The Golden Gate’s new sports book opened for business Saturday and – operating under the Circa Sports brainchild of Golden Gate and D owner Derek Stevens – we could argue that it’s the most highly anticipated Vegas sports book opening in 14 years.
And it's unique in that it opens with a mobile app as its focus as opposed to a brick-and-mortar location. Still, the brick-and-mortar location in the downtown Golden Gate will be the place to be Saturday morning to register/fund the mobile accounts and take part in promotions such as no-vig sides on the 15 MLB baseball games, Liverpool vs. Tottenham Champion League final and Boston Bruins vs. St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final.
All of the other “openings” in recent years have been turnkey operations with outside operators running the book or additions to existing casino networks. For instance, William Hill started its U.S. operations in 2011 but that was basically a buyout of the Leroy’s, Lucky’s and Cal-Neva networks of books and consolidating them; Cantor Gaming (original name of CGT Technology) opened its book at the M Casino in March 2009, but that was the hub for a turnkey operation; Red Rock debuted in 2006, but was part of the Station Casinos portfolio.
And while there have been high-profile renovations recently at the Westgate SuperBook, the Mirage and the Wynn, the last time an independent sports betting operator opened was April 2005 when the then brand-new Wynn opened with its book designed by VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo before he turned it over to John Avello that July.
But now Stevens is the torchbearer with Circa Sports, which brings the number of different lines in Las Vegas to 12, joining the SuperBook at the Westgate, South Point, Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming, William Hill, CGT Technology, Wynn, Golden Nugget and Treasure Island. Circa Sports' first outlet is the Golden Gate and will be joined in later June by a renovated book at the D. The flagship property will be the under-construction Circa Resort & Casino across Fremont Street from the Golden Gate and expected to open in December 2020.
Stevens said he’s had a dream of operating his own sports book since before he and his brother Greg bought the downtown Fitzgerald’s Casino in 2011 and rebranded it as the D in 2012 (some say Derek named it after himself, some say it stands for “Downtown,” some say it stands for his native "Detroit," I’d like to think it’s an homage to all cool people with first names that start with D).
Anyway, Stevens had been coming to Vegas for years to do his sports betting and knew what he liked and what he thought could be improved if he ever got a chance to own his own book (note: Fitzgerald’s was a William Hill client when the Stevens bought the place and they stayed with that operator until getting licensed to run their own book last month).
“It’s no secret that I’m an avid sports bettor – I’m taking everything I’ve learned and everything I love and bringing it all to Circa Sports to create the best possible experience for our guests,” Stevens said. “Circa Sports will take people back to old-school Las Vegas hospitality, where our guests and oddsmakers interact closely in a friendly and fun environment.”
Stevens has a well-earned reputation of not being a casino owner who hides in boardrooms all day and sends down decisions from an ivory tower; instead, he’s probably the most accessible casino owner I’ve seen as he hangs out at the Long Bar at the D or mingles with his customers.
Matt Metcalf is Circa's sports book director. He comes from the Jay Kornegay bookmaking tree as he was at the Imperial Palace earlier this century and moved with Kornegay, Ed Salmons and Jeff Sherman when they moved their team in 2004 to the then-Las Vegas Hilton (now Westgate). There is definitely a lot of “SuperBook” bookmaking philosophy that comes through when talking to Stevens and Metcalf.
“We going to take limits that are higher or competitive with other top books,” Metcalf said. “And we’ll take limit bets from wise guys and use them to sharpen our lines like top bookmakers of the past.”
Stevens added that a point of emphasis will be to have fair future-book prices.
“I know from my personal betting that the biggest thrill was when I could win a million dollars or other big amount on a future-book ticket,” he said. “I want to make that experience possible for the tourists that come to Vegas and make it known that they have to check out Circa if they’re shopping around for the best price in town before heading back home, as well as for our local customers.”
When I first Tweeted about Circa Sports’ approach back in April, there were some who replied things like “be careful what you wish for” and cited the Sport of Kings race & sports betting parlor that opened at the corner of Convention Center Drive and Paradise in October 1992 and shut down nine months later after taking a bath from professional bettors led by the legendary Billy Walters. However, a big part of the downfall of the Sport of Kings was it also offered fixed odds on horse racing (as opposed to offering risk-free pari-mutuel wagering) and also got beat up by the pros.
The Golden Gate (and the Circa app) isn’t offering pari-mutuel horse racing to start and if they do book some races (we’ll ask about the Belmont Stakes next Saturday), it’ll be with house limits in place. Metcalf said Circa is licensed to offer horse racing but they’ll wait to see what kind of demand they hear from their customers with a decision probably not coming until at least the opening of Circa Resort & Casino, where VSiN will have a studio. (Stevens is an investor in VSiN.)
In a similar vein, Stevens said he’s certainly interested to expanding the Circa brand to other Vegas casinos as well as the continually expanding opportunities in other states, but for now he’s concentrating on getting the Golden Gate and D books up and running and of course the mammoth Circa project.
Another SuperBook similarity if that they’re launching with a competitor to the world-famous SuperContest with the Circa Sports Million football handicapping contest. The entry fee is $1,000 with entrants picking five NFL games a week against the spread just like in the SuperContest, plus this fall’s debut season is having a guaranteed $1 million first-place prize and $1.5 million prize pool. Circa will also pay the Top 10 finishers plus have four quarterly prizes (NFL Weeks 1-4 in September, Weeks 5-8 in October, Weeks 9-12 in November and Weeks 13-17 in December) of at least $50,000.
Unless they reach the ambitious goal of 1,500 entries (note: the already established Golden Nugget contest, which also costs $1,000 per entry, is hoping for 500 entries this season), there could be a huge overlay for entrants. If they do exceed 1,500, Circa VP Mike Palm said any extra prize money will be added evenly to the quarterly prizes.
It’ll be interesting to see how all that shakes out.
But for now, if you’re down at the Golden Gate on Saturday morning to register/open your mobile account, sign up for the Circa Sports Millions or just to check out the scene, we’ll see you there.