As the sun descends behind the Spring Mountains a steady stream of taxis carry tired vacationers from the Las Vegas strip to McCarran Airport. Further out in the endless sprawling subdivisions ringing the city, families prepare for a return to work and school the next morning.
On the sports book floor of the LVH Hotel and Casino, as the afternoon NFL games come to an end, cheers and groans are replaced by a low hum as bettors fortunate enough to have a ticket still worth more than the paper it is printed on form lines at the betting windows. Jay Kornegay, however, sees none of it. The Vice President of Race and Sports Book Operations at the LVH (formerly Las Vegas Hilton) is in his office.
Back here, down a winding overstuffed hallway behind the sports betting windows, things are much quieter. The hardest part of the week is just about over. Sunday is the peak of every week for the LVH and Kornegay. With Football Central projecting all of the NFL games and another week of the LVH’s handicapping competition, the SuperContest, wrapping up, Sunday nights here are what Friday nights are for the rest of the world.
Sunday nights here
are what Friday nights are for the rest of the world.
The sportsbook at the LVH | Source
To get to Kornegay’s office you make your way past the break room, past the bulletin board and mail boxes and turn right when you see the large computer room with the glass walls to your left. The computer room looks like it might be a part of NORAD, but instead of Air Force officers tracking Russian ICBMs the seats are filled with young analysts monitoring where money is flowing and adjusting the betting lines accordingly.
Kornegay’s office doesn’t look like that of a NORAD commander. It is more like a high school principal’s office with a wall of security monitors tracking the movements of students. But here the TVs are turned to every sporting event being played. The other walls show that despite being in the business of sports, Kornegay is first a fan, particularly of the Denver Broncos.
All that is left at this point is for Kornegay to review next week’s point spreads one more time. He makes minor adjustments based on what has transpired on fields across the country and looks for weakness based on where the bettors are sending their money. When it comes to the accuracy of point spreads, the market efficiency with which bad lines are attacked and adjusted would make Alan Greenspan’s heart sing.
After that final task is done, Kornegay may make it home in time to watch the second half of the Sunday night game like any other football fan. Jay isn’t much of a gambler himself, and is not allowed to bet at the LVH, so when away from the office he watches a game like as a fan rather than a gambling professional.
If it had been solely up to Jay Kornegay, he never would have even come to Las Vegas. Out-voted 7-1 by his friends at Colorado State University, Jay first visited Las Vegas in 1987 for spring break in his senior year. After surviving the Vegas baptism of trying to place a bet using the team name rather than the designated bet number – a common mistake every novice makes – Kornegay became intrigued by the idea of working in the gaming industry. He convinced his then-girlfriend to move to Reno and give casino life a try. After a few years, they were able to transfer to Las Vegas and a life path was set. That path ultimately led him to the LVH.
Kornegay is the antithesis of the casino boss pictured after too many hours spent at the movies.
In person, Kornegay is the antithesis of the casino boss pictured after too many hours spent at the movies. He isn’t a hulking man with slicked back hair wearing an Italian suit, cracking the kneecaps of a debtor. Small and wiry with short cropped, dark, thinning hair and matching goatee, when he greets the attendees of Football Central on Sunday he is usually wearing a Bronco jersey. On weekdays, working in his office behind the sports book, he prefers business casual.
With a reputation for being friendly, trust-worthy, and for offering innovative bets, Kornegay and the LVH have built a sterling reputation among the "wise guys" – the big bettors that keep the Las Vegas casinos humming in between the bachelor parties and March Madness.
Every casino on the Las Vegas strip loves NFL Sundays. Every sports book is packed with people throwing money on their favorite teams or a team that looks like they might be a good deal before kick-off. But no casino lives for NFL Sundays quite like the LVH.
The SuperContest has grown at a rate that a decade ago seemed unimaginable.
