What are sports books?

Can you explain sports books to me? I've heard them mentioned a few times and wonder about them.


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Ann, you've asked about one of my very favorite Las Vegas topics. Sports books are just the part of the casino where wagers may be placed on sporting events. I love betting on sports, so I think laying some money on a team then sitting back to watch the game is one of the funnest things to do in Vegas.

Very few Vegas novices ever venture into the sports book -- shoot, it's not even a real common stop for people who have visited many times -- because it seems so different from the rest of the casino and, with the giant toteboard covered with what look to be coded numbers and the dozens of TVs showing all sorts of events, it looks a little intimidating. But a sports fan who doesn't risk some cash and watch a game in the book is missing out on a good time. So I'll try and demystify the sports book. Here's what to expect:

Sports AND RACE book

Once you find the casino's sports betting area -- and it's getting harder and harder, only a handful of casinos really play up their sports book anymore -- the first thing you'll probably notice is that there's often a lot more television and floor area devoted to horse racing than to sports. That's no accident. Much like slot machines, horse racing is a low-overhead profit-generating machine for the casinos. The simulcast races from all over the world, all hours of the day, raking in a small share of the betting on each race. Horse racing is a world all its own, and it's one in which I don't live or even visit much, so the only race I ever wager on is the Kentucky Derby, and that's just for fun.

The sports area of the book is often located opposite the horse racing area, although in some casinos they overlap. This is where you'll find the big electronic toteboard (or a whiteboard covered in scrawled handwriting in smaller books). The key is having an idea of what you want to bet before you even take your first look at that confusing board. Suppose you want to bet on the Toronto Argonauts (yes, almost every sports book offers Canadian Football League wagers) to beat the pointspread, for example, just scan the board until you find the team listing, then look to the left to find the 3- or 4-digit Bet Number. If the sports book betting desk isn't busy -- and it usually isn't -- that's all you REALLY have to know. Just take that number to the clerk, explain that you want to bet on the Argos and ask what the pointspread is. Unless the clerk is a real jerk, they shouldn't mind taking a few seconds to look at the board or their own computer and give you that number. Almost every sports book clerk I've ever dealt with during slow periods have been nice.

Once you've placed your wager and received your bet ticket (and you can do that hours or days ahead of the game) make plans to come back and watch the contest on which you've bet. The best sports books have comfortable seating areas -- my own favorites are the Golden Nugget Downtown; Caesars Palace, the Aria and the Hilton on the Strip -- and you'll be amazed at just how much more important a game seems when you have even a small bit of money riding on the outcome.

Do be aware you may have to get up and buy your own drinks during the game, though. Some casinos claim to offer free drink service to sports bettors, but I've never once had a waitress come around and take my order. You'll also want to make sure you have your betting ticket with you during the game. When the seating area starts to get crowded, or bums start coming in off the street, casino staff will often ask to see tickets and ask anyone without one to leave the seats.

Once the game is over, assuming you've won, take your ticket back to the betting window and claim your profits.

To boil all this down, sports books are just a place to wager on and watch sports. They can seem foreboding to a gambler not familiar with how they work, but as long as you have even a basic idea of a bet you want to make, all you have to do is wait until a slow time then ask the betting clerk for help. Once you made your first sports bet, all the rest will seem much less complicated.

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1 response to “What are sports books?”

  1. Ann said:

    Thank you we may try it out will certainly look for the areas when we visit.

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