Tuesday, July 6, 1999 | 11:46 a.m.
So it's 110 degrees out, you're on your way to work and there's an 11 a.m. baseball game you're dying to bet on.
Never fear. Two local casinos have made placing a sports wager quick and painless, thanks to an innovation borrowed from burger joints and banks -- the drive-through window.
The Imperial Palace and the Fiesta offer a convenient way to lay down bets without having to park the car or even set foot in the casino, to say nothing of standing in lines inside.
"It's got a regular following," said Bobby Choquette, a sports book supervisor at the Imperial Palace. "A lot of people who live in the neighborhood use it, especially on their way home (from work). We get a lot of praise for it."
Football season has long been the busiest time of year for local books, and that's no exception at the drive-throughs. But officials at both the IP and Fiesta acknowledge that the summer months, with their combination of scorching heat and day baseball, also draw hordes of car-bound bettors.
"We get an extra rush because of those (day baseball) games with people going to work or taking the kids to school," said Mark Nelson, director of race & sports at the Fiesta.
The Imperial Palace got things started back in 1991, opening the area's first drive-through sports book behind its hotel, on Koval Lane. Four years later, the Fiesta followed suit, offering a drive-through option outside its North Las Vegas casino, christened "Sports on the Run."
Those two are still the only drive-through books in town, with space limitations preventing most Las Vegas casinos from adding the service.
According to sports book supervisors at both casinos, the two drive-throughs have thrived since Day 1, attracting a devoted following of local sports bettors.
"It's worked well for us," Nelson said. "We get a lot of business that we probably wouldn't get otherwise."
At the Imperial Palace, bets are made in person, with a live book attendant stationed at the window. The latest lines are posted outside, and a second lane is opened for busy days during the football season.
"A lot of people plan on watching the games at home, not in the book," Choquette said. "We make it real convenient for them to get a bet down and get home."
At the Fiesta, drive-through bets are made bank-style, with money and betting slips going between customers and book attendants through tubes along each of the three lanes. Overhead television screens give patrons the latest lines, and two-way speakers allow for conversations between patrons and attendants.
"We communicate with our customers on every transaction," Nelson said. "They can get pretty much everything outside that they can get inside."
One thing Fiesta and Imperial Palace drive-up customers can't do outside is cash a winning ticket -- something they are required to do in person inside.
"That's the only time you have to go in, when you cash tickets," said Michael McDermott, a local resident who frequents the Fiesta's drive-through at least four times a week. "I usually wait until the end of the week, and they cash all my tickets inside at once."
Customers also can't bet on horse racing from their cars, with both casinos only offering that option in the book itself.
Kids are welcome
Las Vegan Michael Hearon relies on the Fiesta's drive-through because he can make his sports bets with his kids in the car. Although the casino requires a driver's license from drive-up bettors, kids are not barred from the drive-through as they are the sports book.
To the contrary, if Fiesta employees spot children in the car via the casino's security cameras, they generally send something sweet back with the bettors' tickets and change.
"They make the kids stay outside the casino, but I can come through with them out here," Hearon said. "Plus, my son gets candy."
But according to Carol O'Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, that may not be all children are getting at the drive-through.
Drive-through betting raises the moral issue of exposing children to gambling at an early age.
"You can't easily say that early exposure leads to gambling addiction, but it's not uncommon for men to report that their gambling addiction started at a young age," O'Hare said.
That's why O'Hare suggests sports books should post the toll-free problem gambling help line phone number, along with brochures on gambling addiction, outside their drive-throughs (casinos already are legally required to display the number inside.)
"If they're aware there are children in the cars, that would be a great place to offer that information," O'Hare said.
Drive-throughs are not the only option for bettors hoping to avoid the casino. These days, sports wagers can be made by phone or computer, with several books in town offering those services for regulars.
But for local sports bettors who prefer the city's streets to the information superhighway, drive-throughs provide a valuable, easy service.
"I'm surprised more casinos don't do it," Hearon said. "If other casinos would do it, they'd get a lot more business -- at least their sports books would."