One block removed from the Strip and nearly eclipsed by the luxury hotels that have sprouted up along it, the LVH has nevertheless built a reputation as a Las Vegas destination because of its sports book. Beyond a broader array of bets available than many other books, LVH has also developed NFL-centric offerings that cater to casual and serious bettors. There is Football Central, the dedicated theater showing only NFL games on 11 HD screens. Featuring free admission with no age restrictions, drink and food specials and no smoking, Football Central draws locals and vacationers alike every Sunday morning for their particular brand of worship. It is the kind of place where someone not wearing a shirt espousing their favorite NFL team is viewed by all the other parishioners like someone arriving at church in jeans; with a mix of condemnation and skepticism.
Then there is LVH’s NFL SuperContest. A year-long handicapping competition open to anyone willing to put down $1,500 and find a way to submit their picks each week in the LVH sports book. In recent years the SuperContest has grown at a rate that a decade ago seemed unimaginable.
As Kornegay explains it the SuperContest was started in 1989. Possibly. Maybe 1988. But definitely sometime in the late 1980s. Between changes in ownership and management at the LVH, and the vast number of concerns of a functioning sports book – juggling all of the daily games, horse races as well as futures bets in a pre-Internet world – the historical documentation of a small handicapping contest among a few locals and pros wasn’t a priority. As a result, much of the early history of the SuperContest is hazy at best. That seems appropriate. Aren’t most initial memories of Las Vegas a little fuzzy?
The basic idea was simple and remains so to this day. Bettors put down $1,500 at the beginning of the NFL season and each week the casino posts contest-specific, static point spreads for each game. Then, before a specific deadline, bettors come to the LVH and pick five games against the spread. The participant with the highest number of correct entries at the end of the season wins. The contest reduces gambling to its core: the bettor with the most correct picks wins.
Already a popular destination for wise guys, the SuperContest initially attracted a devoted following through the enticement of a payout in the low six figures and a high profile victory against the sharpest bettors in town. As the contest has grown, participants have remained enthusiastic over the ever growing payout but just as significantly, over the prestige that accompanies a victory. Prestige that can, quite literally, define a career.
"It was a good mix
of pros and wannabe pros. Not that many Average Joes out there."
Initially part of the value of the SuperContest to the Las Vegas Hilton went beyond any profit from the contest itself. The idea was that a kind of "Algonquin Round Table" of wise guys would show up every Friday night to submit their SuperContest picks. Not only would they bet, but their presence would also attract other bettors curious to see which teams the wise guys liked that week. The SuperContest was the chum to start the feeding frenzy each Friday night; the real prize wasn’t necessarily the sharks but the scavenger fish fighting over scraps and dreaming of becoming sharks themselves.
By 1999, the SuperContest had grown to 257 participants. The winner, Russ Culver, took home $154,200 out of a total purse of nearly $350,000. Other casinos started similar contests but none ever achieved the steady growth and popularity of the more established SuperContest. Despite its success – or perhaps because of it – contestants remained almost exclusively either professional sports gamblers or Las Vegas-based amateur bettors who still worked a day job. By law, participants had to place their bets in person, which tended to keep the contest local.
In 2005, the year after Kornegay joined the LVH, the contest attracted a record 505 entrants. While still dominated by 702-area code locals, an influx of new entrants from out of state began to fuel the contest’s growth. As Kornegay describes it, "It was a good mix of pros and wannabe pros. Not that many Average Joes out there. It was mostly pros to semi-pros, and then you had a little mix of Average Joes." As a result, an entire cottage industry popped up to support this trend. ‘Proxies’ – people that, for a nominal fee, deliver the betting card to the betting windows so entrants don’t need to be in town – started to have an impact.
While Jay haunts the back corridors at the LVH, Dave Tuley sits quietly in his corner office also finishing up his work day.
Occupying the front row, corner seat in the VIP-only balcony of Football Central, Tuley has spent the day watching football. As he does he takes notes on his small Acer laptop and posts them in real time in the forums of his gambling information website ViewFromVegas.com. After he completes his final comments on the afternoon’s games – who won, who lost and who covered the point spread – he too will pack up his computer and head home.
