Seven Questions for Sportsbook Director Chuck Esposito

Sunset Station’s race and sportsbook director on battling the modern-day football bettor, the impact of mobile wagering and the day he won big when his team lost

Photo by Jon Estrada

Photo by Jon Estrada

You’ve been in the bookmaking business in Las Vegas for more than 25 years, so you’ve witnessed the explosion of football betting. Do you see a plateau in sight? How much bigger can it get?

We’re still definitely going up. Just to put it into perspective, this year’s first preseason game—the Hall of Fame Game between the Bills and Giants—we knew a lot of [starters] weren’t going to play, yet our handle on that game dwarfed our handle on any baseball game that day. These were baseball games that had teams in the midst of a pennant chase and jockeying for wild-card position, and here a meaningless football game got the most [betting] action. … By far, football is king. That’s why we’re all here.

How much more sophisticated is the average Joe football bettor now as opposed to, say, a decade ago?

Way more sophisticated, and the reason is information. There is so much information out there now, and it comes so fast that we need to know what to do with it even quicker. A decade ago, [bookmakers] were the ones who knew there were 50-mph winds in Seattle. Now, the public knows it before we know it. Even in the preseason, bettors will come and say, “I hear the quarterback rotation is going to be A, B and C”; we used to be the only ones who knew that. It was out there, but we knew where to find it. Now it’s just readily available to our guests because of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook.

It’s fun, but it’s extremely challenging, and it forces us to be on our toes. It really is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year job to stay on top of trends, movements, injuries, weather, trade rumors—just to make sure we’re dialed in as much as the guest is.

What’s a typical NFL Sunday like for people in your shoes compared with bettors on the other side of the counter? Is it fun for you or strictly business?

It’s a combination of both. A typical Sunday is being here early in the morning, getting everything ready and making sure our guests are ready to have a great time, all the games are mapped out with the marquee games being on the correct TVs. But then it is stressful, especially as you get close to the end of games. I look at it from the bookmaker’s perspective; I’m not looking necessarily at who’s going to win or lose, but are you going to cover or not cover [the point spread]? … I can tell you this: Usually, the louder the crowd is, the sadder my face is. If the crowd’s quiet, I’m usually smiling.

Station Casinos was one of the first to offer mobile wagering within Nevada’s borders with its Sports Connection. How much of a game changer has that been?

It’s been a huge game changer. It’s a phenomenal piece and added a new dimension to what we have to offer. It enables a guest to have the sportsbook in the palm of their hand; they’re able to get on their smartphone exactly what they get when they come into [a sportsbook]. Educated guess, mobile wagering probably makes up roughly 30 to 33 percent of our overall handle. And it’s going to continue to grow. We’ve only scratched the surface of it right now, but there are things coming down the pike that are going to expand that offering industry-wide.

Do you worry about mobile wagering eventually resulting in a decrease in foot traffic, though?

I can see why you’d ask that, because you can now bet from the comfort of your home. But you’re not getting that experience—the hype, the buzz, the electricity—that you get in the sportsbook. I see guys who come in and sit in the book and maybe don’t come to the counter but bet from their mobile device, because they want the atmosphere. They want to wear that Packers or Bears or Steelers jersey, and come in and hoot and holler and have fun.

What’s the biggest football wager you’ve ever accepted, and how did it turn out?

I’ve taken a seven-figure bet before. And I was smiling at the end of that one! It was a Super Bowl—the Bears-Colts game [in 2007]. Funny story: I’m from Chicago, and my whole family was rooting for the Bears to win. Unfortunately, they didn’t, and my daughter called me and she was upset, and I was like, “That’s OK, honey. We made a lot of money today.” [Laughs.] You can’t have a favorite team in this industry, that’s for sure.

If I gave you $100 and you could go on the other side of the counter and place a Week 1 wager, what are you betting on?

I would bet the San Francisco-Dallas game “over” the total, because I don’t think Dallas can stop the two of us right now. The Cowboys just did not do enough in the offseason [to improve defensively], and I think they’re going to have to throw a ton on offense. So that game has a good chance of going “over”—but I might be rooting for the game to stay “under!” [Laughs.]

Because Station Casinos has properties across the Valley, it has been able to capture the bulk of the sports-betting market share for locals. How much does that local public action during football season outweigh wise-guy action?

We do have some tourists who come in, we do have some sophisticated players who play, but we’re all about the locals, no question. And the fun part about it is we’re able to build relationships. … I think we’ve created that atmosphere that is kind of like Cheers, where you walk in and everybody does know your name. We have a number of guests who have the same seat in the sportsbook 365 days a year. We’ve become their family, and they’ve become our family.

Pretty much anyone who has ever placed a football bet has a bad-beat story, and clearly the same is true for oddsmakers. What’s the one bad beat you’ll never forget?

There have been so many. There was a Monday night game about five years ago between I believe Denver and the Giants, and the guests were doing well that week—the favorites had won the majority of the games. And it finally looked like we were going to [win one]. Then right at the end of the game, one of the teams was going to punt, and the ball was hiked over the punter’s head. It caused a safety, and it caused the favorite to cover again, and it was just catastrophic. I remember my boss actually called me and said, “Are you OK?”

Which teams offer the best value to win the Super Bowl and college football’s national championship?

You’re going to find some value on the board on the Bears (8-to-1), because of the offense they have and because they made some moves in the offseason to help that defense. They have a real shot to make the playoffs and maybe make some noise because of that offense.

In college football, staying under the radar a bit is the “ol’ ball coach,” Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. He’s been chirping a lot heading into this year, and knowing Spurrier, he’s not going to be chirping a lot unless he knows he’s got a team that can play. So you’ll find some value with South Carolina (30-to-1).

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