Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook executive vice president Jay Kornegay oversees one of the nation’s most prestigious sports wagering brands.
That brand has been dark for almost two weeks now due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it had Kornegay wistfully looking back at a simple social gathering he had with friends just one month ago.
“I have a group of friends from back in my days in Colorado who get together each year out here for the Mountain West (Conference men’s basketball) tournament,” Kornegay said in a phone interview with PlayColorado. “We enjoyed the time as usually do, and looking back on it now, which was only a few weeks ago, March 4-8, it was really the last normal weekend out here in Las Vegas.”
‘It’s escalated fast’
Only a few days after Kornegay’s alma mater, Colorado State, was upset in the first round and Utah State went on to capture the MW tourney title, the sports world ground to a sudden and shocking halt.
“It’s escalated fast,” Kornegay said. “We were all monitoring things, but we certainly didn’t expect it to shut down the sports world, not to mention the planet.
“The NBA shut down, and everything else followed pretty quickly. It really caught us by surprise. I mean it was the right thing to do – don’t get me wrong – but we weren’t really believing at that time that it was going to have the implications that it’s had.”
One of the immediate implications was that as of midnight St. Patrick’s Day, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered the shutdown of the state’s casinos and non-essential businesses for a minimum of 30 days. On April 1, Sisolak extended the shutdown through the end of the month.
SuperBook goes dark
Reeling from the sudden loss of their lifeblood, Kornegay and the SuperBook tried to shift on the fly, going from the perennially lucrative NCAA Tournament and pending MLB openers to Aussie Rules Football and Turkish soccer odds.
“We were open four or five days (via mobile after the casino shutdown), and it was a challenge because every time we found a league that was playing, we lost two leagues and they would suspend play,” said Kornegay, who has been with the SuperBook since 2004, when the Westgate was known as the Las Vegas Hilton. “We did it for a while, and then it got to a point where it was really not penciling out and worth staying open.”
The near-3,000-room Westgate Las Vegas, like many of Nevada’s hotels and casinos, was forced to part with most of its employees, including most of Kornegay’s SuperBook crew.
With online sportsbooks and a few other Vegas locales choosing to remain open via apps, Kornegay initially spent a lot of time explaining the Superbook’s total shutdown.
“What a lot of people don’t understand that if we were to just keep the app open, it requires more than just sticking somebody in the back room,” Kornegay said. “The audit team is involved, and then you have to have somebody from accounting and somebody for payroll. It’s a little bit more involved than just having one guy monitoring things from 10 to 4.
“Our patrons are missing the sports world, but they’ve agreed that it’s just not the time to be open.”
Changes are coming
Kornegay says he is still spending most of his days working from his SuperBook office, devoting a good chunk of his time with his remaining staff preparing for the return of US pro and college sports – and some sense of normalcy. Currently, Kornegay’s best guess is late summer/early fall, but like many of us, that outlook often changes by the day.
Kornegay is certain however, that significant changes are on the way, not just in the sports wagering arena – where mobile app usage could soar if some semblance of social distancing sticks – but in day-to-day life itself.
“You would have to suspect that (operational) changes are going to happen,” he said. “I’m not sure on the specifics of what they might be, but really, I think our whole culture is going to see some degree of change. It’s going to take a long time before everybody’s comfortable to the point where we can start living like we did prior to all this.”
As for sports wagering coming to his home state, Kornegay said he’s been impressed with the progress in Colorado. The state’s scheduled go-live date for wagering remains May 1, but Kornegay isn’t so certain.
“I know they have said that they’re still launching May 1,” he said. “That’s the last I heard anyway, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they had postpone things for a little bit.”