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Sportsbook Profile: Palms/Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
by Jeremy Martin

Although the sportsbook at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and the Palms are much different in terms of the crowds that they attract -- The Hard Rock sportsbook caters to mostly tourists while locals comprise up to 70 percent of the Palms' sportsbook business - both casinos have one thing in common. They are both the hottest hotels in Las Vegas for young hipsters who want to be seen and who want to rub elbows with the many celebrities who frequent both establishments.

These casinos are better known for their party atmosphere than their sportsbooks. With so many nightclubs, restaurants, concerts and other attractions, some visitors don't have the time or money to make a trip by the book to place a bet. "Whenever I'm in Vegas, I always go to the Hard Rock - it's the place to be," said San Diego resident Josh Bernstein. "I like to place a bet now and then, but there's always so much to do there that I never get around to it. I am usually on a limited budget, and after dinner and a night out at Baby's (nightclub), and some blackjack, unless I have a winning streak I am usually too broke to think about betting a game."

Having such a young, hip clientele base comes with certain dilemmas for the sportsbook. This crowd does not typically bet a lot of money and they are often inexperienced when it comes to placing a sportsbet. The customers who do like to bet big have tons of other options in Las Vegas with better-known sportsbooks. This is why the managers at the Palms and the Hard Rock are proactive when it comes to shaping their sportsbooks to their customer's needs.

Doc's Sports spoke with Fred Crespi, the race and sportsbook manager for the Palms and Jamie Shea, the race and sportsbook director for the Hard Rock, about how they get their customers interested and how they keep them coming back for more:

PALMS:

This could be the hottest property in Las Vegas right now. George Maloof Jr., the marketing genius/owner-operator of the casino, has made the Palms a playground for A-list celebrities, and the young, attractive crowd that usually follows them.

Located a few blocks west of the Strip, the Palms is in a perfect spot to attract locals. Crespi, a nine-year veteran of the sportsbook industry, knows that he has to do things a little differently to get visitors to the casino involved with the sportsbook. "It's not the type of place where we see (huge) wagers every weekend, like some of the big Strip properties," he said. "The restaurants are fantastic and the concerts are amazing. The nightclub Rain is a very big attraction. (The Palms) has a lot more of a nightlife feel, yet at the race and sportsbook we try and cater to anybody that could possibly ever walk in."

Since the Maloof family controls a majority ownership stake in the Sacramento Kings, the Palms takes no action on the NBA in order to avoid any conflict of interest. To make up for the loss of this business and to attract customers with a wide variety of interests, Crespi puts a lot of non-traditional sports on the board.

"We do try and offer some things that other places don't," he said. "Unfortunately, we are not able to take wagers on the NBA. We need to try and attract people on the periphery with things like English Premier Soccer and we try and do a very good job with golf and auto racing. We try and appeal to a little bit of everybody, with everybody's interest in mind. We stay ahead with the main sports as well, offering propositions here and there, and a lot more half times on games than most properties. But we try and offer some of the bigger events - ones that are big in the public eye but not necessarily in the wagering world."

As far as props go, the Palms patterns itself after Imperial Palace sportsbook in terms of the amount offered, although Crespi admits they are still a step below the IP. Regardless, Crespi and his staff are always trying to improve in that area. "They are definitely still the leaders in the industry," he said. "But we try and (model) ourselves a little (after them) because we are both stand alone properties and we both need to establish a niche. And if there is something that we don't have, possibly that someone would like to see (offered), we take suggestions and we try and run with it and see if it's possible. That's the fun part of it; to try and listen to people and create things. Management is open to any new ways to build business. They give us a lot of freedom to try new things."

Other ways the Palms attracts customers include parlay cards with higher than normal payouts and a football contest where $20,000 is paid out each week. Although nearly every sportsbook in Las Vegas now offers some sort of contest, Crespi thinks his is one of the best because it involves only one property, giving participants a higher chance of cashing in.

One thing working in Crespi's favor is the aggressiveness of the marketing efforts for the Palms in general. The hotel/casino is regularly featured on reality shows and its name pops up all the time in all of the hottest magazines. "We are very fortunate to have all that extra walk-in business," he commented. "We just need to keep up with making sure that we can appeal to all the different type of people who come in."

The manager said that all of the five supervisors at the book have a specialty, whether it is boxing, golf, auto racing or soccer. This helps in putting up solid numbers on sports that are not a usual part of the Las Vegas rotation. "That's why we do get that (confidence) from management, because we have people here who really take the time necessary to put out a proper number," he added.

HARD ROCK:

Shea said the main challenges at the Hard Rock are the lack of disposable income and betting experience of her customers. "Do they have tons of money to lay on the game? No," she said. "But I think we more than make up for it quantity. We have so many people betting. We have such a young, hip crowd, that when they hear 'football,' they come running. There's not the same interest in baseball, admittedly. I think that's because (our customers) don't know how to bet it. We spend a lot of time teaching in our book. People come up and say they have never bet before and they need help. We go over what the different bets are and how you can bet the money line, how you can bet the point spread and how you can bet the total. In baseball, we show them how you can bet the run line or straight up. We tell them what the 'plus' and 'minus' mean." Like the Palms, Shea tries to offer visitors a wide range of betting options. She even tried to set up Rugby this year, although there wasn't significant interest to merit putting it up on the board.

The Hard Rock sportsbook takes a different spin on the football contest. With fantasy football booming nationwide, the book decided to incorporate that into their game. Players get to pick eight games as well as eight player match-ups each week. The prizes are also unique as the Hard Rock gives a one-year pass to the Joint (Hard Rock's concert venue) to the season winner along with $10,000 in cash. All together, $150,000 in cash and prizes handed out to top finishers. "We try and make our contest a little more interesting," said Shea. "Fantasy football is really popular right now and people love watching their players - that's the new thing. We limit our contest to 1,500 people, so (anybody has) a really good shot of winning."

Another way the Hard Rock sportsbook attracts sports bettors is with its Monday Night Football party, which is held at the Joint. Three projection TVs show all the action and there are scantily clad females dancing on trampolines throughout the venue. "It's a great party," said Shea. "It's so lively and so much fun. People are looking for a place to go on Monday night and when they see how much fun it is here, they are also going to make their bets here. We also have betting stations in the Joint (before and during the game)."

"We have good solid numbers and great ticket writers who are eager to teach," added Shea. "They are very patient and are really good with people. A lot of our bettors are the novice bettors; they have never done it before and they are not quite sure how to go about it. A lot of people are intimidated. They don't want to come up and bother anybody or appear like they don't know what they are doing. Our ticket writers are really good about being able to see that. They really go over it and they are so friendly that the guest walks away eagerly anticipating (his or her) next wager."