Industry Profile: Steve Schoor, Harveys Lake Tahoe
by Jeremy Martin
As competitive as the Nevada sportsbook industry is, management must always come up with new ideas in order to attract customers. Steve Schoor, full-service games manager for the Book at Harveys Lake Tahoe wanted to try something a little unconventional in an attempt to increase business at his sportsbook. He chose to make the Book the only non-smoking betting facility in the state. The decision, evidently, has paid off.
According to Schoor, the Book has captured 89 percent of the market share in the Lake Tahoe area and it is seeing unprecedented increases in revenues, especially for the race side of the full-service book. He attributes much of that growth to the atmosphere created by a smokeless environment.
"We thought that it really gave us a competitive advantage because of what was happening in this market," says Schoor. "One of the competitors has an area that is completely glassed in and is very smoky. I figured if we went non-smoking that we would capture any customer that went in there that was a non-smoker. It has worked for us."
Schoor says that the Book has cornered most of the local market and that it has many regular visitors from Northern California as well as tourists from around the world. Harveys is located adjacent to Heavenly Valley in South Lake Tahoe, which is one of the most popular skiing destinations in the West. The Book gets plenty of weekend customers that want to place a bet before or after hitting the slopes. The Tahoe area is home to a handful of casinos, but only four of them contain sportsbooks.
The manager touts the Book as the nicest sports betting facility in the Tahoe area. Separated into two areas for race and sports, the Book contains a total of 80 televisions for patrons to watch their games unfold, including many big screens. The book also has 18 individual 'high-limit betting booths' where customers can watch individual small flat screen televisions.
The Book is patterned after some of the top sportsbooks in Las Vegas as Schoor and his staff take regular trips south to take notes of new innovations and to borrow ideas that might be successful at Harvey's. "You have to look at all the jurisdictions and what they do," says Schoor. "Las Vegas has some of the nicest books. Before we did our major remodel, which we did when Harrah's bought Harveys (in 2001), we spent a lot of time in Las Vegas looking at all the books and (getting ideas)."
Even though he is always trying to come up with new ideas to increase handle, one group that isn't welcome at the Book is the 'wiseguys,' or professional bettors. Schoor takes a conservative approach to bookmaking and he wants to attract the 'squares' or recreational bettors to his shop. As long as his customers are betting favorites, he says, Schoor believes that he will make a profit.
"We don't deal with any wiseguys, it's mostly just recreational players," he comments. "We have some pretty big recreational players. Our belief is that we move our numbers according to what is happening across the state, not on the money that's coming in. We can be out quite a bit on a game and if we have a good number then we leave that number up. We believe that if you don't put up numbers that are attractive to wiseguys that you will do better in the long run.
"The wiseguys come when you have bookmakers that think that they know. They put up numbers that are different than those across the state and it gives the wiseguys an opportunity. We don't play like that. We are real proud that in all of our jurisdictions that we have the highest hold percentages."
While many books use action from professional bettors to balance the handle, Schoor likes to have a stake in most games because he believes his numbers are solid. All of the Book's lines come from the hub, Harrah's Las Vegas, which sets the numbers and mandates line movements for 28 satellite locations, including Harveys Lake Tahoe.
"We always have a stake in games," he says. "We believe it is not proper to balance every game. If you have 15, 16 games in a weekend, you are out on one, you are out on another, but in the end you win half and you lose half. But we never put ourselves in a position to be middled, period. We do have line movement, but if a game opens at 2 ½ and it is heading to 4, when it gets to 4 (across the state) then we still want them to lay the favorite. In the NFL, we don't want them to come back on the (underdog). We won't put up a number that makes them want to play the dog. Our belief is that we would like everybody to play the favorite."
While many of the top sportsbook managers in Nevada actively pursued their current positions, the manager's position at Harveys basically fell into Schoor's lap. Before taking the head position at the Book, Schoor had been a pit boss in the table games section of the casino. As a long-time sports bettor and sports fan, he had knowledge of the industry and when the position came open in 1992 he was invited in for an interview based on his stellar history with customer service. With no real experience in the industry, it was slow going at first. But Schoor took to the job quickly and the rest is history.
"There was certainly a learning curve but for any manager the key thing is being able to manage the people and to bring the customers in," he says. "So, I had a great background at that. Learning about the lines (from a bookmaker's perspective) was a little tricky but with time everything comes to light and you figure out what you are doing and you figure out the kind of customers you are dealing with and you figure out that there are some people who are very smart out there."