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.
Where were you physically when the hit on Damar Hamlin happened and what was your initial thought when you realized the gravity of the situation?
We were watching the game at the Westgate SuperBook and thought it was another head injury, but soon the replays showed it didn’t look like that severe of a head injury. Once it was announced that he was receiving CPR, the whole situation changed. It wasn’t really about the game anymore. It was about this young man’s life.
What was the mood in the SuperBook like during the prolonged delay after the hit?
It was very somber, as you can imagine.
Was it a pretty good crowd in the book?
Yeah, it was a decent crowd. It was a pretty big game. It has huge implications for the playoffs. But I didn’t hear any complaints. I didn’t hear anybody saying they should resume. I think people were concerned about Hamlin and we had other things to think about — the health of this young man.
Just from a pure sporting (as opposed to sports betting) standpoint, have you ever witnessed anything quite like the Hamlin situation? Does Hank Gathers’ on-court collapse come anywhere close?
Obviously, Hank Gathers was a terrible incident, but I don’t believe it was a nationally televised game. This was different, namely because there were more eyes on it.
How long did it take for your thoughts to shift to your bookmaking responsibilities and what sort of bet-settlement scenarios might ensue in the event of the game being postponed or canceled?
For me, it was hours later, when we realized they weren’t going to play it. I heard that the Bills were flying home, then as we have to do, we have to address the gaming implications. Of course we did that with some heavy hearts. There were very somber conversations of what we have to address. It had more implications than just the betting on that particular game. There are division titles, win over/unders, the SuperContest — all were impacted by what took place Monday night.
With the SuperContest, the game had to be played by the end of Tuesday. Since that didn’t happen, the contestants who picked the Bills or Bengals received zero points. We have received some pushback on that with people feeling they should receive at least a half-point. We went with a zero, but I think the customer consensus is more a half-point than zero points. But we can’t change our house rules at this time.
We get a lot of suggestions, a lot of feedback from contestants and non-contestants. For the most part, a lot of them don’t think of both sides. A guy that has over in season wins for the Bengals on the stipulation that you must play 17 games, obviously it’s gonna go over and they think they should get it. But the people who bet the under are gonna refer to house rules. That’s a perfect example of somebody who’s thinking about what’s in their pocket versus others. We have to think about both sides. But we’re still discussing that. Nothing has been settled yet.
From a bookmaking standpoint, where does this rank among the more challenging situations you’ve ever had to sort through?
I’ve never seen anything to this magnitude affect sports betting outside of 9/11. If it was two teams out of the playoff hunt, you wouldn’t have all these rippling effects that we’re seeing.
Of course we’ve had other similar cases of game cancellations or postponements, but they were based off weather situations, not somebody’s life. That’s another level.
Have your customers generally been understanding as you’ve sorted through how to grade their wagers?
They’re understanding for the game because the game is pretty black and white. House rules vary from sportsbook to sportsbook. Ours state that game must be played within seven days of the originally scheduled date and the NFL announced that it would not resume the game this week or weekend, so we were clear on refunding the bets for that game.
Other bets involve seasonal wagers and all 17 games being played. Those rules vary from book to book.
So those bettors aren’t super thrilled with the 17-game stipulation?
We get feedback from both sides. We can’t make up the rules as we go. We’ve got to stick to the rules that are in place. It’s always a tough situation for bookmakers when these things happen. They may play the game in Week 19 and push the playoffs back and lose the bye week before the Super Bowl.
Have you noticed any downturn from what you would consider to be normal wagering in advance of the final week of the regular season?
It’s been a somber atmosphere, at least for us, but we’ve still got to move forward. Some of the enthusiasm has dwindled on both sides of the counter heading into the final week.
In setting your Week 18 lines and adjusting certain future markets, how much have you taken into account the emotional toll that Hamlin’s hospitalization might have on the Bills or Bengals?
We briefly discussed it, but it’s really hard to handicap something like that. It’s very difficult to handicap some type of emotion because it could go in either direction. They could be emotionally charged or emotionally drained.
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