In addition to tracking all of the football action with a Vegas-trained eye on point spreads and over/under lines, Tuley will note how the games played out for the most common selections among LVH SuperContest participants. While not officially associated with the contest, Kornegay refers to him as "The Gatekeeper," the SuperContest’s de facto historian and documentarian. His day isn’t quite as close to complete as Kornegay’s though. After he gets home he will still need to monitor and report on the "Sunday Night Football" game and begin the task of handicapping and prepping for next week’s action.
Since moving to Las Vegas in 1998, Tuley has become a walking encyclopedia of Las Vegas gaming, in particular handicapping contests. Possessing a round, open face and friendly disposition, he comes across more like a small town accountant or doctor than a gaming journalist. Since the late 1990s, Tuley, who has a journalism degree from Northern Illinois, has held a front row seat to the growth of the LVH SuperContest, covering the event each year in the same way a football beat writer covers a team.
A victim of the recession (and recessionary print media industry), in 2007 Tuley was let go from the Daily Racing Form. He then started ViewFromVegas.com, reporting on the happenings in the world of sports as seen through the prism of a betting window. This led to freelance work with ESPN.com, back at The Daily Racing Form and a weekly column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
By first approaching the handicapping contests in the late 1990s with a journalistic view first rather than strictly as a handicapper, Tuley has achieved a unique position to witness the growth of the LVH SuperContest while still maintaining a reputation for objectivity. He doesn’t sell gambling tips (i.e. act as a ‘tout’) and doesn’t write for pick-selling websites. Tuley, though, does remove his hat of neutrality long enough to also be a participant in the contest, and he can handicap as well. He went 5-0 in the SuperContest Week 6 this year, which propelled him into the top five in the overall standings, validating a 14th place finish in 2008 – but his primary focus remains reporting. He was one of the first people to recognize the value in the distribution of SuperContest information, which increased interest in the competition. Yet he also monitors, reports and participates in contests held by other casinos, and sees how and where the SuperContest differs from its competitors. As much as anyone, he has seen where the contest has come from and where it might go.
The mass intimacy of social media has turned the SuperContest into a spectator sport.
After the 2005 SuperContest set a record with 505 entrants, the economic downturn caused a drop in participation. Yet at the same time, the visibility of the SuperContest grew. First, local pro Steve Fezzik won back to back contests in 2008 and 2009, attracting media attention. Then Chad Millman, Editor-in-Chief of ESPN the Magazine and ESPN sports writer Bill Simmons both began participating in the contest and openly discussing their individual picks and standings both online and in podcasts on a weekly basis.
A little-known contest once known only to a handful of professional gamblers began to be discussed and monitored across the country by fans. The recent rise of social media, especially Twitter, has compounded the phenomenon. The mass intimacy of social media has turned the SuperContest into a spectator sport.
Consequently, as the economy has recovered participation has grown. In 2011, a record 517 entrants signed up. The LVH was so caught off-guard by the unexpected growth that they even ran out of the T-shirts they give to participants. This makes the 2011 LVH SuperContest T-shirt not just a $1,500 T-shirt, but a limited edition $1,500 T-shirt.
While Tuley and Kornegay do their best to get out of the LVH and home to their families, in the foothills bordering the Las Vegas Valley, professional handicapper Steve Fezzik is jumping in his car and leaving his behind.
After spending his day at home making real time bets using apps on his tablet from both the Cantor and William Hill casinos (available only in Nevada, obviously) and beginning to handicap the games that will ultimately form the core of his entry in the upcoming week’s SuperContest, Fezzik visits a few casinos that put up irregular and unique bets (called prop – or proposition – bets) for the Sunday night games. Prop bets, such as which team will score first, or kick the first field goal or throw the first interception, resemble bets two fans in a Des Moines basement might create in an attempt to muster energy for one last game after a long day of drinking beer. For a pro like Fezzik, however, prop bets can end up providing more value than a regular point spread bet that has been smoothed and rounded like a river stone washed by millions of bets around the globe.
