07/20/2006 11:00PM

Avello brings phone bets to Wynn customers

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LAS VEGAS - Las Vegas racing fan and punter John Avello did more than celebrate the opening of Del Mar on Wednesday. He also marked his first full year as the director of race and sports operations at the Wynn Las Vegas. While crunching early numbers for a fast-approaching football season, Avello reflected on his first anniversary at the Wynn with a sense of "where did the year go."

Avello admits working at Wynn Las Vegas is a "little different" than his last gig, which was director of race and sports for Bally's Las Vegas, and he still misses all of those fun things he used to do for horseplayers there. Although many local gaming companies do a multitude of promotions and offer perks for those betting the horses, there is no doubt that Avello was the most innovative of Strip bookmakers for horseplayers.

So it came as no surprise when Avello slipped into the phone betting arena last week. Unlike the worldwide publicity made by Wynn Las Vegas when it opened its doors, Avello chose to start his phone betting offerings with a "soft opening." Avello had success with phone betting at Bally's before discontinuing it when the parent company merged with Caesars Entertainment, and he re-instituted phone betting with the Wynn customer in mind.

"We decided to start phone betting on horses because many of our Wynn Las Vegas customers requested that convenience," Avello said.

Avello also said he believes that the Las Vegas marketplace has room for more than just one gaming company offering phone betting. The locals casino giant Coast Casinos, Avello admits, has "the foremost" phone-betting system in the state, but he thinks there's a niche for a Strip casino to offer phone betting. Competition, he says is a "good thing."

For now, phone wagers can be taken by casinos only from bettors in Nevada. But Avello, an active member of the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, thinks that Nevada casinos may soon be taking bets by phone from other states. Last year, Nevada lawmakers enacted legislation allowing the race and sports books to accept parimutuel horse race bets beyond the state's boundaries. In order for this to happen, contracts with participating racetracks need to be amended and regulatory approval secured from the individual states involved.

Avello concedes there is some work to be done before that comes to fruition. For now, he will continue to accommodate the Wynn Las Vegas players with the same enthusiasm that has served him through 27 years in the casino business, and, more importantly - at least for his customers - the past 19 of them in the race and sports book.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.