03/10/2004 12:00AM

The Nugget one-ups competition


Greed is good. That was the catch-phrase uttered by Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas's character in the movie "Wall Street." But while greed is the quickest way to make money in the short-term, it's just as true that "competition is good."

This is especially true for customers. Competition gives the public more options and tends to keep prices down. But competition also helps business, as companies are forced to look for more efficient ways to do business in order to keep their current customers happy while attracting new ones.

We might be seeing something similar within the Las Vegas sports betting industry. Much of it is due to competition from the offshore industry, but a lot is also being driven by local competition between properties.

Several big bettors have fled Las Vegas because they can bet more conveniently from a home computer. They can also get down more money with less restrictions at offshore books, which also typically offer more betting propositions with what amounts to unlimited board space on a website.

But now we're seeing a trend in which more Las Vegas sports books are offering higher limits and more betting options.

A prime example of this is the Golden Nugget in downtown Vegas. The hotel was bought in January by dot.com millionaires Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, founders of travelscape.com. Poster and Breitling immediately recruited Chris Andrews, longtime boss at the Club Cal Neva in Reno, as their vice president of race and sports book operations. Andrews is a second cousin of Poster, but before anyone cries "nepotism," he certainly has the credentials. Andrews started in the industry in 1979, at the Stardust and Barbary Coast, before moving to Reno in 1981. He oversaw the growing network of Club Cal Neva books and became a partner in the company in 1993.

"Tim and Tom contacted me the day after they had a deal in principle with MGM Grand [the former owners]," Andrews said. "I was in a great situation, and as a part owner in Cal Neva, a lot of things had to be right for me to even consider a move. We sat down for a couple of hours, and I was really excited about the changes they have planned. They want to be aggressive in all facets of the casino, and they want a sports book that is part of that."

Andrews said he knew the Las Vegas market was different from Reno, and he tabbed Nick Bogdanovich to run the book with him. Bogdanovich built his reputation at Binion's Horseshoe as a bookmaker who would take a bet of any size. He has also headed the sports books at Stratosphere and Mandalay Bay in recent years.

"I knew I wouldn't know the individual players, and Nick was the perfect addition because he knows all the people downtown," Andrews said. "But the main reason I hired him is because he has always run his operations the same way I do, and I knew the owners would like how he books bets."

Despite not being networked with any other sports books, the Golden Nugget set its limits at $5,000 on NBA sides, $3,000 on college basketball sides, and $1,000 on totals. Bogdanovich said it hadn't been discussed yet, but "our college limits will be raised to at least $5,000 for the NCAA tournament next week," before saying with a wink, "everything is negotiable. If someone comes in with a suitcase of cash, we're not going to turn them away."

Money lines are also available on just about every basketball game, except pick-em games (which by default would be -110, anyway, on a money line) and games with spreads of more than 15 points, though all NCAA tourney games will have money lines regardless of how high the spreads are.

Another thing bettors look for is tighter lines with a smaller straddle, or the difference between the price on the favorite and the underdog. While most books in Vegas on Tuesday had the Timberwolves at -280, with the buyback on the Sonics at +220, the Nugget was dealing -280/+240. The Nugget also plans to use the bettor-friendly dime line on baseball.

Bogdanovich's return downtown wasn't publicized, but he said business has been more than he had expected, as word of mouth spread. He said he has seen a lot of his old customers.

Speaking of old, the Golden Nugget is in an interesting position, because even though it's downtown - which tends to attract an older crowd than that seen on the Strip - the new owners are marketing the Nugget as a mix of old-time Vegas with a hip new style. Last weekend, the Nugget held its grand opening with performances by Tony Bennett (old) and Jewel (new). The place has also been crawling with camera crews the past seven weeks, for a reality TV show titled "The Casino," giving it another modern-day vibe.

The Nugget's immediate competition for the tourist crowd comes from the other downtown casinos, but it is also targeting residents who have taken their business to the more convenient locals properties run by Station Casinos and Coast Casinos.

"We'll take on all comers," Bogdanovich said. "We want the tourists and the wise guys, we want small bets and large bets."

It's no small coincidence that Station Casinos has recently raised its betting limits and increased its betting menu, with more money lines and first-half and halftime bets. It should also be noted that Andrews is a first cousin of Stations VP of race and sports Art Manteris.

"Our mothers are sisters, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try to steal away some of his business," Andrews said. "The same goes for Bert [Osborne] at Coast Casinos, who I am friends with. We're all from Pittsburgh.

"We all know that a lot of money has left the state of Nevada to the internet or whatever, and overall there is room for improvement. Competition is good."

Andrews said that, down the line, the Nugget might add some satellite books, but "right now we're trying to carve out our niche with the best possible product."

And if others continue to follow suit, that should make things better for everyone.