LAS VEGAS — Fresh out of Colorado State, after a Vegas spring break with college pals had sealed his future, Jay Kornegay settled into his first sportsbook gig.
He wrote tickets at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe in the fall of 1987, an ancient era since Kornegay hand-wrote those sports tickets for patrons.
As the industry experiences staffing challenges, according to Kornegay and confirmed by competitors, that anecdote might help lure prospects.
“Everybody knew, it took a little time,” Kornegay said inside the Westgate SuperBook, where he presides as vice president of race and sports.
“The worst were future bets, writing out TO WIN SUPER BOWL . . . BRONCOS . . . 10-1. ‘How much, sir? Thirty dollars? Okay. $30.’
”Customer pauses. Can I make that for $40?
“Well . . . I’ll have to write you another ticket.”
“A process. The dark ages of sports betting. The technology today is so much improved compared to 35 years ago.”
Tellers today tap computer screens that spit out tickets in milliseconds.
Kornegay calls this the worst hiring environment he has ever witnessed.
“We’re very, very short-handed. I saw a tweet the other day saying there were 5,500 jobs available, nationwide, in the sports-betting market right now. Wow.”
Golden Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller concurs about the difficulty filling vacancies. Circa Sports operations manager Jeff Benson says he often needs part-timers, but his full-time roster is filled.
South Point director Chris Andrews, who oversees the rare 24-hour book, worries about his schedules. This week, however, he seemed close to hiring a few people.
“We should be in decent shape for football. Probably not quite where we’d want it to be, but we’ll make do. If everybody works out, I’ll be OK. But they don’t always work out.
“If some of us have to work some overtimes, things like that, we’ll make it work.”
THE FRONT LINE
In 2004, two days after a five-minute interview secured the job, Dave Sharapan began writing tickets at the Golden Nugget. They trained him for maybe 15 minutes. His first shift was a Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight.
Management turned the book into a dance floor, he said, with live music. He tried concentrating. The thumping music made writing parlays a chore, but he relished the scene.
Johnny Avello first wrote tickets at the Las Vegas Hilton (now Westgate), rising at Bally’s and Wynn Las Vegas. Today, he oversees DraftKings sportsbook operations in Illinois and 14 other states.
In his teller-hiring experience, he says ambition and attitude are key.
“People who are teachable, someone who will be a solid employee. An experienced person can be set in his ways, doing it the way he wants. You must find someone who fits.”
Not so long ago, writing tickets broke people into the business.
“Then you’re in administration, then you’re a risk manager,” Kornegay said, “then you go beyond that. In today’s world, we can stick you wherever we think you have the ability to learn.
“We have several people who started right into risk. In the old days, it would take you four or five years to get that position. Things have changed.”
It does help to have sports knowledge and mathematical aptitude.
“They have to have something on the ball,” Andrews said. “Those who don’t have experience have to at least look trainable. It is a bit specialized; we do handle millions of dollars.
“You can’t tell someone, ‘Yeah, come on in, take a bet and move the numbers.’ It isn’t that way. I wish it . . . well, glad it isn’t — they wouldn’t need me.”
Kornegay pinpoints eight vacancies, in administration and risk supervision, and five or six open teller, or ticket-writer, positions at the SuperBook.
He knows many businesses, from restaurants to retail outlets, are hunting for the same entry-level candidates.
“It’s very competitive,” Kornegay said, “so we’ve added a few incentives to attract some of these people. But it really hasn’t panned out so far.”
The irony of that spring ’87 venture? Kornegay was the only one who had picked any sunny Mexican coast for an adventure. His seven buddies were unanimous — Vegas.
And he was the one who landed the career direction. Now a grizzled veteran, he hopes to find candidates, just like his former self, seeking such a vocational rudder.
“We’ll have all hands on deck,” he said. “It isn’t our first rodeo. We’ll get people out there.”
“You might see me writing tickets!”