Former MGM sportsbook boss, Jay Rood, shares his most memorable - and crazy - moments behind the counter

Oct 16, 2020 |
Former MGM sportsbook boss, Jay Rood, shares his most memorable - and crazy - moments behind the counter
Jay Rood has seen it all from behind the sports betting counter: from angry mobs of football fans to possible shootouts in the sportsbook. He shares his most memorable moments in the industry.
Photo By - Covers Media Group
Jay Rood has seen it all from behind the sports betting counter: from angry mobs of football fans to possible shootouts in the sportsbook. He shares his most memorable moments in the industry.
Photo By - Covers Media Group

On a typically torrid June afternoon in Las Vegas, while lunching on a turkey club sandwich and a glass of iced tea at Egg Works, Jay Rood recounted his steps up the sportsbook ladder. It began very much on the bottom rung, as a ticket writer at Caesars Lake Tahoe in 1992.

“I just wanted to get into the business and ski, and Tahoe seemed like the spot,” Rood, a New Mexico native, told Covers. “I skied once while there, and the job board at Caesars had a post that said ‘sports writer.’ I thought to myself, ‘Well, I was not the best at writing in college, but let’s see what it’s all about. Young and dumb!

“I thought I was going to an interview for writing about sports. I didn’t realize it was a teller position until the interview. After an hour with Gene Kivi, which I was told was about 50 minutes longer than any other interview he ever did, I had the job. And I was relieved to know that I wasn’t going to have to test my journalism skills.”

In late 1993, Rood got an opportunity to jump to Las Vegas, again as a ticket writer, this time part of the crew opening the new sportsbook at the MGM Grand. That marked the beginning of more than 25 years at MGM Resorts for Rood, who worked his way up each level, ultimately becoming the company’s vice president of race and sports in 2008.

 

But with the sports betting landscape significantly changing and expanding in the past year – thanks to the Supreme Court striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act – new opportunities abounded, particularly for someone as experienced and well-respected as Rood. So in May, two-and-half decades after joining MGM, Rood decided it was time to leave the company and look for a new challenge.

It didn’t take long to find it, as on June 18, Rood accepted the post of chief risk officer for Bet.Works, a U.S.-based iGaming and sportsbook platform.

“It felt like the right time,” Rood said, while explaining that Bet.Works is a full turnkey solution for clients aiming to enter the sportsbook niche. “We’ve positioned ourselves as uniquely American. Our main focus is American sports. We have a really good executive team. The people assembled for this team are probably the main reason I decided to go. It’s an exciting opportunity.”

Bet.Works expects its sportsbook platforms – both land-based and mobile – to be particularly attractive to industry newcomers outside Nevada and New Jersey. That said, the first client to launch will be sports mobile app giant The Score, with a targeted August debut of a mobile betting app in the New Jersey market.

“There’s a certain comfort level I had going into this,” Rood said. “Being a B2B (business-to-business) provider, rather than an operator, is a different challenge, certainly different than my 25 years with MGM. But I have no doubt that MGM will continue to do well in the sportsbook industry.”

Rood’s career is dotted with memorable moments behind the counter, almost all of them – that first interview notwithstanding – coming at MGM properties. Following are the five moments he deemed most memorable:

The Night The Lights Went Out

On the night of Saturday, August 31, 2002, the UNLV football team opened its season at home against Wisconsin. The Badgers, who brought with them to Vegas a legion of fans, opened as 3-point favorites, but the line surged to as much six or seven points.

With Wisconsin rolling 27-7 and Badgers bettors eager to cash those tickets, the stadium lights went out with 7:41 remaining in the fourth quarter. The game did not resume, as Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez and UNLV coach John Robinson agreed to call it, giving the Badgers a 27-7 victory.

That would seem like a Wisconsin cover, as well, except that Nevada sportsbooks have a rule that 55 of the 60 minutes of regulation must be completed for a result to be official. The game fell a couple minutes short of that requirement.

“I was the shift supervisor on duty that night at the MGM,” Rood recalls. “There were a lot of people at the game, and a lot had come back early because Wisconsin was way ahead. So they were filtering back into the hotel, coming to the book to cash their tickets.”

But that rule prevented such transactions, meaning all bets on both sides were refunded, much to the chagrin and suspicion of Wisconsin backers. Rood, though, said the suspicion was ill-founded, at least at MGM.

“We needed Wisconsin, because UNLV was a wiseguy play because the number had run so much,” he said. “We were on the same side as all the Wisconsin people, and they had no idea. They assumed we needed UNLV and that we were doing this to screw them.”

Rood recalled reaching out to then-MGM Grand vice president Debbie Nutton, who helped come up with a solution to quell the riled-up crowd.

“Everybody’s screaming. So I call Debbie and say, ‘What are we gonna do?’ She said to go up to the bar and tell anybody in red that they can drink for free until we close.”

That only amounted to about an hour, as the game ended late Saturday night.

“It didn’t appease many,” Rood said. “That was an interesting night.”