Fezzik’s dash into Las Vegas doesn’t mark the end of his day. With a 20-mile drive to the major casinos and the release of spreads for the coming week’s games on Sunday evening, it is more like a lunch break. After returning home, there is still live gambling on the Sunday night game, updating power rankings, some family time, another mad scramble to visit casinos where he places a first wave of bets on next week’s games as soon as the lines are published and then, finally, some dedicated time watching game replays until he passes out from exhaustion.
Steve Fezzik was an insurance executive in Los Angeles commuting regularly to Las Vegas to gamble until 2001. At that point he decided to put his math skills to use as a full time gambler, packed up and came to Las Vegas. In 2008 and 2009, Fezzik became the only back-to-back winner of the LVH SuperContest, an event that changed his life, transforming him from just another professional gambler into a public figure, the guy everyone who participates in the SuperContest hopes to become.
These are undisputed facts, easily validated any number of ways.
However, when it comes to Steve Fezzik these may be the last indisputable facts. The SuperContest winner takes home more than a check. He – or potentially she – garners a reputation that can lead to becoming a major player in the sports betting community. Fezzik’s two SuperContest wins propelled him to become one of the most recognizable names in sports gambling, a status that makes his name valuable.
Thanks to the Internet, anyone making enough income gambling to support himself can supplement his income through a website, selling insights and opinions to others hoping to profit from his experience. Someone like Fezzik, as the only back-to-back winner of the most prestigious football handicapping contest in the world, can find himself in high demand. Such high demand that, apparently, one person isn’t enough to meet it.
There is an entire segment of the Las Vegas entertainment industry built around impersonators – from Cher to Willie Nelson to Tina Turner. However, not everyone wants to be Elvis or some other singer. Some impersonators want to be handicappers, and some of those want to be Steve Fezzik.
There is a stevefezzik.com, not associated with the real Steve Fezzik. There are multiple Twitter accounts claiming to be him that are not associated with the real Steve Fezzik, such as @fezzikfootball, and ironically, @realstevefezzik.
To contact the real Steve Fezzik, a blind comment is submitted to the lvasports.com, the website where he does offer betting tips that includes a large notice on its homepage warning of other sites impersonating him.
His partner replies to the comment in a matter of minutes and includes Steve’s actual email address, along with a reminder that there are imposters pretending to be him. When finally reached via phone, "Steve Fezzik’s" voice is awash in the background noise of someone using his car’s built-in Bluetooth system. He is open to answering questions and is free with his time and his opinions – opinions ranging from how to frame the SuperContest in an article to offering ideas on bets for the coming weekend to why he has been successful. But any request to meet and talk in person is politely ignored and the subject is rapidly changed.
While talking with him it is natural for the mind to match the voice on the phone with photos of Steve Fezzik on the Internet. The most common picture shows a tall, fit man in a polo shirt with a shock of black hair standing with Jay Kornegay and holding an oversized novelty check for $198,600 after his 2009 SuperContest win. The "real" Steve Fezzik’s Twitter account (@fezziksports) includes a picture of the same man, this time pointing at you wearing an expression common to high powered executives and politicians; a look that says he knows more than you do, so stop wasting his time.
The next communication is via email; a list of questions is replied to in a matter of hours, followed closely by a second email with another reminder that there are imposters pretending to be Steve Fezzik.
Apparently if there is a downside of winning nearly $400,000 by successfully selecting NFL game winners 60 percent of the time across two seasons, it is a lifetime spent reminding others that you are the real you.
Almost lost amidst the identity theft afflicting every aspect of Fezzik’s professional life is the simple fact that all this resulted from winning the SuperContest. Perhaps no one has gained and lost more from the SuperContest than Fezzik, yet he has no regrets or concerns about the changing nature of the contest or his continuing participation in it.
The total payout topped $1 million for the first time.
Asked about the changes he has seen since first participating, he replies, "It was a local's contest, now everyone is playing it with proxies everywhere."
And the impact of those changes? Positive or Negative? "Super Positive, just like the World Series of Poker main event."
With increased interest in the contest, the geographic footprint of participants has grown. In 2012, a record 745 participants entered, nearly a 50 percent increase over the previous record. The total payout topped $1 million for the first time.
