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Sports book operation betting it can thrive

The son of a gambler, Joe Asher hopes to bring the influence of his youth into Nevada’s race and sports books.

Asher is launching Brandy wine Bookmaking, an independent race and sports book operation that manages the facilities for casinos. Nevada gaming regulators licensed the company and Asher earlier this month. Brandywine handles the wagers and payouts for the casino and shares the revenues with the property.

The introduction begins this week in Northern Nevada when Brandywine takes over the race and sports books of two casinos in Elko and the Grand Sierra in Reno. The company hopes to win regulatory approval in the next few months to run the books inside the downtown Plaza and Casino Fandango in Carson City.

Asher, 40, the former managing director of hand-held gaming device pioneer Cantor G&W, said racing and gambling are in his blood. The company name comes from the now-closed Brandywine Raceway in Delaware. Growing up, Asher would frequent the track with his father. When he turned 16, he got a job at the track. Asher worked at other Delaware racetracks and at a track in Massachusetts. As a teenager, Asher handicapped horse races for the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal. Today, he also has ownership interests in racehorses.

But that experience doesn’t make you a race and sports book operator, Asher said. He spent more than a year putting together a business plan for Brandywine, gathering financial backers, and building an infrastructure and management team. He also sought out advice.

Veteran Nevada race and sports book operator Jimmy Vaccaro was quick to offer Asher his opinions. Vaccaro, 62, opened many of the Strip’s race and sports books, including the one at The Mirage in 1989. He also spent several years developing the sports and race wagering operation for the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas.

“I’ve seen people with the same ideas come to town and fail,” Vaccaro said. “If you think this is going to happen overnight, then get back into your car and go back to where you came from. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, energy and money.”

Asher took Vaccaro’s counsel to heart. And then he hired him. Asher also brought aboard Tony DiTommaso, the former race and sports director for the Cal Neva in Reno, to work with Vaccaro on the bookmaking and operations side. DiTommaso has more than 20 years’ experience in Nevada bookmaking.

On the business side, Asher put together a group with a mix of gaming history.

“Our team brings years of experience at some of the most prominent sports books in the state,” Asher said. “This is a team that I firmly believe will make a big impact in the race and sports betting business in this state.”

Brandywine, which will operate the race and sports books under the name Lucky’s, will be competing with two other established independent race and sports book operations. Cal Neva operates almost 30 race and sports books, primarily in Northern Nevada. In Las Vegas, Cal Neva runs the race and sports operations at the Tuscany, Four Queens and Binion’s. Leroy’s has 61 race and sports book locations in Nevada, including the Sahara and Riviera on the Strip.

“The idea is not to have a large number of places, but to have the right properties in the right locations,” Asher said.

The company will not operate slot machines or table games, Asher said. He wants the company to concentrate on one area of the casino.

“We are going to focus like a laser on this specific area, and I passionately believe that our focus will allow us to excel in that area,” Asher said. “It’s not that we are inherently smarter than others, although I think we have got a pretty sharp team. It’s just that race and sports are all we are going to do.”

Brandywine’s initial operations are inside casinos managed by Larry Woolf’s Navegante Group. Woolf said he liked what Asher had to offer and decided to give the start-up business an opportunity.

“It’s really hard to spend a lot of quality time in race and sports, and it’s not a huge part of the revenue stream,” Woolf said. “It’s hard to give it a lot of attention. But that’s what Joe intends to do. He is going to give it a lot of attention and a lot of focus.”

Woolf said Brandywine could increase the race and sports wagering volume by 10 percent to 20 percent.

Vaccaro, whom Asher hired away from Leroy’s, said Brandywine would set its own lines and establish unique programs for gamblers. He said it was important to be up and running for the upcoming college and professional football seasons.

“We’re going to compete with people who have been in this business 30 or 40 years,” Vaccaro said. “We’re going to have to do things better than they do.”

Asher, a former lawyer from Delaware, has been involved with Nevada gaming since 2005. As the managing director of Cantor G&W, an affiliate of New York-based financial services company Cantor Fitzgerald, Asher helped guide a bill through the Nevada legislature that allowed casinos to implement hand-held wireless gaming devices.

Nevada gaming authorities approved the regulations for hand-held gaming a year later, but the devices have been slow to come to market. Asher received a Nevada gaming license in May 2006 along with Cantor G&W, and helped the company sign agreements to put the devices inside Nevada casinos, including The Venetian. He left Cantor in 2007 to start Brandywine.

The company has been funded by private investors through a convertible debt offering.

Asher said the company would develop marketing plans for each of its locations and hope to attract new bettors, especially horse racing gamblers.

“We are going to aggressively market the product,” Asher said. “We are going to enhance the wagering options that are available.”

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

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