INDIANAPOLIS — Football fans in downtown Indianapolis were on the edge of their seats Sunday.
Not the ones who attended the Colts-Raiders game at Lucas Oil Stadium, but those who started lining up to place wagers on it at one of Indiana’s recently opened legal sports books more than three hours before kickoff.
The queue at Winner’s Circle, tucked into a parking garage on Pennsylvania Street about four city blocks from the Colts’ palatial digs, was out the door and halfway to Lafayette. It looked like the start of the Indianapolis 500, except the line was moving a lot slower than the race cars.
“It has probably exceeded our expectations,” general manager Brad Baldini said of the turnout to bet on sports since the Indiana General Assembly voted to legalize sports wagering in June in return for 15 percent of the profit.
The Winner’s Circle was converted from an off-track betting emporium into a 8,000-square-foot sports book on Sept. 3, relegating horse players to a smoky cubicle in the back of the shop near the restrooms.
“Until the newness wears off, this is our new normal,” Baldini said. “This is our every day.”
The Winner’s Circle is one of 12 Indiana books, including seven owned by Caesars Entertainment. It joins the Horseshoe Hammond, Harrah’s Hoosier Park in Anderson, Horseshoe Southern Indiana in Elizabeth, Indiana Grand Racing and Casino in Shelbyville and two other Winner’s Circle locations in New Haven and Clarksville.
As one sports bettor in the northern part of the state said after legal sports betting got the green light: “I never thought I would say this, but thank God for Hammond, Indiana.”
Put a pencil to it
Sports enthusiasts in central Indiana are genuflecting at the wagering altars, too.
“I’ve been down here about five days a week,” said Gary Suggs, who said he played linebacker for Warren Central High School in Indianapolis and then for Indiana State and Central State in Ohio, and had a pencil tucked behind his ear as if he knew what he was doing.
Before the Winner’s Circle transformation, the only way for a guy in Indy to bet on sports was to fly to Las Vegas, Suggs said. Or to talk smack to a buddy.
“I would call it street betting — $30 or $40 on the Colts if they win or lose. But it was nothing legit like this,” he said before being asked who he had in Sunday’s games and for how much.
“I did a six-game parlay, but I can’t remember what (teams),” he said, which suggested the pencil tucked behind the ear was little more than a thin disguise. He produced a betting slip from his wallet.
“I put down $30, and I can win $300. Giants, Chargers, Kansas City, Patriots, Rams and the Bears.”
He also said he had things to do that did not involve watching pro football on television. Unfortunately, stopping by the Winner’s Circle later to pick up $300 would not be one of them.
Phoning it in
Like Gary Suggs, a lot of those wearing Colts jerseys and even the sports book itself seemed to be learning on the fly.
For instance, a 25-ounce craft beer costs only $4 at Winner’s Circle — a bargain you won’t find even at South Point. More egregious: There was only one ATM, and nobody could figure out how to use it.
Three guys who might have been fraternity brothers were drinking inexpensive copper-colored ale and carrying on three conversations at once at a table near the entrance.
“What time the Rams playin?” said one.
“Five-team parlay for $30 — I’m feeling that,” said another.
“The battery in this new iPhone is amazing,” said the third.
When they got up to place another five-teamer and make another 15-percent contribution to the state of Indiana, one left a small pile of still-in-play betting slips on the table. Lucky they weren’t in Las Vegas.
Believe it or not, the guy who left the winners and chicken dinner on the tabletop was not the one extolling the battery life of the new iPhone.
But others at the Winner’s Circle seemed to be catching on to the nuances of wagering on sports more quickly.
When the Raiders’ Erik Harris returned an interception for a touchdown making it 31-17 and ending any hopes of an Indianapolis comeback, a guy wearing Colts’ gear waiting to bet on the late games turned to his buddies and thrust both arms into the air.
“Yes! We just went over!” he exclaimed, clutching a betting slip with 45 on the total line.
Indiana sports books
— Ameristar East Chicago
— Belterra Casino
— lue Chip Casino in Michigan City
— Caesars Southern Indiana
— French Lick Resort Casino
— Harrah’s Hoosier Park
— Hollywood Casino Lawrenceburg
— Horseshoe Casino Hammond
— Indiana Grand Casino
— Majestic Star
— Rising Star Casino Resort
— Tropicana Evansville
— Winner’s Circle Clarksville/Indianapolis/New Haven