These numbers aren’t feasible with participation limited only to Las Vegas-area residents. Reading about it on Twitter or mainstream media websites fuels interest across the country and the proxy industry popped up to meet the demand.
Vegas Matty is one of those both discussing the SuperContest in social media and benefiting from the boom. He tweets about the SuperContest from his @Vegas_Matty account and since 2005 has been one of the SuperContest’s longest-standing and most respected proxies. While he began with only a handful of customers, he and his partner at footballcontestproxy.com now count more than 100 clients.
With the use of a local proxy like Vegas Matty to make their weekly submissions, out-of-state gamblers need only come to Las Vegas to pay the entry fee and register prior to the season starting. Then each Wednesday the proxy forwards the official betting card to his customers. The contestant replies with his or her selection by Friday and the proxy submits the card on Saturday morning.
For providing these services – the grunt work of traveling to LVH, filling in the card correctly and submitting the entry every week – Vegas Matty and his partner charge a flat fee and then a small percentage if the customer ends up winning money (he has had a customer in the top ten each of the last three years). While Vegas Matty won’t confirm his fees, beyondthebets.com estimates the cost of hiring a proxy service at between $200 and $500 for the season.
On that same cool, crisp Sunday evening, 625 miles to the east of Las Vegas in Centennial, Colo., John Turner has put his kids to bed and sits on his couch watching the "Sunday Night Football" game. Then the familiar red "a" on the taskbar of his laptop flashes, indicating an incoming message in AOL Instant Messenger. Co-worker, friend and fellow sports fan Rodney Peffer is lamenting a painful loss in the NFL that day from his own home maybe 15 miles to the east.
Turner and Peffer, like millions of Americans, are enjoying their last few hours of a weekend spent shuttling kids between soccer games and softball games and checking off never-ending "honey-do" lists at home. In between, they have tried to watch as much football as possible.
Both are nearing middle age and are junior executives at a large student loan company. Each man is married with children and a mortgage on a home in one of the suburbs that encircle Denver. In the past, they sated their gambling jones by playing inconsequential online games. Each year the winner enjoyed a free dinner during their annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas where for two days they immersed themselves in betting on football.
The two friends embody the new money coming into the SuperContest. They first became aware of it thanks to Millman and Simmons, and with an increasing interest in all things gambling the idea of someday participating slowly took hold.
When a friend told them he was moving to Las Vegas this past summer, both immediately came to the realization that this was their opportunity to join the SuperContest and test their amateur gambling knowledge against real pros. A team of three requires only $500 investment per person, affordable even with that mortgage and looming college tuition.
Sunday nights have become one last chance to lick their wounds from near misses earlier in the day and start scouting games for the following weekend’s SuperContest entry. There are no detailed power rankings to update, complicated spreadsheets to manage or databases of data to pour through. The only tools they use are the games they have watched, the teams’ historical performance, the opening spreads reported at a variety of online information sites and Instant Messenger to discuss what they find.
Once the work week begins the next morning, they both know that their opportunity actually to think about which games they like will disappear faster than the lunch they inhale at their desk between meetings. With no pressing deadlines and this weeks’ games fresh in their minds, they look for teams to back next week before the final whistle blows for this week.
Despite the fantastical ideas of how they would divide a $450,000 first-place pay day when the plan was first hatched, neither Turner or Peffer will admit to truly believing they could win against the best handicappers and hundreds of others just like them. Sure, there is the dream scenario where everything goes right, but they both knew that more than likely that wouldn’t occur.
The entry wasn’t about making money, it was, as Turner says, "to see how well an above-average NFL fan in terms of following the sport can do actually betting the games against the pros and [determining whether] following the sport translates to betting success." A $500 investment isn’t much for the opportunity to rate yourself against the best in the world. How many of us would pay $500 to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods? Or shoot hoops with Michael Jordan?
Plus, there is the T-shirt.
