For someone who was never good at statistics and didn’t know what a sportsbook was when she started, Trish Lewandowski’s story in the industry is one of always running towards the fire, which is why she’s being inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame at next month’s SBC Summit North America.
Lewandowski, a Pennsylvania native, vividly recalls the day she and her husband boarded a plane for Las Vegas with five suitcases and their Doberman.
Little did she know that what started as a short-term project in Las Vegas with her husband working for her brother’s golf course construction company, would transition into a 35-year career in a Race and Sportsbook in Las Vegas for her.
Lewandowski started in the industry in 1988 at Bally’s Las Vegas (now Horseshoe LV) as a race ticket writer. “I did not know much about it. On occasion, my mother and father would go to the racetrack as an evening out with friends, but that was it. I needed a job, and I took it,” she recalls. Lewandowski had her fair share of diverse experiences, from the physical labor of being a Boardman to the production work of an Admin.
Lewandowski’s transition into the world of writing sports tickets came due to an unexpected opportunity when Lenny Delgenio came in as the new director, announcing his vision to broaden the skills of all the race and sports employees.
“I wanted to learn everything,” Lewandowski recalls.
She realized this was her opportunity to make a move and learn how to write sports tickets. “I didn’t even know all the teams!”
Luckily, Lewandowksi’s quest to excel in the world of sports writing was not a solo expedition. A female supervisor supported her by setting up some drilling sessions during downtimes and quizzing Lewandowski about the cities and the teams.
But even though she was now a sports writer, Lewandowski wanted to move to the next level: that of a Sportsbook Supervisor. At the time, Sportsbook Supervisor was a coveted position as there were no modern-day trading rooms and moving the line was the job of the supervisor.
The path to becoming a supervisor was no easy feat. Lewandowski knew she had to be a sports writer for at least two years before dreaming of such a role. But that did not stop her from studying every move by Sportsbook Manager/ Oddsmaker Johnny Avello, absorbing all she could and honing her skills every single day.
From a young age, math was never Lewandowski’s strong suit. She had dropped out of statistics twice before, so when she finally found herself in the suit of a Sportsbook Supervisor, she found it ironic that her job involved a depth of math and statistics.
Lewandowski loved the players and the action. She was a fan of sports and enjoyed the camaraderie that came with the job. Lewandowski also learned early on that there was much more to it than just moving numbers when she made a mistake by moving a baseball total in the wrong direction. She realized the humbling truth – there was a lot more that went into this job. Despite the challenges, Lewandowski saw every task as an opportunity to understand the foundation from line origination and progression until the event goes off.
Lewandowski was one of the few women in the industry moving the lines, which as a new supervisor, she found very mechanical. She would ask Avello when she would get the hang of it, and he simply replied, “Trish, it is just a feel. You will get there.” She recalls when she was the supervisor on the floor for Monday Night Football. Avello would call at halftime to put up the halftime betting numbers, and he would always ask, “What do YOU think, Trish?” when he could have simply told her the number. Avello would always let her work through it so she could learn.
Sharing some of her most memorable moments, Lewandowski admits she was always a fan of golf, but her skills on the green were far from impressive.
Nevertheless, when she expressed an interest in taking on the responsibility of setting golf odds, she was met with a challenge from a senior supervisor.
“You don’t just go to Johnny and tell him you want to do it,’ he said. “You set it up and do it, and then present it to Johnny, and I’ll help you.'”
Lewandowski took it upon herself to learn all she could about the sport. She read newspapers for tournament results, followed the golfers closely, and engaged in endless discussions with her family, avid golfers. Despite her own frustrations with the game, Lewandowski was determined to succeed.
Armed with a list of golfers and odds she painstakingly compiled, Lewandowski presented her work to Avello. The paper he handed back to her read, “Good job Trish – Johnny.” It was a small victory, but to Lewandowski, it meant the world. She had taken ownership of the golf odds and proven to herself she was capable of mastering even the most challenging aspects of her job.
While Lewandowski’s passion for race and sports operations was undeniable, she did explore other areas. When a poker room was opening at the Paris property, Lewandowski went to poker school and got her certificate in poker. However, after giving it a try and doing a few shifts, she quickly realized it was not her forte. For Lewandowski, the real thrill came from live racing, live sporting events and the electricity of the people who came to place their bets.
In 1999, at Paris, Lewandowski had the opportunity to hire, train, and eventually manage the Paris Race and Sportsbook. Lewandowski found the role fulfilling: “I could get results without six layers of process. You wear many hats in operations, and as a person, you want to produce and you want to produce for the company you work for.”
As the industry braced for the impact of PASPA, Lewandowski was captivated by the new technologies that were emerging. She downloaded various apps and was amazed at how they were transforming the landscape. When an opportunity arose to move back to Pennsylvania, she and her husband jumped at the chance to return home. Normally Lewandowski runs towards the fire, but it was a culture shock.
As she puts it: “It was like the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy realizes she’s not in Kansas anymore.” While she loved her work as the Sportsbook Manager at Rush Street Gaming and the team in Pennsylvania, she couldn’t shake the feeling she was missing Las Vegas.
“I hit a Canadian goose that was coming in to land on the highway,” she recalls. “There were just many signs I had to go back.”
Despite the advances in technology, what Lewandowski missed most is the traditional aspects of the job – the thrill of handling money across the counter, making decisions in real-time and following the line moves.
In September 2019, she returned to Las Vegas to work for Caesars Entertainment and has been with the company ever since.
Reflecting on her career and what has kept her motivated, Lewandowski acknowledges that her ability to see the best in people partly reflects the guidance she has received from mentors and colleagues throughout her journey. “I have been fortunate to have so many people who helped and supported me navigate through the ups and downs.”
“It’s definitely not for the faint of heart,” she admits, “but I guess it is resilience, the ability to shake it off and move on. I’d say – well that didn’t go too well, but that was yesterday, let’s move on.”
However, the most important skill she acquired was learning how to handle disputes. Lewandowski would always listen whenever guests were upset. “We did advocate for the customer. We had the empathy to resolve things with integrity. Even though customers were not always happy with the solution, things were always done respectfully and in alignment with regulations.”
As a Sportsbook Manager at Caesars Digital, she remains in front of customers and oversees five different properties each with its own unique dynamic.
“It is elevating to be around the live games, the action, and the team. Yesterday when I walked in some guests asked: ‘What do you think about that Derby horse?’ and it starts a whole conversation – it’s almost like you’re not even at work.”
“You greet the team, baseball is on and there’s just a thrill to it that was not found for me anywhere else.”