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Top-10 things to look for in a sportsbook

2 February 2009

The 2008 football season came to a climatic end on Sunday night in Tampa Bay, which means we are officially at the start of the dreaded "down time" of the sports calendar year.

Sports bettors must now linger through the regular-season schedules of the NBA, NHL and college basketball season as we eagerly await Selection Sunday. That's when we'll get a hop back in our step as we start filling out our brackets and rejoice through three weeks of March Madness. Then, just as the Final Four comes to an end, we'll roll right into MLB's Opening Day, the Masters, the start of the NBA and NHL playoffs and the Kentucky Derby and suddenly the action will be fast and furious once again. Just how we like it.

In the meantime, we here at Casino City have decided to take advantage of the slow time of the year and start plotting a strategy for when the betting action does pick up again. Many of you will travel to Las Vegas for the NCAA Tournament and spend a good portion of your time in the multiple sportsbooks the city has to offer. But before you make your plans, we thought it would be beneficial for us to review the attributes that all great sportsbooks share.

As we mentioned in our Top-10 Las Vegas sportsbooks article back in September, there really is no such thing as a "bad sportsbook." But any sportsbook worthy of your hours and hours of time and betting dollars should include most, if not all, of the following 10 characteristics.

10. Individual betting terminals and TVs
This may not be important to you if you're traveling with a large group, but if you're flying solo having your own individual TV and betting terminal is a nice option to have. It also helps when you want to key in on a game that's not exactly a high priority on the bigger screens. And if you're a horse player, betting from your seat is certainly more convenient than getting up and standing in line 10 times an hour.

9. A good race-to-sports ratio
Some sports and race books are more dedicated to the race portion of their titles than others. Now, this won't be a problem if you're in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl or March Madness, because majority will rule. But if you're going to go to a sportsbook mid-week in February and you have absolutely no interest in racing, you might want to make sure the venue you choose isn't dominated by TVs with animals on them.

8. Location, location, location
If you're like me, your trip to a Las Vegas sportsbook is not a quick one. In a perfect world, you show up with the morning paper and a coffee, settle in for the day and don't even think about leaving until after dinner. So, be sure to take into consideration where you are going to be located for the day. Is the sportsbook in a spot of the casino where it's convenient to get a breath of fresh air? What if the sportsbook you're in doesn't offer the best odds on a game you are looking for? Are you within walking distance of another sportsbook? Also, if you're traveling with a significant other who doesn't care for the sportsbook, make sure you're in a spot where this other person in your traveling party will find plenty of things to do to remain "occupied" for a long period of time. Otherwise you might get dragged away long before you had planned to leave your "happy place."

7. Quality service
You want your experience at a sportsbook to be more than what you get at your sports bar at home. To an extent, you want to be catered to. You want to have friendly cocktail servers that hustle. You want the clerks accepting your wagers to be courteous and not be offended if you ask questions. Just because you're not at a blackjack table betting the table maximum, you still deserve to be treated like a valued customer by the casino.

6. Beverage choices
It wasn't too long ago that most sportsbooks in Las Vegas offered free drinks to its patrons. That has slowly changed over the years. The typical sportsbook now offers "drink tickets" to players who make a wager. Make sure you ask for one at the window. Also, if you are settling in for a couple hours and you have cocktail server, be generous with your tips on the first few orders. This will set you up for better service and eventually a few free rounds of free drinks.

5. Variety of food options
Man can not live on sports bets and drinks alone. You must be able to eat and you should be able to do so at a price with which you are comfortable with. Make sure the sportsbook not only has some sort of decent snack bar in the near vicinity, but also other options with more substance nearby.

4. Comfort
When you decide to spend more than a couple hours somewhere, you want to be comfortable. And let's face it, some chairs are simply more snug than others. In my experience, the most comfortable sportsbook chairs in Las Vegas are at the Bellagio and Wynn. With their swiveling, reclining chairs featuring drink holders and foot rests, both of these sportsbooks go out of their way to make you so comfortable you wish you had your slippers with you. Also, if you're heading to the sportsbook with a large group, make sure the one you are going to can handle a big party.

3. Numerous TVs
You are in a sportsbook to watch a game, and not necessarily just one, but possibly as many as six or seven at a time. All sportsbooks have multiple TVs, but some have a better selection than others. The best-case scenario is to find a book that has a gigantic screen that serves as the anchor for the room, with a multitude of other large screens surrounding it that give you plenty of other viewing options. After all, if it's just one game you're looking to watch, you might as well stay in your hotel room.

2. Wide variety of wagers
If you're just looking to bet the major sports and you only play "straight up" wagers, chances are you will be fine no matter where you go. However, if you like more exotic types of bets, you might want to make sure the sportsbook you plan on visiting offers what you want. For instance, up until this season, the Palms did not accept NBA wagers because the Maloof family that owns the casino also owns the Sacramento Kings. Beginning this season, the Palms did begin accepting NBA bets, but not on Kings games. The same goes for Harrah's Entertainment properties when it comes to the Boston Celtics. Harrah's CEO and President Gary Loveman has an ownership stake in the team, meaning Harrah's can't take wagers on Celtic games. That could put a damper on things if you in Vegas for the NBA playoffs and want to get involved in a game the Celtics are playing in. Also, some sportsbooks are more liberal with their prop and future bets than others. The Las Vegas Hilton and the Imperial Palace are two books with a reputation of accepting a wide variety of bets.

1. Atmosphere
My definition of a good atmosphere may differ from yours. Either way, before you choose a sportsbook, make sure it has the kind of surroundings you are comfortable with. Go through the same thinking process you use when you choose a restaurant. Are you looking for a party atmosphere? Or do you prefer a more tame and inconspicuous environment? Decide before you commit to a certain place and then find the best one that suits you and your party's wants and needs.

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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT