10/01/2009 6:08PM

Lean Times in Vegas


If the recession is supposed to be over, word has yet to reach Las Vegas, where I spent most of the last week. Hotel occupancy is hovering  around 50 percent, and the casinoes are ghost towns on weeknights. Deals abound: As I was sitting on the runway at JFK last Saturday, a guy two seats over used his cellphone to book a room that night at The Palms for just $60.

Redrock09 I stayed at the Red Rock, site of the National Handicapping Championship and of this past Tuesday's NTRA Marketing Summit. Business wasn't too bad, but only because this off-the-Strip resort in suburban Summerlin relies as much on locals as tourists. Even so, I've never seen a casino as deserted as it was on Monday night, when all the bars were empty at midnight and there was roughly one patron for every 50 slot machines. Thank goodness poker players never quit, or sleep: There was always a no-limit hold'em game going in the poker room, regardless of the hour.

Playing poker in a place with a disproportionately high locals-to-tourists ratio is not an optimal situation, since it's usually more profitable to play against inebriated conventioneers and college students than the retirees who are happy to sit for four hours and play only the four best hands they're dealt during that time. Fortunately, there were just enough jackass players to make it a slightly profitable week, like the guy who pushed all-in on a bluff with a queen and a six the one time in four days I was dealt pocket aces.

Badbeatpoker (I had my share of bad beats too but I don't tell bad-beat stories because they are the least interesting stories in the world and having to listen to them is the leading reason that poker players are among the most boring people on earth. At least bad-beat horseplayer stories have the potential for genuine drama and genuine injustice, like losing a bet because the rider misjudges the finish line or a horse jumps the infield hedge or an alligator crawls onto the track. But every single bad-beat poker story is essentially the same: I had the best hand going in and lost. It happens. Even when you're an 80/20 favorite, you lose 20 percent of the time. Big deal. Get over it. Nobody cares.)

The NTRA Summit had the same scaled-back and recessionary feeling as Vegas itself. Several tracks decided to save some travel expenses and cancelled their marketing directors' trips, and the formal part of the proceedings were compressed into a single day, but the event remains one of the better things the NTRA does. It's an opportunity for marketing directors to swap notes on their successes and failures over the past year and, increasingly in recent years, a chance for them to hear ideas from various invited constituencies. Last year, some bloggers were invited and this year it was members of the NTRA's Players Panel, who have some interesting ideas about how to continue growing the NHC, which will again offer over $1 million in prize money this January.

W2G There remains some hope on the legislative front for some kind of reform of the absurd IRS withholding and reporting requirements. Two bills circulating through Congress would raise the threshholds, and NTRA lobbyists have found a couple of sympathetic ears at the IRS itself, so there could be changes from within that would not require Congressional action. It's a lengthy process but still might happen more quickly than waiting for Congress to pay attention to anything beyond the all-consuming health-care debate these days.

--Belmont finally finished drawing the "Super Saturday" card this afternoon, and while the five Grade 1 races have some legitimate star power, the fields have a lean and hungry look: Just five in the Beldame and Vosburgh and seven in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Flower Bowl and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic have 8 and 9 entrants, respectively, on paper, but will go with fields at least one shorter than that because Christophe Clement has entered two horses in each with Ramon Dominguez named on both, meaning one must be scratched. (Update: Apparently the same-jockey rule does not apply in stakes so while Clement is expected to scratch one in each race, he is not required to. Reupdate: Now I'm told it does apply.) Also, Presious Passion will be scratched from the Hirsch if the course comes up soft.

The all-G1 pick-four Saturday, with a $500k guarantee, will run on races 7-10: the Vosburgh, Flower Bowl, Turf Classic and Gold Cup. 


sid small More than 1 year ago
In Re: Trailer for new DVD, "Ticket Maker" on DFR. Clip of Steve on 8 tickets Breeders Cup pick 6. Steve: How many times did you have pick 5? Do you remember the "will pays" to Curlin, if he had won the last race? Sid [Sid: I had 13 consos. And I think it was paying $13k-ish to Curlin. --SC]
Justin More than 1 year ago
Good thing the Late Pick 4 pool is half a million, this thing looks like its gonna pay every bit of $65. Best to try and nail it cold. What a disgrace, and rain in the forecast to boot.
jim More than 1 year ago
Bernard: Thanks for the invite, but no thanks. I learned from some great old timers to stick with what you know. NYRA, MD, Del, and the Florida Circuit is what I know. I even love the inner :) Sorry guys!
jim More than 1 year ago
Bernie Downs: If my math is correct (steve-you can correct me) I will skip the 10.2% of synthetic tracks and play the other 89.8% which are dirt. (I think im pretty close steve)
mordicai More than 1 year ago
Hilarious back cover of the form today. Did Linda really approve to be on the cover of the Fall breeding stock sale?
Arcstats More than 1 year ago
Printed off the PP's for todays Belmont card. This is the first time I've looked at a race card since Saratoga and I see that Linda Rice is workig on a 1-20, and Steve Assmussen 1-18, while Bruce Levine is 5-17, with 4 2nd's at Belmont. Isn't it amazing how some of the most reknown trainers in the game seem to have their stables do amazing things, both good and bad, simply based on the calendar. And don't even try to convince me it is based on the condition book. Yet people still wonder why most level headed thinking individuals have long given up on participating in this gambling environment.
Daniel Fink More than 1 year ago
dogs_up, Quality Road has inferior early speed to Tizway, and will be all out well before the stretch chasing him. Tizway is very capable of pulling off a DaTara-like upset of these plodders, in terms of early speed. He dueled Commentator into defeat last out, making that speedball run early with effort. Summer Bird and Quality Road drew little effort from Rachel Alexandra, even as Quality Road tried to make a winning rail move on turn when he faced her. At QR's price, I wouldn't touch him, while salivating over the ML of 15/1 for Tizway.
Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
Jim, Thanks for the mathematics lesson, but let me preface my response by saying that I love the US as a holiday destination, and I love Group 1 races there, but you are so, so parochial. There is a whole world of racing out there beyond your borders and most of it takes place on Turf...Take a trip out here - I bet you'll love it. Regards - Bernard
spectacularbid More than 1 year ago
steve, three things. if you do not itemize on your taxes is there a way to not pay taxes on a taxable hit? are you surprised that texas holdem became the most popular game? as a math and statistics guy do you agree that the more complicated the game the bigger your advantage?
Sean More than 1 year ago
I'm still looking forward to Super Saturday, regardless of the fields. The Vosburgh is small but contentious. Only the Beldame with Music Note looks like a foregone conclusion and that's not in the $500K pick 4.