Realistically, they will both admit that placing in the top half of all contestants and maybe just one perfect 5-0 week would constitute a successful first attempt. The first couple months have seen more near-misses than victories, but they take solace that they aren’t the entrant that compiled a record of 0-9-1 after two weeks.
Separate process from outcome, however, and the contest has already impacted them both. At the halfway point of the season, the contest has already changed how they look at games. As Turner notes, he no longer cheers solely for his favorite team. Now, he is watching any and all teams, regardless of his feelings about them. Rather than hoping for or against a win, he now cares only about performance against the point spread.
Peffer adds, "Just like in poker, you aren’t playing your cards, you are playing the other people." In this case, the other people are the casino and the point spread. "The largest change is going away from what may look obvious at first sight and avoiding the popular teams that are out there to bet on." Turner continues, "It is easy to bet on the Green Bays, Houstons, Patriots, because they typically score a lot of points and are typically near the top of the NFL, but you aren't betting on the best teams, you are betting the spread."
Jay Kornegay has also seen a change in the contest with the arrival of more players like John and Rodney. The most common picks each week in the contest are no longer a proxy for the best bets among wise guys but now resemble a list of most popular and successful NFL teams, he says. "The consensus picks are totally different than what they were last year [because of the influx of amateurs] … the consensus is the 49ers, Steelers, Eagles, Patriots and Falcons."
John and Rodney end up chatting throughout the second half of "Sunday Night Football" and bounce different points of view off each other. Points are debated, grudges from past wrongs are re-hashed (the Panthers shall never again be trusted after several schizophrenic performances) and by the time they sign off, each has a pretty good idea which teams they will personally recommend for inclusion on this week’s card.
Over the course of the next couple of days, weighing criteria such as the impact of last week’s game, rivalry games, and bye weeks, they will each pick their five teams. After the official LVH card is released on Wednesday, they will reconvene, review each individual pick and reach a consensus on their five choices for the week. Their friend, the unpaid proxy, is then responsible for making his way to the LVH to submit the picks by the 11 a.m. Saturday deadline.
Acknowledging the changing nature of the contestants, LVH has made the rules more accommodating to out-of-towners. In the early years, the deadline for submission was Friday night, and the cards were never published online, just printed in hard copy and only available at the sports book itself. Now LVH posts the official point spreads online Wednesday nights so that entrants can review them without waiting to see the printed card. They can also make their picks as late as Saturday morning, allowing someone coming into town after work on Friday night to make the deadline.
In another nod to the new face of the contest, this year, for the first time, the LVH celebrated the contest with a kick-off weekend. There was a golf tournament and a panel discussion on the contest presided over by Dave Tuley and featuring Steve Fezzik.
The SuperContest Weekend attracted widespread attention to the contest, provided an "event" for out-of-towners to attend while they registered and laid the groundwork for continued growth, creating a communal aspect previously missing.
Where the SuperContest goes from here is anyone’s guess. Barring government intervention [see sidebar above] it is hard to envision the growth ending. It doesn’t appear in danger of being beaten by competitors. It has faced a slew of challengers that have tried to supplant it as the premier handicapping contest in Las Vegas – whether through higher stakes to draw only the sharpest of the sharp money or lower stakes to draw anyone willing to shell out less than the cost of an official NFL jersey. None have posed a serious challenge to it, so the question becomes, where does the growth end, and does that growth fundamentally change the SuperContest?
Where does the growth end, and does that growth fundamentally change the SuperContest?
Dave Tuley foresees a ceiling around 1,000 participants, but he readily admits he never expected to see nearly 50 percent growth between 2011 and 2012. Even if growth slows in the very near future, the number of participants could pass 1,000.
Steve Fezzik welcomes the growth; more participants mean a higher payout. He’s loyal and can’t envision anything that would end his participation. "I like the management of LVH too much," he says.
