On Wednesdays, when Jay Rood got out of elementary school early in his native Albuquerque, New Mexico, he spent quality time with his mother.
“She’d pick me up, and we’d go to the track because a real good friend of hers was the wife of a trainer,” Rood said. “Horse racing is where it all started. Just the thrill of the action. The animals, the people, everything. I was immediately hooked on it.”
Rood’s passion for horse racing continued when he was a student at New Mexico State.
“I’m sure Sunland Park got more money than New Mexico State did out of me,” Rood said.
Long before Rood oversaw 10 sportsbooks on the Strip and three in Mississippi and New Jersey as the MGM Resorts sportsbook director, he was a bit of a campus bookie in college, where he knew early on he wanted to end up in Las Vegas.
“Literally two weeks into school, me and my resident assistant in charge of the dormitory jumped in a truck and made the road trip to Vegas,” Rood said. “I kind of fell in love with the city and figured this has got to be the place for me.”
Las Vegas — and MGM Resorts, in particular — has been the place for Rood and his family for the past 25 years. Rood has been married to his wife, Audra, for 24 years.
“I’ve been married to the MGM longer than her,” he said.
But after 25 years with the company, Rood is stepping down from the MGM on Friday.
“In a million years, I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d end up here, but it’s been a heck of a ride and it’s been a lot of fun,” Rood said. “The MGM has provided me and my family a great life for quite awhile. It’s time to close this chapter of my life and move on to find something different and exciting to do.”
Rood, 50, said he took a voluntary buyout to leave MGM Resorts, which announced 254 layoffs in April.
“I was presented the opportunity to leave on my own, and I took advantage of it,” he said. “I have to say the MGM folks, specifically our senior leadership, tried to persuade me to stay. I just feel there’s a new adventure around the corner for me.
“This is time I need to step back a little bit and enjoy my family.”
Rood and his wife have twin 17-year-old daughters, Sidney and Jordan, who attend Green Valley High School, and a 21-year-old son, Ryan, a firefighter in New Mexico. Rood said the past year has been difficult for his family, as his mother and sister died and his wife’s sister died.
“Having time to reflect is good right now” he said.
After graduating from New Mexico State in 1992, Rood moved to Lake Tahoe, where he began his career in the sports betting industry as a ticket writer for Caesars Tahoe.
Rood moved to Las Vegas in December 1993, when he started working as a ticket writer at the MGM Grand when it opened.
He was promoted to supervisor in 1998 and named sportsbook manager at The Mirage in 2000, when it merged with the MGM. He took over as the MGM Resorts sportsbook director in 2008.
Rood’s favorite betting story took place during his time at The Mirage.
“A guy came up to the counter who appeared to be down on his luck and a homeless guy,” he said. “He had a pretty beat up Walmart bag and asked how much he could bet on the Colts. I said, ‘Buddy, you can empty your pockets.’ He said, ‘All right, I wanted $200,000.’ And he started pulling out bundles of cash.
“The guy made the bet, and the Colts won the game for him and covered. They were plus 7½ and lost by 7. He came back and collected his cash, and I never saw the guy again. It taught me a valuable lesson not to be quick to make a decision based on appearances.
“I always used a little more caution when engaged in the acceptance of large bets from that point forward.”
The biggest bet Rood took was a $3 million money-line wager on the Eagles over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Philadelphia won 41-33.
“As an operator, I probably gave a fair shake to anyone that ever walked to the counter,” he said. “If you were looking for big action, more than likely you were going to get it down with us. If you were a sharp player and played by the ground rules, we let you bet with us.
“We catered to the beginner, the experienced and the deep-pocketed individual, and I think we did it with grace with all of them.”
Rood said he wants to stay connected to the race and sportsbook industry and plans to stay in Las Vegas.
“Vegas isn’t done with me yet,” he said. “Maybe I’ll do a little more media stuff with (VSiN host) Gill Alexander or help someone build a wagering system.
“It’s just time to turn the reins over to someone else.”
MGM Resorts hasn’t announced a replacement for Rood.