After a long wait, Las Vegas hotel casinos and sportsbooks will reopen Thursday. Receiving an equally big welcome back are sports bars, which have been given clearance to resume operations this week. Thousands of people in Las Vegas spend their workdays in sportsbooks. Right here at VSiN, we work in a studio in a sportsbook. Ticket writers, supervisors, risk managers, oddsmakers and professional sports bettors spend their days on both sides of the counter in a sportsbook. Like anyone else, there comes a time when the sports betting community wants to leave “the office” and find a comfortable escape to socialize, get a bite to eat, have a drink or two and enjoy a televised sporting event outside the day-to-day workplace. One of the most popular establishments in Las Vegas for exactly that for over 20 years has been O’Aces Bar and Grill. I enjoy O’Aces quite a bit, but I was curious as to how it became such a popular watering hole for people involved in sports betting.
“Tony Miller came in one time and just started spreading the word,” said John Wiggins, late-night bartender and O’Aces general manager, referring to the director of race and sports at the Golden Nugget.
Wiggins, a San Diego State Aztec, is brilliant at his job. He knows every guest by name and what to hand him as his first drink. He has been doing this at O’Aces for 20 years.
Miller stumbled upon O’Aces many years ago when he appeared as a guest on local radio personality and frequent VSiN guest Brian Blessing’s remote radio broadcast from O’Aces.
“I really liked the place,” Miller said. “Friendly machines, great relaxed atmosphere, very good food, the staff are great people. I started inviting all the guys, like Matt Youmans, Steve Cofield and Adam Hill. I’ve made so many friends there over the years, friends I’ve even ended up joining on vacations.”
Derek Stevens, owner of The D, Golden Gate and Circa, has been betting sports in Las Vegas for many years. He recently completed his first year as the owner and operator of Circa Sports, the sportsbook in his hotel properties.
“I have a good relationship with Derek,” Miller said. “A bunch of us were hanging out at O’Aces one night, watching games, talking sports, and I called up Derek to tell him to come over and that he’d like this place.
"So not long after that, Derek shows up at O’Aces and pulls up in the parking lot in a big ol’ limousine from The D with a whole crew. More than a dozen or so of his friends and family pile out of the car. We had a great time.”
So the connection as a place for people in the sports and sports betting businesses to gather grew quickly. Miller predicts it will continue to do so.
"Look at the proximity of the place to the Golden Knights and the Raiders," said Miller, alluding to T-Mobile Arena and Allegiant Stadium being just 2 miles from O’Aces.
My first time at O’Aces was for a lunch meeting. I was invited by a friend in the industry and frequent VSiN contributor, Lou Finocchiaro, to attend the “Tuesday Group” meeting about seven years ago. This was a gathering of eight to 12 wise guys in the industry who would get together every Tuesday of football season at O’Aces, back in the big private room, to share their thoughts on the upcoming weekend of college and NFL games from a betting perspective.
This was the first time I met Preston Johnson, a regular these days on ESPN’s “Daily Wager” show and a frequent guest on VSiN's “A Numbers Game” with Gill Alexander. The lunch part came after the business of discussing the week’s football card. I dove into a chicken sandwich and soon learned what Miller and Finocchiaro had been preaching: This was a generous step above bar food. Finocchiaro compliments the food by ordering blindly. “I always just get the special, whatever it is, as long as it’s not liver and onions,” he said.
What I was unable to do over lunch back then but can now is enjoy a VSiN Bookmaker Blonde Ale right from the tap at O’Aces. Of course, Bookmaker Blonde was just introduced in November 2019.
“We have a regular woman guest who drinks it all the time,” Wiggins said. “Every time she comes in — and she has nothing to do with the sports crowd that hangs out here.”
O’Aces Bar and Grill has a rich history, tremendous hospitality, a friendly atmosphere, good bartenders and video poker machines. It has become a comfortable spot for those in the Las Vegas sports betting industry to congregate. But one of the most interesting aspects is the glue that connects it all — the Gaughan family. Michael Gaughan owns South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, the home of VSiN, and his son, John Gaughan, owns O’Aces Bar and Grill.
South Point, VSiN, O’Aces ... it’s truly amazing that sports personalities gather in all these areas, all connected by the Gaughan family thread. Or is it coincidence?
“Good people gravitate toward good operations,” said Finocchiaro. “I'm a neighborhood, loyal, local kind of hangout type of a guy. That’s what South Point and O’Aces are. That’s the Gaughan recipe. And the fact that our industry, our friends, decide to gather there? Well, then I’ve hit the daily double.”
Before the quarantine in Las Vegas, O’Aces was the last public place I visited. Eighty-two days later, we can go back. Sure, new distancing and sanitary precautions will be in place. But the food, the crowd, the service and John Wiggins behind the bar will still be there.