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September 1, 2014

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First wave of William Hill’s innovation coming to Las Vegas this football season

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Courtesy photo

A look inside a William Hill betting shop. The British company, known for offering better odds and taking bigger bets than Las Vegas books, is buying American Wagering Inc., which operates Leroy’s sports books.

The year was 1979, and sports handicapper Jimmy Vaccaro can remember the sense of excitement that came with booking one of his first Super Bowls in Las Vegas.

Vaccaro, who was beginning his long career in the sports book industry at Royal Inn, was proud to post a variety of betting options on the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. By variety, he means a spread, total and halftime line.

“That was it,” Vaccaro reflected. “On a Super Bowl Sunday, there were three ways to win or blow your cash.”

Vaccaro is still formulating spreads and totals a few decades later, but now offering them at an updated price as often as every four seconds. He’s part of the newest bookmaking team in town at William Hill US, which will use this football season to gradually implement some of the practices that have made its British parent company wildly successful.

In Europe, William Hill routinely offers its patrons 2,300 ways to “win or blow” money every day, according to Vaccaro.

“We have never even thought in those terms,” he said. “That’s what’s amazing. Just to guess, I would say maybe we have 250-300 a day. It varies, but I keep thinking back and it’s light-years ahead of what we would even do on a Super Bowl.”

Although it’s been less than three months since the Nevada Gaming Commission granted William Hill US permission to operate 159 local sports books, the company is determined to add innovation to the local betting landscape immediately.

British oddsmakers, or “traders” as William Hill calls them, recently traveled to Las Vegas to coordinate with the book’s American staff. They went through “in-play wagering” for 15 games, the Britons walking the Americans through certain wagers never seen before in Southern Nevada.

William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher also spent extended time in Europe, getting more acquainted with the company and meeting with executives. He came away energized by what William Hill could accomplish here.

“We’re working on being the ones with the most options for our customers,” Vaccaro said. “We want to be first when everything starts clicking. But we won’t do anything haphazardly. We aren’t going to put anything up there and take it down because we should have waited longer and tweaked it.”

The company has enjoyed the luxury of not needing to rush anything unnecessarily because of the acquisition of Lucky’s, Leroy’s and Cal Neva sports books. William Hill US has tried to merge what those outfits did best together in the opening period.

Leroy’s, for example, was the first shop to offer an iPhone app, which William Hill promptly re-branded and improved. Most of the long-term plans involving the extended betting menu will come on the app.

Cal Neva was renowned for putting out the state’s best parlay cards, something William Hill decided to continue. The genesis of William Hill’s two football betting contests appear to derive from concepts Lucky’s used the past few years.

“We wanted to take the best of what we had together and do what seemed the most popular,” explained Dan Shapiro, director of marketing for William Hill US.

The contests consist of a $100 buy-in college football competition asking bettors to pick seven games against the spread each week and a $25 NFL challenge where entrants chose the straight-up winner in every game. Weekly and yearly prizes are awarded in both, and registration is open until this weekend.

Response for the college contest, in particular, has blown Shapiro away.

“We knew there really wasn’t anything else out there with a point-spread in college,” Shapiro explained. “It’s the only contest of its kind in the market.”

At this time a year from now, or even a few months from now, William Hill aspires to claim the same uniqueness for other parts of its business.

Vaccaro has seen enough to know it’s on the horizon.

“They could have 20 or 30 bets during a quarter of a football or soccer game,” Vaccaro said. “We don’t approach that, but our goal is to someday maximize what they do over there here in Nevada. Can we get to 2,300 bets a day? I don’t know, but we’re working on it.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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