Welcome to US Bets’ recurring “Ask a Bookmaker” column, which answers many of the common (and uncommon!) questions gamblers and enthusiasts have about how sportsbooks operate in the modern age of sports betting.
The executive vice president of race and sportsbook operations at the Westgate SuperBook, Jay Kornegay has been in the sports betting industry for more than 30 years. After getting his start in Lake Tahoe, Kornegay took his talents to Las Vegas, where he opened the Imperial Palace sportsbook in 1989 before taking the reins of the 30,000-square-foot SuperBook in 2004. A Colorado State University alum whose putting stroke tends to betray him on the back nine, Kornegay has helped navigate the SuperBook’s expansion into multiple states since PASPA was overturned in 2018.
Have a question you’d like to ask Kornegay? Send it to [email protected]. The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Do you feel like you and your trading team are able to come up for much air between the Super Bowl and March Madness these days or does it feel like one big avalanche of action?
It’s definitely not a full-blown vacation or anything like that. It’s more like a rest area on the side of the highway.
Even with the rise of mobile betting, could it be argued that March Madness is the main event where the customer experience of betting in a brick-and-mortar sportsbook is still second to none?
Mobile betting is more popular than ever, but I can’t foresee the March Madness event ever succumbing to just being a remotely bet tournament. It’s such an electric atmosphere. It’s hard to fathom that it would ever subside in popularity. If you haven’t been here for a March Madness, you should probably put that on your bucket list.
It’s really dominated by men. It differs from the Super Bowl in a few different ways. The Super Bowl is more of a mature event where you definitely see more couples and more females. March Madness, there’s no doubt that it compares to a frat party. It’s a release for many males. A lot of times it’s reunions. When I go out and I talk to a lot of the guests, even though they’re in the same group, they’re from different areas of the country. They’re reuniting on an annual basis, but it’s 99% males. That’s just the way it’s formed over the years.
We welcome the ladies to this event, but it’s never really unfolded that way. I always feel sorry for the one guy who brings his girlfriend.
Las Vegas now plays host to more conference tournaments than any other city. What does that tell you about how various people’s perceptions of Vegas have changed over the past decade or so?
We were viewed as the bad guys. This was like 25 years ago and this lady came up to me and told me we should be ashamed because we’re taking bets on the kids. I said, well, they are adults and we’ve been taking bets on college events for many years without incident.
We have integrity on the top of our minds. If there’s anyone that’s going to get hurt by a so-called fixed game, it’s the bookmaker. We don’t want to take bets on something that’s pre-determined. We are on the same side as the NCAA and all the pro leagues. We want fair and true games and want to keep it that way.
Vegas was viewed in many different lights over the years, and I can understand some of the dark views some might have, but obviously that has changed as more events — including sporting events — have now called Vegas their home. With the expansion of gambling, sports betting, and legalized marijuana, our society has changed over the years, and I feel that Las Vegas is designed purposely for these type of events. It can certainly be viewed as the sports entertainment capital of the world these days.
Between the Pac-12 and mid-majors like the WCC and Mountain West that hold their tourneys in Vegas, which schools attract the most action at the betting window, and is that a direct reflection of how well their fans travel?
The two conferences that highlight the betting windows are the Pac-12 and Mountain West because the local team (UNLV) has familiar patrons. They come in during the season each and every year, so they’re very comfortable coming in and making wagers on the Mountain West tournament.
The Pac-12, based on the size of schools and their fan base, have an impact as well. The WCC is dominated by Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. They’ll travel and they’ll travel well, and they’ll make a little dent at the betting windows, but nothing compared to the Pac-12 and the Mountain West.
From an oddsmaking perspective, do you find conference tourneys to be tougher to handicap than the NCAA Tournament, or are they roughly equivalent?
I think they’re the same. We understand that there are going to be certain teams that, no matter how they’re playing that season, will attract the most interest — teams like Arizona, Utah, Gonzaga, San Diego State. Depending on how much of a chance we believe they have of winning their tournaments, it’s rare that we’ll move odds, but we have in the past.
Arizona’s probably going to be the best team that comes in and plays in our city during conference tournament week and they also have a terrific fan base that will support their team at the betting windows. There’s a chance we could adjust their odds to win the conference championship, but it would be a minimal adjustment. This year, they’re no lock to win that tournament.
What conference or conferences do you view as the most unpredictable from an oddsmaking standpoint this year?
The Big 12 and Big Ten are always very tough to handicap because most of the years they’re pretty thick in the middle and it’s very difficult to predict night in and night out what these teams are gonna do.
Looking five years into the future, what are your expectations for the 2028 Final Four in Vegas? Will that make Formula 1 and the Super Bowl seem like small beer or is it too early to say yet?
I think they’re all gonna be very comparable. They somewhat have different demographics that they attract. F1 is a very high-end type of clientele from all over the world. The number of fans for the Super Bowl and the Final Four will probably surpass what you’ll see for the F1, but the F1 clientele is gonna be all gold members.
Super Bowl, you’re gonna see a lot of football fans from across the country. Same with the Final Four — plenty of basketball fans from all parts. We’ll take some big bets on F1, but we’ll write a lot more tickets on the Super Bowl and Final Four.
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