Sure, there are increased odds of an amateur riding a hot streak to an unlikely win – a Chris Moneymaker moment, the amateur whose victory in the 2003 World Series of Poker catapulted the event into the national consciousness. But as Dave Tuley notes, historically it has taken at least a 60 percent win rate to crack the top 20 of the SuperContest where money is awarded. and last year’s winner was successful on 72 percent of his picks. Someone may capture lightning in a bottle, but the odds of an Average Joe winning 60 percent of his picks in any given year are slim. With only the $1,500 entry fee, (less than a wise guy normally lays on a single game) and a demonstrable advantage over the majority of bettors, the wise guys know there are few bets with better odds.
Turner and Peffer, two of those amateurs increasing the pot for winners this year, are still undecided on whether they will return in 2013. The deciding factor will likely be their competitiveness as the season reaches its conclusion. Learning by the week, finding a rhythm and achieving more consistent success that pushes them toward the upper-half of the standings may be enough to convince them to make another run next year.
At least that is what they say now. Come July 2013, stranded in the middle of a long, hot summer, facing a football season without the SuperContest to scratch that competitive itch, spending $500 may start to look like a bargain, no matter their performance through the end of 2012. As Peffer noted, "It is cheaper than buying a lotto ticket every week."
Even if they do abstain next year, there are others out there ready to take their place, reading the tweets with updated standings every Sunday night or listening to podcasts while at the gym on Tuesday evening and thinking "I could do as well as those guys."
Amidst the concerns of running a sports book in a challenging economy, Jay Kornegay isn’t focused on growing the contest. There are no major strategic initiatives targeted at the contest. The SuperContest Weekend will likely return next year but beyond that the contest will continue to be allowed to run and grow organically through word of mouth on social media outlets.
And why should he make changes? When riding a hot streak, sometimes the best thing you can do is to just let it ride.
Sunday, and the sun rises over Las Vegas on another cool, pleasant late fall morning. The men begin flowing through the door of Football Central at 9 a.m., walking past a display of merchandise: signed pictures, balls and other memorabilia. In a steady stream of jerseys and team-centric T-shirts, they flow from the bright, loud, smoky casino floor into the dark of the theater.
They mostly travel in groups and discuss with their cohorts what games look most appealing on these menus of hoped-for riches. There are the overly loud packs of younger men – probably still drunk from their big Saturday night in Vegas – many sipping beer from the cheap plastic cups, trying to drown out the impending trip home. Other groups sip coffee from Styrofoam cups and talk in low tones, wearing the weary expressions of locals resigned to being constantly surrounded by vacationers.
On the wall at the front of the theater, pre-game shows cut through the darkness, desks of large men in suits, yelling over each other and laughing uproariously at mildly humorous comments. Right now, however, with the games an hour away from kick-off, that is just background noise. The men in the jerseys and team shirts that occupy the padded seats stretching from wall to wall pay little attention to the screens. Head down, they study parlay cards and betting sheets and rarely look up. They hope such focus enables them to divine the best bet available.
At the entrance to Football Central, in his blue and orange John Lynch jersey, Jay Kornegay greets arrivals. He will spend his morning ensuring everything is operating smoothly and that the VIPs are being well taken care of. In between catching pieces of the games, he will sneak back to the glass-walled computer room to check on how the lines are sitting and where the money is flowing.
Dave Tuley arrives after 9:30 a.m., running late as usual. He makes his way to his seat in Football Central’s balcony – right next to the electric outlets – where he powers the wireless hotspot in his phone and boots up his laptop to start providing updates to fans across the country on what he sees from his view from Vegas.
John Turner and Rodney Peffer have come to town for their annual football gambling weekend. Rodney in his Broncos T-shirt, Turner wearing a Boise State pullover – a souvenir from a work trip to Idaho – they make their way up to their own seats in the balcony. For the next eight hours, their only excursions from the chairs will be to grab food or a drink, hit a bathroom or place another bet. Next week’s games are tomorrow’s worries, some five-team parlay with a 10 percent chance of hitting a more immediate concern than next week’s lines. In the foothills outside of town, Steve Fezzik is already placing bets electronically and handicapping games to be played seven days from now. He won’t be coming to LVH to watch football today; there is too much work to do.
In a battle to stay ahead of the game, even ahead of your own name, there is no time to waste.
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