On my last day in Las Vegas after witnessing Antonio Esfandiari's victory in the $1 million Big One for One Drop, I decided to check off one of the items on my sports bettor's bucket list, so I headed down Flamingo Road to The Palms Casino Resort and placed a $10 wager on 13 Major League Baseball games.
Okay, so my bucket list says you need to place a wager on every MLB game on the slate, but it was the Fourth of July, and unfortunately I'd missed the first pitch of two games that were already in progress. I think 13 out of 15 still meets the spirit of the idea, and if I have the chance to do it again, I'll be sure to get my bets in on time.
The Palms recently renovated its sportsbook, bringing in Cantor Gaming to redesign and run the operation. Here are the top-10 things I'll remember from my afternoon at the Palms sportsbook.
10. Striking design
If you've never been to a Cantor Gaming sportsbook, you're in for a treat. The Palms sportsbook has dark wagering windows beneath a virtual wall of bright high-definition LED screens that deliver 1,250 square feet of eye candy for the sports bettor. About a third of that space is devoted to horse racing, while the rest is tuned to other sporting events. Obviously it's the job of a sportsbook to provide a feed of any game that people are betting on, but I enjoyed the fact that I could easily see the score, the number of people on base and the number of outs in every game fairly easily.
9. Comfortable seats
Part of the design includes 90 very comfortable red chairs that swivel and lean back, which is a good thing, because the screens are elevated and they take up so much space you may need to turn yourself in order to see multiple games. I sat in the same chair for about five hours (with a few bathroom breaks and a quick walk to the food court for lunch) and never felt uncomfortable.
There is also a VIP section roped off for bettors who, unlike me, are willing to lay down a stake of more than $10 a game.
8. Touch screens are disappointing
Each chair has a table and touch screen in front of it, and with some coaxing, you can find any of the games you might be betting on by surfing through the TV channels. I say with some coaxing because I had a really hard time getting the screen to register what I was trying to get it to do. I had to hit it with quite a bit of force – an iPad this was not.
I was also disappointed with the content on the touch screens. The TV feed only takes up one-quarter of the real estate on the screen, and the other three-quarters is used to try to entice you to play electronic table games like blackjack and roulette while you're sitting there. There are also constant prods to try the in-game betting, something I wasn't eager to do personally. I just wanted to pick the most competitive game and get the audio feed so I could hear the commentary, but the volume was very low and the video quality wasn't that great, so it was easier to watch the game on the huge screen (even when they were on one of the smaller screens and not one of the featured screens) than it was to watch it on the 19-inch screen in front of my face. I couldn't find any headphone jacks, either, which would have been a nice way to allow people to listen to the game of their choice, rather than being forced to listen to the game that is being featured on the largest screen in the room.
7. Poker room integration
I was interested in seeing the new poker room at the Palms, which moved to a spot between the sportsbook and the Tonic Bar. I was initially a little reticent to see the poker room move. I enjoyed the old location because it was walled in on three sides, effectively separating it from the rest of the casino floor. But the new poker room has half-walls (four-and-a-half or five-feet high) around it, which provides the feeling of separation and integration into the sportsbook. I didn't play any poker while I was there – there are only eight tables and the only games running that afternoon were $2-$4 limit Hold'em and $1-$3 no-limit Hold'em, but they also spread $4-$8 limit Hold'em with a half kill, $1-$2 pot-limit Omaha and even $5-$10 Big O.
6. Bet for value
This isn't necessarily a Palms sportsbook observation, but rather an observation on my betting for the day. In baseball, I like to pick underdogs. If a team is listed at +150, well, they only have to win 40.1 percent of the time in order to make it a profitable wager. The worst baseball team in the majors as of today (the Houston Astros) has still won more than 35 percent of its games. Obviously I don't only pick underdogs. You have to look at pitching matchups and where the game is taking place, but don't look at baseball bets and think, "The favorite is going to win more often than not, so I should pick the favorite." When a team is listed at -200, do you really think they're going to win more than 2-of-3 in that scenario? If so, then by all means, pick that team. (Incidentally, the best winning percentage in MLB as of this morning is .600 for the New York Yankees.) Otherwise, give the underdog a good look. You won't win as often, but when you do, you'll have a bigger score and you may end up with a bigger bankroll in the end.
