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Westgate Sportsbook Reopening: A Behind-the-scenes Look

The Westgate opened July 2, 1969, as the International, which at the time was the world’s largest hotel and casino.

The doors stayed unlocked until Nevada’s casinos closed March 18 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Westgate, which now boasts the world’s largest sportsbook, unlocked its doors on Thursday. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the reopening alongside Westgate sportsbook vice president Jay Kornegay.

10:14 a.M.: Less than two hours before the Westgate reopens, Review-Journal photographer Rachel Aston and I enter through a side door, where we have our temperatures taken.

We’re greeted by Kornegay and the world’s largest 4K video wall which, at 18 feet tall and 260 feet wide, is 20 feet wider than before. It’s also brighter and clearer after the Westgate replaced all the screens during the shutdown.

“We’re still fine-tuning some things, but the bottom (score ticker) is bigger, the screens are a little longer and they’re 30 percent brighter,” Kornegay said.

There are hand-washing stations at the entrance and exit to the book and plenty of hand sanitizer dispensers.

More than half of the seats in the sportsbook have been removed, along with every other seat in the racebook, marked by “Reserved For Social Distancing” sheets.

10:30 a.M.: Kornegay stops to chat with Dawn Rawle, Westgate’s VP of marketing and entertainment.

She tells him that the hotel had just checked in its first guest, a woman from Texas on vacation.

“It’s her birthday weekend,” Rawle said. “She was super excited. She will get a surprise in her room.”

10:45 a.M.: All Westgate employees gather in the book for a final meeting before the grand reopening. General manager Cami Christensen reminds her “leadership team” that they have to lead the way in wearing masks, washing their hands and having their temperatures taken and to do it “with a good attitude and with pride.”

“If you want to vent about how hard this is, my door is wide open to all of you at any time,” she said. “Just wear your mask.”

Kornegay poses for the group photo and does the wave with the rest of the team.

All of the employees are wearing masks, along with a small photo of themselves.

“Guests can’t see our face anymore, but now they can see our picture so they know what we look like,” Kornegay said.

Says Christensen: “Everybody always complains the dealers don’t smile in Vegas. This is going to be perfect to show that they do.”

11:10 a.M.: Kornegay checks on last-minute details. The empty racks in the book need to be filled with betting sheets. The initial plan was to hand them out at the counter upon request, but he decided that would’ve been overwhelming.

Kornegay then heads to the back room to consult with Doug Whelan, a systems integrator for NMR Events, which replaced the audio/video system for the book.

“It’s 96 percent done, but we’re still working on the sound and tweaking the format because they have to transfer control of the screens to the back room,” he said.

There’s a replica of the video wall in the back room on five TV screens that staff members are always monitoring.

Kornegay tries to resolve a problem on the replica screens with Whelan so that they can see the ticker as it comes across in the book.

“This is the time to ask these questions,” Kornegay says. “Millions of dollars have been spent.”

As sportsbook managers Eric Osterman and Randy Blum oversee the Westgate mobile app, Kornegay turns his attention to the “Welcome Back Superbook Guests” sign displayed on one of the screens.

He asks sportsbook director John Murray if he prefers to add the message ‘We’ve missed you’ or ‘Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back,’ in a nod to the 1970s TV show “Welcome Back, Kotter.”

Murray likes the second option because “It’s more fun.”

11:30 a.M.: A line of about 60 people has formed at the main entrance. William Vames, 56, of Las Vegas is first in line. He said he showed up at 1 a.M. But was told to come back later. He returned at 6 a.M. And has been patiently waiting since then.

“I just wanted to be one of the first ones in,” he says. “It’s like emotional therapy. Being away from the sportsbook, that’s my life. My baby’s been taken from me, and now I’m getting it back.”

11:45 a.M.: Kornegay and Murray join the rest of the Westgate team out front. Christensen addresses the staff, and they cheer for the guests in line.

11:55 a.M.: As the all-female band Dollface plays “Viva Las Vegas” inside, “Sexxy” creator Jennifer Romas and Westgate magician Jen Kramer are the first to enter, along with the hotel’s masked canine mascot, Sir Winston of Westgate.

Noon: Kornegay helps usher guests inside while ensuring they practice social distancing. Each of the more than 100 people in line are awarded $50 in free slot play and are greeted by employees who carry silver trays of masks and pass them out with silver tongs.

12:10 p.M.: After the guests enter the hotel, the back doors to the book are opened, and two lines quickly form at the betting windows.

“It’s good to see the guests again, and it’s good to get all the tellers and the rest of the team back to work,” Murray said. “There will be a lot more action now from over-the-counter business and the horse racing business.

“But it’s not going to feel like we’re all the way back until we get one of the major sports back.”

12:15 p.M.: The first two bets placed over the counter are for $2,000 each on the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins to earn the top seeds in their respective NHL conferences. The bet on the Blues (+225) pays $4,500. The bet on the Bruins (+175) pays $3,500.

“Not bad. It went way over (the amount I expected),” Kornegay said with a laugh. “I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that the first wagers would’ve been on winning the top seed in the NHL playoffs. But I didn’t think it would be on South Korea baseball, either.”

“We have a lot of (mobile) account activity. A lot of people withdrawing and making deposits. I guess the wave of the future is mobile wagering and more so even after this pandemic.”

The Westgate is covering all deposit fees on Sightline Play+ on its app through July 31.

12:30 p.M.: Besides horse racing, the only live sports on Thursday afternoon was the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage tournament.

But Kornegay quickly decided to switch the sound in the book from golf’s hushed tones to the legendary voice of late sportscaster Keith Jackson, who was calling an old Rose Bowl.

“The first day we open and I’ve got golf with no fans on,” Kornegay said. “It was just putting everyone to sleep. I just want something with a little bit more energy.”

1 p.M.: There were 18 players in the racebook and between 10 and 20 in the sportsbook the first few hours it was open.

“It’s about what I expected,” said Kornegay, who was approached by several bettors.

Robert Nolan of Las Vegas asks if can cash his $1,000 ticket to win $909 on the Lakers to go over 50½ wins. Kornegay kindly tells him he can’t as the Westgate refunded all wagers on regular-season win totals because of house rules that stipulate all 82 games must be played.

Another bettor who chats with Kornegay about football says he flew in from Ohio on Sunday but waited for the Westgate to reopen to visit a Las Vegas book.

“I decided to wait four days for this place to open to get the best value,” Dennis Whitehead said. “This is where you’re going to get the best value. I bet on the NFL. I put some money down on the futures.”

1:30 p.M.: John Todd Voss of Las Vegas had a handful of wagers on the golf tournament and said he’s entered the Westgate SuperContest the last five years. Registration has resumed for the prestigious NFL handicapping contest.

“I want to get ready for the SuperContest,” he said. “I want to get my futures in. I have hockey action, too. It’s always good to have a little action.”

2 p.M.: With everything running smoothly in a relatively quiet book, Kornegay heads to his office to catch up on emails and follow up on meetings from a marketing trip to Colorado, where the Westgate is opening another book.

3 p.M.: Kornegay greets guests in the book, including pro sports bettor Frank Carulli.

Relaxing in his reserved seat in the VIP section of the racebook, Carulli is impressed with the new video wall.

“The screens are really nice. They’re even nicer than they were and that’s saying something,” he said. “I can definitely tell the difference. They’re way brighter.”

A regular at the book before it closed, Carulli’s mask can’t conceal his glee about the reopening.

“I’m excited to be back,” he said. “This is my home away from home.”

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