Welcome to US Bets’ recurring “Ask a Bookmaker” column, which answers many of the common (and uncommon!) questions gamblers and enthusiasts have about how sportsbooks operate in the modern age of sports betting.
The executive vice president of race and sportsbook operations at the Westgate SuperBook, Jay Kornegay has been in the sports betting industry for more than 30 years. After getting his start in Lake Tahoe, Kornegay took his talents to Las Vegas, where he opened the Imperial Palace sportsbook in 1989 before taking the reins of the 30,000-square-foot SuperBook in 2004. A Colorado State University alum whose putting stroke tends to betray him on the back nine, Kornegay has helped navigate the SuperBook’s expansion into multiple states since PASPA was overturned in 2018.
Have a question you’d like to ask Kornegay? Send it to [email protected] The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
America has its big four sports, and then there’s everything else. Among the most interesting, from a betting standpoint, is UFC/MMA. Do you think that sport has appealed to bettors simply because of how consistently events of that type are held throughout the year or are there other factors at play?
There are a number of reasons why UFC continues to be our fastest-growing sport. It is very consistent, it’s marketed very well, and it’s very entertaining. We have a lot of public play on UFC and most of that comes in the form of parlays on the fights. I have to say, they’ve been rewarded more than a few times. A lot of those parlays have cashed. But I think it’s a very entertaining sport and I think general-public bettors have done very well over the years.
I’m also curious about an older fighting sport — boxing. I’m assuming that Vegas sportsbooks still do gangbusters business when there’s a big fight in town, but how much mobile betting interest does the sport attract relative to MMA/UFC?
Personally, I’m still a boxing fan. I love a good boxing match. The problem is, you just don’t have that many of them, so it’s kind of hit and miss these days. Because of that, it’s lost a lot of luster with all the entertaining fights we have on the UFC cards. Boxing’s not going anywhere, but it would be beneficial if they had more entertaining and competitive fights.
Shifting to auto racing, NASCAR continues to be more widely bet in the U.S. despite all we hear about Formula One’s growing popularity. Is there anything that could tip that balance? Will the addition of the 2023 Vegas Grand Prix spur any kind of sustained betting interest in the sport?
I think it’s a slam dunk that it’s going to do it temporarily. Not that they need American support or viewers; they do just fine. If they had interest in building the American market side, I think they need to have more events in our country and get more exposure, because I know that when racing fans, in general, see the product that F1 produces, they become interested in the sport. It’s somewhat of a quick sell.
I know a lot of my friends who used to watch NASCAR and bet on NASCAR on a weekly basis who have switched over to the F1 circuit. The challenge that we have is the timing of most of their races. I know a lot of people record it early in the morning and watch it. Some of the pricing I’ve seen for rooms and packages for next November is insane. That’s probably going to be the biggest weekend ever in Las Vegas.
This F1 thing coming to Vegas is really going to affect everybody!!
Never seen this shit before in a casino!!!
— Sportsbook Consigliere (@SportsbkConsig) November 4, 2022
As for the country club sports — golf and tennis — how robust are those markets for the SuperBook and what sort of wagering angles do bettors tend to favor?
I know tennis is the second most popular betting sport in Europe. It hasn’t even come close to those levels over here. The majors do very well, but the weekly events are almost nonexistent. Golf is a lot more consistent. We’ve been known to be a golf book for almost 30 years now. We were the first ones to book golf on a weekly basis, and we’ve done it consistently since then. We also spend a little time on it. The golf events actually do pretty decent action for a second-tier sport. The LIV Tour is prohibited in some states. We have [taken bets] on the LIV Tour where it’s allowed (it is in Nevada, not in Colorado).
For years now, esports has been the next big thing. Will it ever take off, in your opinion? If so, what will be the keys to that surge in popularity among bettors?
I’ve heard the next big thing was going to be esports — and I’ve heard that for 20 years now. My son used to play competitive Call of Duty. I went to a couple of tournaments. It was crazy. I still believe it’s more of a viewing sport than a betting sport.
What we see over in Europe contradicts that. We have so many more sports available to us than what they have over there. It’s 80% soccer, 10% tennis, then it’s a mixture of all these second-tier, third-tier sports — darts, snooker. We don’t need that over here. We have the four major sports with pro and college versions. We don’t need to scrape the bottom of the barrel. I’m not gonna say it’s never been popular. There’s just not a lot of interest in it right now.
Soccer is a huge international betting market. In the States, how has this market grown and what sort of betting trends have you seen?
Soccer is at the top of the second tier. There’s a bigger soccer market here than most people believe. If you were to combine all the leagues that we book, which could be 20 to 30 different leagues across the world at any given time, it’s giving hockey a run for its money for the fourth most popular sport, and it consistently grows year in and year out. I think a lot of that has to do with more coverage of the international game here.
There seems to be considerable momentum to get people — women in particular — to bet more on women’s sports like the WNBA. Have you seen any signs of women’s sports appealing to casual bettors?
Unfortunately, no. The WNBA — it’s more of a sharp market than a public market. There’s a small group out there that follows the WNBA, and I’d categorize those as sharp players. But when we had the Aces up in the book, local fans were really into it. A little more of that, I can see it getting some traction, but as of right now, we just haven’t seen any women’s sports outside of tennis majors, women’s USA (soccer) team — you’ll get some traction there.
Speaking of sharps, is it easier for attentive bettors to find lazy lines in second-tier sports or do your trading team stay on top of those like they would an NFL game?
I think there are some advantages for sharper bettors. It’s certainly not on the top of our monitoring list and the information is not something that’s readily available. You have to dig for it a little bit. With that said, some of the sharper players will do that and find out some information that might not be reflected in the price of a particular game. How do we combat that? That’s why the limits on certain sports are a lot lower. We’re not going to allow somebody to come off the street and bet $50,000 on the Aces’ second-half over.
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