With passion for sports betting, bookmaking executive is odds man in

The folks back home in Wilmington, Del., wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that Joe Asher is running a race and sports betting management company in Las Vegas.

After all, Asher, 42, grew up in a Damon Runyonesque lifestyle, working in his father's Wilmington newsstand, accompanying his father on gambling excursions to racetracks, and performing a variety of jobs as a teenager at the now closed Brandywine Raceway and other racetracks in the Northeast.

At 18, Asher was the youngest track announcer in North America, calling races at Harrington Raceway in Delaware, Foxboro Raceway outside of Boston, Brandywine and Dover Downs in Delaware.

Even after graduating law school, which led to clerkship with the Supreme Court of Delaware and a job with the worldwide law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Asher still found himself drawn to racing.

"I didn't have passion for the day-to-day practice of law that I had for the gaming business," Asher said. "I didn't come home and read the latest Supreme Court opinion. I came home and read the Daily Racing Form."

In 2007, Asher formed Brandywine Bookmaking, which operates the Lucky's Race and Sports Books inside 11 Nevada casinos.

The business will open its 12th sports book later this month when it takes over the operation inside the Pioneer Club in Laughlin. That will give Lucky's locations in all of Nevada's major markets, including Las Vegas (Plaza and Terrible's), Reno (Grand Sierra), Primm (the three Primm casinos), Carson City (Casino Fandango), Elko (Red Lion and High Desert Inn) and Pahrump (Terrible's Town and Terrible's Lakeside).

"The idea for us was not to get a huge number of books, but the right books in the right locations," Asher said. "We wanted to be in all the significant markets in the state."

The Delaware Lottery recently chose Brandywine to operate sports books that will be inside the state's three racetrack casinos starting in September.

Asher came to Nevada to head the gaming affiliate of the global financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald with the primary push to introduce handheld mobile wagering devices into casinos. He helped spearhead passage of the legislation and the writing of regulations covering the activity. He also helped Cantor Fitzgerald sign up its first casinos to use the product.

The idea for Brandywine came about because Asher thought he could fill a niche in the market that casinos or other independent race and sports book operators hadn't addressed. Asher wrote a business plan and found investors willing to fund the startup costs.

He also assembled a team that includes Joe Bertolone, who had been the chief of the Gaming Control Board's technology division, and two veterans of Nevada's race and sports book industry, Jimmy Vaccaro and Tony DiTommaso.

Except for the Grand Sierra, the race and sports book staff work for Brandywine. Asher said the company has approximately 70 employees.

Question: How did you persuade casinos to hire a startup?

Answer: Most casino operators don't spend a lot of time on race and sports. It's a small part of the business. It's not like slot machines where you can program the payout or table games where there is a mathematical advantage. Sports are both an art and a science.

The big part is the betting product. We offer a much better betting product than most casinos can offer themselves. It's not only coming up with the line but also managing and moving the line. It's not reasonable to expect singular, smaller operations to do that.

Question: Where were Lucky's first locations?

Answer: We first approached Larry Woolf of the Navegante Group and told him what we wanted to do and he understood it immediately. In hindsight, it was logical that Larry would be someone to approach because that's what he does, manages casinos (Grand Sierra). He was our first customer.

Question: What future opportunities do you see for Brandywine in Nevada?

Answer: The changes that everyone recognizes are coming to the Nevada gaming industry will create opportunities in the extent there is deconsolidation among the major casino operators. That will open additional opportunities for us. I think that all people, in tough times, focus on how to maximize revenue from every segment of the operation.

We want to be on the Strip and that will be an opportunity we'll look for over the next year. We've spent the past year getting our hands around the operational aspects of the business.

Question: How did you land the contract in Delaware?

Answer: There had been talk of bringing sports wagering to Delaware. It was one of the four states grandfathered in when Congress passed legislation banning sports betting in the early 1990s. When the new governor took office, he made it clear that he was in favor of sports betting as a way to help balance the budget in these difficult economic times.

We followed the legislative process closely. When the lottery put out a request for proposal, we signed an agreement with Scientific Games, the incumbent lottery provider, to work together on pursing the bid. The lottery had a rating scale on eight or nine categories and we finished the highest in every category.

Question: How lucrative will sports wagering be in Delaware?

Answer: That's the big question. Some 30 million people are within a three-hour drive to Delaware and we're in proximity to some of the most storied sports franchises in the country. Sports betting has been around the Northeast for generations and there is an unquestioned market for it. Now, we're giving folks a legal alternative to go and bet. How that translates into handle is anybody's guess.

Question: What was it like growing up in a wagering environment?

Answer: If you talk to people who knew me as a kid, this (Brandywine) makes perfect sense. I've been around racing and sports betting my whole life. I was reading the Daily Racing Form when I was 6 years old and I liked to go to the track with my dad. When I was 16 and looking for a job, I called the publicity director at Brandywine Raceway. I had a number of positions and I was eventually calling the races.

Question: Do you still wager on sports?

Answer: All the senior management (at Brandywine) agreed not to bet sports at all and I hold myself to the same standard. We oftentimes have a rooting interest in some games, but you find yourself torn. I'm a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, but there are days when we need the Eagles to lose. That's the ultimate conflict.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.