reno, provided an idea of just how far one can go.
“A polite warning, and this is a new development, but smoking an e-cigarette in the nonsmoking section and trying to claim, ‘But it’s not really smoking.’ Yes it is. Please don’t do it,” Cox said. “A stern warning comes for taking a ‘VIP Reserved’ sign off the carrel, throwing it in the trash can, then claiming that there was no reserved sign on the table when the VIP guest arrives. Here’s a news flash, genius: we keep track of which seats are reserved. Do this twice, and you’re out.”
And how about the do-this-once-and-you’re-out scenario?
“Physical confrontation is an automatic 86,” Cox said. “If you’re involved, you’ll be excused, regardless of who was ‘right’ or who was ‘wrong.’ We all know lots of times in football, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty is called against the responder, not the instigator.”
Bob Scucci, Nevada regional director of race and sports for Boyd Gaming, has seen plenty in his 25 years at sportsbooks. He concurred with Cox and Kornegay on many things, and added another interesting one.
“Sleeping. You can’t sleep in the sportsbook,” Scucci said. “We’ve thrown them out. Maybe they’re trying to sleep off a hangover and can’t get to their room. We tell them they don’t need to go to their room, but they can’t stay here.”
Scucci said patrons who try to borrow money from other customers will also get run in a hurry, as too often such a situation leads to a physical confrontation.
And much as patrons might get frustrated while trying to place a bet, or waiting in line to do so, an absolute no-no is taking out that frustration on those behind the counter. Nick Bogdanovich, another longtime Las Vegas sportsbook stalwart, says nothing will get a customer kicked out faster.
“For sure, when you just start belittling the ticket writer,” said Bogdanovich, currently the director of trading for William Hill U.S. “The writer is always on the front lines. Severe abuse of the ticket writer is a sure way to get tossed. It happens a lot.”
But with sports betting having such extreme highs and lows, Bogdanovich has exercised some discretion in other cases.
“You’re in Las Vegas, there’s gambling and drinking. You let a lot more go,” he said. “You’ve got to extend some leeway. But if someone crosses that line, if they’re belligerent and looking for trouble, you’ve got to pull the plug.”
LINE ITEM VETO
A more serious issue all sportsbooks have to deal with – and all generally agree on the guidelines – is when bettors knowingly and repeatedly take advantage of a clearly erroneous line.
“Sometimes there are obvious mistakes on the board or in the computer system,” Kornegay said. “Certain types of guests will take advantage of that. They stay under the radar. They’ll see the mistake and bet multiple times in small increments, to not get caught.”
Kornegay then offered an example: Let’s say North Carolina is hosting Wake Forest in college basketball, and the Tar Heels are 20-point favorites. But somehow the line got flipped on the board, and Wake Forest was a 20-point chalk.
Kornegay said pretty much all books would rightly take the hit for the mistake, but as a general rule, bettors who test the under-the-radar strategy could find themselves permanently banned.
“There are so many events each and every day that mistakes are bound to happen. We made the mistake, we honor those tickets,” he said. “But there are some who will low-limit bet multiple times. The same guy bets 20 times for a total of $100. In that case, we do have the obligation to trespass that person. He can’t come back.
“It’s kind of a gentlemen’s agreement. If he keeps betting purposely, and all his friends are betting it, it’s kind of crossing that line. It’s a general rule for all sportsbooks. It’s not written anywhere, but that will warrant the door.”
Fortunately, Kornegay said, there are plenty of bettors who might catch the opportunity, bet it once, then let the ticket writer know there’s something wrong with the number. Others even point it out without betting it.
IN PLAIN SIGHT
Of course, that’s a serious issue that most patrons wouldn’t even be aware has taken place. The more humorous anecdotes of patrons getting tossed are far more visible – for better or for worse.
“I wish I could keep a log of all those things,” Kornegay said. “On a weekly basis, there are plenty of examples.”
Then he provided two memorable ones.
“A guy was accusing me of having a hotline to Mike Shanahan on the sidelines,” Kornegay said. “We had to get security to ask him to go. He was a little overzealous in his conspiracy theory.
“And in one incident, there was a couple in the back of the book, and let’s just say she was handicapping her boyfriend. That’s the best way to put it.”
Yeah, that’s probably enough said.
Occasionally, a patron has had too much to drink and just completely loses sight of where he is. And when you gotta go, well, you gotta go.
“One time, when I was working at Binion’s Horseshoe, a guy was so drunk, he took his pants down and was literally peeing at the betting window,” Bogdanovich recalled, noting that patron was quickly booted. “It was just some old, drunk man. He had no idea what he was doing.”
Then there’s the unique case of Jimmy Vaccaro, who’s been at this for four decades and is currently an oddsmaker at South Point. For once, Vaccaro was stumped by a question: Had he ever thrown anybody out of a sportsbook?
“You’ve got me there, pal. You’ve got to go somewhere else for this one,” Vaccaro said. “I’ve never thrown a guy out of a sportsbook in my whole career. The crowd in the sportsbook can get a little over-exuberant, but I’ve never witnessed a fight in a sportsbook, or even anything close to that.”
TIL DEATH DO US PART
Scucci recalled a situation that was hardly a fight, and in fact was about as sedate as could be, from back in 2005, during his days at the legendary but now demolished Stardust.
“It’s a little dark,” Scucci warned. “We had a customer who wanted to die in the sportsbook. He was very old, and it was his only wish.”
Scucci said the gentleman was a patron of the Stardust casino for all of its nearly 50 years – it was imploded in 2007 – and was a very familiar face in the book from its inception in 1974.
“I knew him well,” he said. “He liquidated everything he owned. He expected to be gone months before he actually died. He outlived his coverage, you might say.
“He brought all his stuff into the sportsbook – clothes, suitcases – and just kept moving it around. He asked us to keep some of his clothes behind the counter.”
The book obliged to the degree it could under such an unusual circumstance with such a loyal customer. But it didn’t end as the patron hoped.
“Sure enough, in the middle of the night one night, security asked him to leave,” Scucci recalled. “He went across the street, and he died that night.”
Still, the gentleman came quite close to fulfilling his wish, probably close enough that he died a happy man.
“He lived a very full life,” Scucci said.
On a far lighter note, Cox recalled an instance with one of his employees that showed it’s not just patrons who could be shown the door.
“At another Northern Nevada sportsbook, before I came to the Peppermill, the Raiders were in a January 1994 playoff game with the Broncos,” Cox said. “One of my supervisors was a strong bookmaker and immensely personable, a great athlete and a Vietnam vet, and a fanatic supporter of John Elway and the Broncos. As the Raiders pulled away from Denver in the second half on their way to a 42-24 win, there were three Raider fans whose trash-talking kept getting louder and more obnoxious and annoying.
“Finally, my supervisor couldn’t stand it anymore and literally went over the counter after these guys. It took five security officers to subdue the whole mess. My supervisor looked up at me while he was still pinned to the floor and asked, ‘Does this mean I’m fired?’ ‘Oh, yeah,’ I said, ‘but way to go, dude.’”
Colin Kelly is a Las Vegas-based contributor for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @ColinPKelly29.