Saturday, March 20, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
Map of M Resort
12300 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, Henderson
The year-old M Resort sports book not only looks different from almost all of its competitors in Southern Nevada, it sounds different.
It’s less of a roller coaster of yells and groans and more of a steady rumbling, a hum that sounds more machine than man-made. Most sports books offer chairs and couches for gamblers and fans to watch the games on big screens, house-party style. Crowds there whoop it up over beers and guy talk, bumping chests and high-fiving.
Betting is the raison d’être of any sports book, of course, but at M Resort, it is all-consuming and more technologically advanced.
There are no couches on the main floor of the M sports book but 108 cubicles for gamblers and a few straight-back chairs, dragged in from the casino for people awaiting a cubicle seat.
Presiding over the floor is Lee Amaitis, CEO of Cantor Gaming, a subsidiary of bond trading giant Cantor Fitzgerald in New York. Amaitis calls his sports bettors “traders” and the sports book a “trading floor.”
M Resort is one of three Las Vegas casinos that offer high-tech sports betting platforms, called “in-running,” which allow gamblers to wager on live games. Most sports books offer the chance to bet on a game before kickoff or during halftime, a big enough break in the action enabling bookies to tweak the odds with new information.
Cantor created the technology many Wall Street firms use to trade U.S. treasury bonds, stocks and other securities. It was a small leap for the company to develop odds on financial market outcomes. In Britain, where Cantor maintains a base, traders can bet on whether the dollar will go up against the British pound, for example. Sports betting was the next step. Using Cantor’s trading platform, bettors in Europe can use computers, phones and other wireless devices to bet on various sporting events in progress.
Inevitably, Amaitis set his sights on Nevada, this continent’s sports betting hub, which approved Cantor’s technology in 2008.
It’s in use at M and on the Strip at the Venetian and Palazzo. Gamblers can use hand-held devices throughout the casino to bet on sports, as well as casino games. The “E-Deck” is advertised in TV commercials — poker legend Doyle Brunson makes sports bets without getting up from a card table.
The Cantor system includes the interactive touch-screens in the sports book cubicles where bettors place myriad bets at just about any time during games in progress.
With dozens of closely matched games to bet on, the NCAA tournament, which draws a higher dollar total for bets than the Super Bowl, is the biggest test of this technology. M had the technology when it opened in March 2009, but it was still new so not many people were able to put it through its paces the way they are this year.
That’s obvious from the in-the-know crowd gathered at M on Thursday for the first round of the NCAA tournament. People who can’t get a seat to bet have formed lines at the counter to place wagers.
One of those with a seat and a close eye on his screens is a 29-year-old Las Vegas resident with more than $23,000 in his electronic betting account at M.
“This is the best sports book in Las Vegas,” says Patrick, who declined to give his last name. “It’s comfortable, like you’re watching the game in a movie theater, when it’s really a trading floor for the gambler. I like the competition and I want to be doing something during the game rather than sitting there like a dip.”
Some sports book operators say such technological advances aren’t for casual gamblers who prefer socializing over studying. That’s probably true, Patrick says.
Still, the high-tech book is catching on with more than just the big money gamblers. Another Patrick, wearing a Rebels jersey and baseball cap, occupies a nearby cubicle at the M sports book from Thursday morning into early evening. Patrick O’Donaghue, a 41-year-old self-employed businessman, starts the day with $100 in his M electronic account. By evening, he has nearly doubled his money after placing various bets on at least five games, some being played simultaneously.
Winning at sports betting is “all in the numbers, all in the timing,” O’Donaghue says, and the Cantor system gives bettors the most options.
But it also makes another betting maxim all the more crucial, he says: “The secret is patience. You always have action. But you need to pick your spots. You need to exercise self-control.”
When his favorite team loses, O’Donaghue is more troubled by missing the opportunity to bet on UNLV at the team’s toughest moment during the game, when Northern Iowa was on a run.
At that moment in the game, the Cantor system had offered a chance to bet on UNLV plus 7 points, which would have won O’Donaghue money.
M Resort took a leap of faith in allowing Cantor to operate the casino’s sports book, splitting revenue with the property. Cantor, which employs a full-time staff, licenses the same technology to the Venetian and the Palazzo.
Amaitis gazes out over the crowd in his dark suit and starched white shirt, lightly open at the collar. He resembles Robert Duvall. Unlike most casino suits, he doesn’t wear a name tag. Still, he approaches customers to talk shop. He’s available for questions, feedback and strategy tips.
Betting on whether a Northern Iowa player will make his two free throws — as well as betting on Northern Iowa to make up points when they are down — is a perfectly acceptable hedging strategy, he tells a player betting on UNLV.
At each betting terminal, a screen posts the latest betting lines from casinos around town as well as online sports books prohibited from doing business in the United States. Although such data are available on various Web sites, Las Vegas casinos shun such indiscreet displays of competitive information.
Amaitis, who views himself as a kind of Charles Schwab for sports bettors, welcomes the avalanche of data.
Cantor, he says, broadened the market for bond trading by making bond prices easily available, shedding light on an opaque industry. Similarly, online investment information and trading platforms enabled mom-and-pop investors to try their hand at investing while cutting out stockbrokers and other middlemen, he said.
“The small investors got involved when the information became available to them,” he says. “If you don’t know the prices for things you’re not apt to trade. The more info you give the more people will play.”
As if on cue, several Las Vegas casinos change their betting lines. They light up in yellow on the touch screens. Lines for games in progress are in green. At M, you have to bet the property’s line. But the screen is telling bettors that the Golden Nugget just moved its point spread on the Wake Forest-Texas game down, to 3.5 points. The Venetian’s line is minus 3. The Mirage is minus 2.5. Gamblers are free to jump in their cars and head for the best deal, although most of the lines are identical.
Competitors say M’s technology appeals to a niche crowd — betting pros and heavy gamblers rather than the casual gamblers who make money for casinos based on thin margins.
Cantor has invested millions of dollars and years of research into cutting-edge technology, but casinos generally view their sports books as sideshows that draw crowds a few times a year, but otherwise make little more or less than the commission, or “vig” for vigorish, built into each bet. In other words, it’s space better used for slots, nightclubs or restaurants if not for the fact that sports betting is part of what defines a Las Vegas casino.
“The casino industry first thought I was completely nuts,” Amaitis said. “By football season last year, they had opened one eye and said, ‘Maybe we need to pay attention to this guy.’”
M Resort generated 7 percent of the state’s total wagering on the Super Bowl and 10 percent of revenue, or the money casinos won from Super Bowl bettors. The property is generating 20 percent of the entire sports wagering volume on the Strip, he said.
“This is a very controlled environment,” Amaitis said. “We cater to professionals, traders and gamblers. People will come and trade all day long.”
A lot of it is still the more traditional pregame and halftime betting. Only about 10 percent of M’s wagering volume involves “in-running” bets on games in progress, but Amaitis expects that to keep growing as more people learn about and grow comfortable with the technology. A few thousand people keep betting accounts there.
M’s sports book is generating at least double the betting volume of casino books that lack the technology, Amaitis adds. Besides generating bigger profits, higher betting volumes allow the sports book to better manage risk.
And look for Amaitis to push it higher. Gamblers wagered nearly $2 billion on football and basketball last year in Nevada. Amaitis says that total is “sad” considering all the action captured by unregulated, offshore sports books.