5. Other bettors watching games
I tend to be pretty reserved when I watch games in a sportsbook. Most of that is because I appreciate other people may have a different rooting interest than I do, so I try to keep a pretty cool head and keep my celebrations and cursing to a minimum. But I'm not like all sports bettors. In fact, I was sitting next to a gentleman who was the exact opposite. At first I was a little confused since he seemed to be rooting for both teams, but then I figured out that he'd bet the over on the over/under. Betting the over, he explained, was the best way to bet because you could have a winner by the second inning. He pointed to the Los Angeles Angels vs. Cleveland Indians game, where the Indians led 9-1 after two. He was kicking himself for not betting that game. Everyone's got a system, right? Mine is to pick underdogs, his is to bet the over. To each his own.
However, this guy was living and dying with every pitch. Daniel Murphy takes a pitch for a strike.
"Come on, swing the bat!" he yelled at the screen.
Murphy takes strike two.
"Swing the goddamn bat, Murphy!"
He takes a ball, then grounds out to the pitcher.
"Goddamn it, Murphy! These guys are just thinking about getting home for Fourth of July barbecues! They're not thinking about guys like me that bet the over!" he exclaimed.
I refrained from telling him that if there was one thing I was certain of, it was that Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets was most certainly not thinking about the guy that bet the over.
(Note – it ended up working out for Mr. Over – at least in the Mets-Phillies game. The Phillies scored three runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to win 9-2 and hit the over.)
While this isn't unique to the Palms (you'll find overly enthusiastic sports bettors at every sportsbook), it did dominate my experience on the Fourth of July.
4. Proximity to the movie theater
After about five hours of hearing how little MLB players care about the guys that bet the over, I was ready to do something else. Luckily, Casino City Managing Editor Vin Narayanan showed up and, after seeing the first round of games was over (I went 4-2 – good start to the day!), we decided to head to the movie theater located just a few steps away to watch "Ted" rather than watch the next round of games, which was just getting under way.
First of all, this movie exceeded my very high expectations. Secondly, I think the proximity of the theater to the sportsbook is outstanding. It's a cheap entertainment option that allows you to get away from the sportsbook if you've had enough, and it lets you easily check back to see how you're doing once the movie is over. (Yes, I'm one of the shrinking population of people who don’t have a smart phone.)
3. Don't expect free drinks
One thing that shocked me during my time in the Palms sportsbook was the utter lack of cocktail waitresses. I didn't see one the entire time I was there. I've come to learn that I shouldn't expect much in comps when I'm at a sportsbook, especially when I'm making the paltry $10 minimum bets. But I would have purchased a beer or two. It was the Fourth of July and I was watching baseball, after all. What's more American than having a Budweiser while watching the game? (Actually, make that a Sam Adams, since Anheuser-Busch isn't an American company anymore.) While I could have walked over to the Tonic Bar to get a drink, it was hard to get away when there were six games running that I had active wagers on.
So lesson learned: Next time I bet every baseball game, I'm heading to the LVH 0 Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, where every $20 in bets gets you a free drink.
2. Don't lose your ticket!
Once again, this isn't limited to the Palms, and I have no one to blame but myself, but it did dominate my betting experience on July 4th. With two games left to be completed, I discovered that I was 8-3 on the day and was going to collect my winnings before getting on the red-eye to head home. (Vin was kind enough to offer to cash in any winnings from the last two games, as he would be staying in Las Vegas for two more weeks.) I reached into my wallet to get them all out and found that I'd lost the tickets for my first four wins, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Something close to $80 down the drain. Your ticket is the only way you can prove that you won. And if someone else finds it and cashes it in, it's unlikely that you'll be able to do anything to get your winnings back. If it goes unclaimed, it's like you just handed the sportsbook your money.
I still managed to finish the day down just $13 – not bad considering the four lost winners. But it's still a lesson that I'll never forget. If I had it to do over again, I would have cashed in my first four winners before going to catch "Ted."
1. No smoking
The biggest and most pleasant surprise I found at the sportsbook at the Palms is the fact it's a non-smoking area. As a non-smoker, I enjoy the fact that almost every poker room in a casino is non-smoking, and seeing this start to spread to the sportsbook is a welcome development. Walking through the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino for the World Series of Poker, you can't help but notice how dank and smoky the Rio's sportsbook is. If that's the type of place you want to watch a game, then I encourage you to go to the Rio or any other sportsbook that allows smoking. Personally, I'd rather be able to breathe while watching the game, and cheer on the team I picked to win without coughing from the second-hand smoke.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.