Perhaps it was always Chris Andrews’ destiny to become a bookmaker; after all it was in the blood. However, while his career choice may have been a racing certainty, there was nothing inevitable about the 40-year journey that has brought him to his current position as Sportsbook Director at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa, Las Vegas and a place in the Sports Betting Hall of Fame.
During that time Andrews has been involved in some hugely successful businesses, launched his own company, worked with some of sports betting’s legendary names and seen huge changes as the industry evolved from a local Nevada enterprise into a success story across more than 30 states.
His interest in the world of sports betting started in his teenage years, when he would travel to Las Vegas with his uncle, the celebrated handicapper ‘Pittsburgh’ Jack Franzi. It was during those trips that his industry education began, as he met people like Bob Martin, the man once described as the ‘Babe Ruth of Oddsmaking’, and casino owner Michael Gaughan.
By the time he graduated from Robert Morris University, the route from his native Forest Hills, Pennsylvania to Vegas was a familiar one. And he traveled it again to take a job as a ticket writer at the Stardust in 1979, before moving to the Barbary Coast the following year to work under the guidance of Gaughan, his Uncle Jack and fellow Hall of Famer Jimmy Vaccaro.
A combination of access to all their industry experience and being given lots of authority at such an early stage of his working life meant that Andrews’ year at the Barbary Coast was time very well spent.
“One of the things that really helped my career tremendously is the authority that Michael gave me,” he said. “And learning under Jimmy Vaccaro and learning under my Uncle Jack was really like a master’s or a doctorate programme. Someone could be at an Ivy League university and not get the education I got in this particular business.
“I ran the swing shift as a supervisor. Now back in those days the industry was much much different. We didn’t have computers and everything was handled by the supervisor. At the end of the night, I had to grade all the tickets, enter them on a ledger by hand, and arrive at the bottom line on a nightly basis. There was just me to do that.
“Now, that’s way too much power to give to just one person. The state changed the regs later so one person couldn’t do that, but at the time, Michael certainly trusted me to do it. It was just a tremendous experience for me to learn that much about the business with hands-on experience.”
Nevada-wide success at Club Cal Neva
Gaughan played another key role in Andrews’ career, when he recommended the then 25-year-old to Warren Nelson, one of the owners of Club Cal Neva in Reno. Nelson believed sports betting was about to enter a boom phase and wanted someone to build his sportsbook into a major player.
“Warren hired me on the spot and became a big supporter of mine. I spent the next 22 years at Cal Neva and eventually became one of the owners, having helped to grow the business tremendously,” explained Andrews.
“When I first started there, we had two windows in the sportsbook, three windows in the racebook and a cashier, that was the entire operation. By the time I left, we’d grown that into over 28 satellite locations throughout the state and we were one of the biggest sportsbooks in Nevada. Matter of fact, I know we were the biggest at handling parlay cards, which was really a big part of our business.”
The role involved not only offering something that players enjoyed and delivering a healthy profit for the Cal Neva, but also providing a good product for the host casinos. It was a difficult balancing act at times, but Andrews credits an old school value for managing to achieve it.
“If I had to pick one key to that success, I would say common sense,” he said. “I see a lot of places out there that, to this day, just don’t use common sense. I don’t think I’m anything brilliant or a genius or anything like that, but I think I do have good common sense, certainly, within the constructs of this business. I always laugh that I don’t know much else in life, but I do know this business fairly well.”
After leaving Cal Neva, Andrews had spells with the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, at Hall of Famer Vic Salerno’s American Wagering, with William Hill, and even a brief stint in the world of high finance. Eventually he launched his own business, Against The Number, and was happily running that in 2016, when Gaughan approached him with an offer he couldn’t refuse and he moved to the South Point for what he hopes will be his final job.
If it is, it would conclude a career that has spawned two books – Then One Day…My 40 Years Of Bookmaking in Nevada and the pandemic-era Then One Year…History’s Craziest Year As Seen By A Las Vegas Bookmaker – and seen Andrews in demand from broadcasters and podcasters keen to mine his expertise as sports betting underwent major changes and grew into a mainstream entertainment product.
The changing face of US Sports betting
One of the biggest changes he has witnessed is the growth in the number of wagering options available and the selection of sports that players now want to bet on.
Andrews explained: “I remember walking into a sportsbook in about ‘77 and looking at the Steelers on the board. They were -7 and next to that was a 35. And I thought ‘what’s that 35 mean?’ Well, that was the over and under points scored in the game, which was like a brand new thing. But now, of course, we have a total on virtually everything. That’s just one little thing. We didn’t have money lines back then, but now we have a money line on virtually everything. The whole myriad of betting options has grown.”
He added: “I remember back in 1984 I put up the Masters golf and had odds on every guy in the field. And this is God’s honest truth, I wrote one $5 bet. And the golfer didn’t even start, so I had to give the guy his $5 back.
“I put in a tonne of work trying to create an odds board for that and we got one bet. Now, of course, the Masters is just a huge betting opportunity for us, all the Majors are. Even on a weekly basis, we put up every PGA Tour event, not to mention NASCAR, tennis, soccer, lots of sports.
“When I first started at Cal Neva, I was responsible for and put up virtually every single number that was on our board. Well, that’s impossible to do today. No one person can possibly do that, the market has grown way too big for that. You have to have a good crew, you have to have confidence in them.”
The other big difference from when he started is the introduction of mobile wagering, but despite its rapid growth, Andrews does not believe it will kill off retail sportsbooks. After all, South Point’s brick-and-mortar sportsbook has one much-loved experiential element that online will never be able to replicate.
He explained: “Guys like to get cash in their hands when they win. When you cash a ticket online, a number just changes in your account. When you come in here, you get the cash. Whether it’s a couple of thousand dollars, a couple of hundred or whatever, boy does it feel good to get that money and stick it in your pocket.”
The Sports Betting Hall of Fame Class of 2022 ceremony takes place at Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment on the evening of July 13.
It forms part of the SBC Summit North America 2022 conference and tradeshow for the sports betting and igaming industries, which runs across July 12-14 at Meadowlands Exposition Center, New Jersey.