Derek Stevens provides service with a smile in Las Vegas
Michigan native’s customer-friendly approach at Circa Sports and Stadium Swim has served him well on Vegas’ ultracompetitive sportsbook scene.
LAS VEGAS — As if Derek Stevens himself had choreographed the theatrics one month ago Saturday, Cincinnati tallied four in the top of the ninth for a 4-2 lead at Petco Park in San Diego.
In the bottom of the inning, the Padres smacked a pair of two-run homers for the victory. Circa Sports and Stadium Swim, the Stevens entities that occupy Petco’s ninth-inning signage behind home plate, made every highlight, too.
“He was very happy how that inning played out,” Circa Sports director Matt Metcalf said.
More precious Petco exposure materialized July 8. Down 8-0, the Padres beat the Nationals 9-8. With two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, Trent Grisham singled in Tommy Pham with the winner at 9:50 p.m.
Four minutes later, Scott Van Pelt showed Grisham’s clutch hit — and Circa Sports and Stadium Swim — to a national ESPN “SportsCenter” audience. As did Linda Cohn 19 minutes later.
“We’ve gotten a lot of notoriety by owning the ninth inning in San Diego,” Stevens said. “The Padres are a helluva lot of fun to watch. We make sure we don’t miss the ninth.”
The 53-year-old native of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, is on such a roll he is pondering a gubernatorial run next year.
His new adults-only, 35-story downtown Circa is all the rage. That it created about 1,500 jobs at the lowest point in the city’s history made its October opening “uniquely special,” Stevens said.
His Circa Sports sportsbook and extravagant theater have raised industry standards. His Vegas impact might best be encapsulated by Michael “Roxy” Roxborough, who has worn every possible sports-betting hat in the city.
“I thought I would never see another Jackie Gaughan,” said Roxborough, 70. “I am glad he is here when I can enjoy his efforts.”
LOW HOLDS, HIGH LIMITS
Gaughan, the late Vegas legend, placed customers on a pedestal. That philosophy governs his son Michael, who owns the South Point, and Stevens, among the city’s few independent hotel-casino moguls.
Stevens often strolls the casino floors of his three properties. He engages visitors, chats about wagers, discusses games. Only the seasoned, however, should joust with him drink for drink at his Long Bar at The D.
As much as any guest, he enjoys his 16,000-square-foot Stadium Swim — its six pools on three levels, its 41-by-135-foot, 14 million-pixel LED screen — at Circa, especially when holding a cold one.
In his pinstriped suits, Stevens can be shrewd in the boardroom. In public, he’s affable and approachable.
“You can find him at the bar,” Metcalf said. “He’s excited to talk with anybody, establishes that connection. Those are the people that help make him successful, so he gives back however he can.”
That desire to cater to customers compelled Stevens to lure Metcalf from the other side of the counter. Metcalf had worked with Jay Kornegay at the Imperial Palace and the Westgate SuperBook. In 2010, Metcalf went out on his own to bet and fared well. He “got lucky,” he said, when he met Stevens in 2018. They talked for a few hours, and their visions matched. Stevens hired Metcalf.
Metcalf hails the further enlistment of Chris Bennett (assistant manager/oddsman) and Jeffrey Benson (operations) as vital to the Circa Sports dynamics.
They all bristle at the competition’s increasing penchant to ban those who win, even just $300 to $500.
“We wanted to embrace the professional, or sharp, bettors,” Stevens said. “They were being squeezed out, but we’re trying to utilize them and their networks. The guy that gets the information first deserves to make a living off of that.”
They offer yes/no propositions, allow cross-sports future parlays and unveil the first college football lines late Sunday mornings.
They released alternate NFL regular-season victory totals July 3. At 6½ victories for the Bears, the Over is -195 (bet $195 to win $100), Under +170 (risk $100 to earn $170). Over 7½ -115, Under -105. Over 8½ +155, Under -180.
“I just like to take bets,” said Metcalf, 42. “Derek’s really helped lead that charge, letting us do what we want to do, whether it’s creating yes/no’s or having lower holds and higher limits.”
SHOW EARLY, STAY LATE
A year ago, Stevens guaranteed $3 million in his Circa Millions II NFL contest, at $1,000 per entry. Circa would be responsible for any shortfall, but it covered that nut in the final weekend before games started.
Stevens pressed his guarantees, concocting this year’s $4 million Circa Millions III and $6 million Circa Survivor contests. As of Wednesday, 394 had entered the former (creating a $3.606 million overlay) and 329 the latter ($5.671 million overlay).
“He’s willing to put himself out there … [but we] are sweating them!” Metcalf said.
“I wanted to push it,” Stevens said. “But, yeah, you always think about, ‘Oh, man. How did I screw this up?’ ”
They believe both will again be covered by the final sign-up weekend.
What has keyed all that choreography going so well for maybe the lone billionaire who, en route home, is prone to popping into the Taco Bell drive-thru? Stevens laughed.
“Maybe I got lucky,” he said. “I don’t take myself too seriously. Surround yourself with people who are a helluva lot smarter than you, show up early and stay late, and you’ll be all right.”