Y2Krazy – Or Not

On New Year’s Eve 1999, Rood could again be found on the night shift at the MGM Grand book. Along with it being the turn of the millennium, it was a Friday night, so the Vegas Strip was as crazy as it’s ever been for New Year’s festivities.

There was also great concern over the so-called Y2K bug. Many thought that at the stroke of midnight, computers would go haywire and there’d be all sorts of communication problems and such.

“Nobody knew what to expect,” Rood said. “We had a ticket writer so freaked out by Y2K that he quit four months earlier, moved to Texas and became a doomsday preparer.”

Rood wasn’t gearing up for the end of days, but he did have a just-in-case solution that night.

“We normally stay open late, but everybody thought chaos was gonna ensue, so we closed early and took all the money to the casino cage,” Rood said. “Me and one writer stayed until midnight, and if nothing happened, we were gonna reopen til 1 a.m. But we didn’t reopen. It was a bizarre scenario. It was dead in the casino. Y2K passed very quietly in the sportsbook world.”

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Bite Night

On June 28, 1997, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson collided for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden, a few months after Holyfield earned an upset technical knockout of Tyson. The rematch itself was quite a spectacle, with Tyson disqualified following the third round after twice biting Holyfield’s ears.

That wasn’t nearly as much a concern for Rood as what took place on the adjacent casino floor at the MGM Grand Hotel. As fight fans filed out of the arena and into the casino, some thought they heard gunshots.

“A champagne bottle, a gunshot, whatever it was, all I know is we had bars on the sportsbook cage, which I appreciated that night,” Rood said. “We were by an exit to the pool. A bunch of people were running through the sportsbook to the pool. Me and my crew hit the deck and army-crawled to the back room. I called the casino cage and said we need security. We had a lot of money on hand in the book, because of the fight.

“My wife called and asked if I was all right. I said, ‘Yeah, but how do you know what’s going on?’ She said, ‘It’s all over CNN.’ And we turned on the TV, and there was the big green building.”

As it turned out, the shots-fired scare was a false alarm, as police later determined there was no gunplay that evening.

“Bite Night was interesting,” Rood said. “Being the night supervisor at a sportsbook, you see an awful lot.”

Looks Can Be Deceiving

The Sunday night game on opening weekend of the 2014-15 NFL season was a dandy, with Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts traveling to Denver to face the Broncos, led by former Colts QB Peyton Manning. The Broncos opened as 7-point favorites and reached as high as -9, before the game closed at 8.

One bettor at The Mirage was particularly keen on Luck and the Colts – much more so than Rood expected upon first glance.

“This is the ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ story,” Rood said, noting the bettor was disheveled, to put it nicely. “He asks how much he could bet on the Colts. I said, ‘Buddy, you can empty your pockets.’ He yanked out an old Walmart bag and starting pulling out $100 bills. He said he wanted to bet $200,000. So I was kind of caught off guard.”

Rood had to run that wager by higher-ups to get approval.

“He wanted the Colts +7.5. It was Luck vs. Manning, and the Colts lose by 7,” Rood recalled, with Indy covering on a touchdown with 3:26 remaining in a 31-24 loss. “As nondescript as he came up when he bet, he came back, got his money, put it in the old Walmart bag and left. I never saw him again.

“That taught me the art of negotiation. Understand what they want to do before you put your foot in your mouth. It certainly helped with Bettor X.”

Which brings us to …

Bettor X and Mattress Mack

The 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers helped introduce the betting world – and many in the general public – to Bettor X. But before Bettor X got his moniker, he was just a semi-regular player at MGM books.

“He was a guy we’d dealt with betting mixed martial arts,” Rood said, noting the customer was eastern European. “He had a very high hit rate, not necessarily betting large favorites. He’d pick favorites and ‘dogs, two to three on every card.

“Then he showed up for the World Series of Astros-Dodgers. And we had another gentleman, Mattress Mack, betting too,” Rood said, alluding to the Houston furniture store owner who had offered a big refund promotion to his customers if the Astros won the title. “He was trying to hedge the Astros.”

Bettor X was betting game-by-game, while Mattress Mack was primarily betting on the series price as it adjusted with each game. However, both bet on Game 1, with Bettor X taking L.A. – which notched a 3-1 victory – and Mattress Mack losing on his hometown team. Both bettors were throwing around seven-figure wagers throughout the series.

Rood and his risk team were able to manage the liability from both bettors by adjusting game and series prices to attract money from the rest of MGM’s customers.

“We had really good action and we were in a good position,” he said. But not good enough to withstand Bettor X. “We could never get him. He went back and forth, zig-zagging on the games, and he went 6-0 betting seven figures. It was so volatile, but he kept getting there on his plays.”

Bettor X opted against betting on Game 7 – Houston won it to claim the championship – but he wasn’t done with MGM books just yet.

“He walks away that night, and our next interaction is Eagles moneyline in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, for $3 million at +150,” Rood recalled, noting another big ticket that cashed after Philadelphia’s 41-33 upset victory. “I would not call him a sophisticated gambler. We accommodated his bets by moving the price on him a bit and getting buyback in the market. But that was just an unprecedented run. He had a tremendous amount of luck.”

Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.

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