LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Who knows what might have been if 21-year-old Mike Tyson hadn’t knocked out Larry Holmes in Atlantic City, N.J., on Jan. 22, 1988?
Certainly the well-documented path of young “Iron Mike” may have taken a different path, but what about young Jay Rood?
At the time, Rood was 19-year-old Highland High graduate and a sophomore at New Mexico State University. He used money he had saved over the previous summer working as a ranch hand in Colorado to back some bets on the fight as he and his buddies rented a hotel room in Las Cruces, had a poker night and paid for the pay-per-view telecast.
“We might have had 20 people there,” said Rood. “We were playing poker; everybody was watching the fight. It was Holmes and Tyson. I was booking most of the bets with that one. Five, six, maybe seven or eight guys, even their dads bet with me, too.”
And they pretty much all thought the former champ would put the young Tyson in his place.
Tyson’s fourth-round right hook that sent Holmes to the canvas for a third time put about $3,000 in the pocket of Rood.
“At the time, it seemed like an awful lot,” said Rood. “It was probably like three or four dimes. Everyone was on Holmes. I think I may have had like one guy on Tyson for like $20. It would have been a sting, definitely.”
Twenty six years later, the 46-year-old Albuquerque native Rood is loving his life now in his seventh year as the vice president of Race and Sports Book for MGM Resorts International, which oversees 12 sport and race books, including the likes of the MGM, Mirage, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Bellagio and more in Las Vegas, as well as Circus Circus and the Silver Legacy in Reno, all under the MGM-Mirage umbrella.
While Rood thinks he probably would have still ended up in the casino industry, taking a four-figure hit as a teenage college student can change a career path in a hurry.
But it isn’t as though Rood didn’t already have it in his blood.
Growing up in Albuquerque, his father was a huge sports fan, and his mother would often “pick me up from elementary school and we’d go over to the track.”
Rood also recalls hopping on the bus as a teenager at the “old Hilton right by the Big I” and heading north to spend afternoons at the Downs at Santa Fe racetrack.
“I was kind of immersed into it,” Rood said. “Gambling was really woven into my being from going to the track when I was young. If guys wanted to make a bet, I’d take their action.”
Rood, after playing club volleyball in high school and very briefly as a freshman at NMSU, ran pools with friends, was a part of a regular poker game in the dorms, and, of course, had the big night with the Tyson fight. But he really wasn’t exactly a bookie by any stretch while at NMSU, where he graduated with a degree in hotel restaurant tourism management in 1992.
He did one semester as part of an exchange program with UNLV and realized Las Vegas was where he wanted to end up.
After college, he moved to Tahoe, Nev., and got his start when he walked down the hill from where he was renting a room and Caesars Tahoe was the first casino he came to.
“They said there’s the job board, and I saw they had one that said ‘sports writer’ on it,” Rood said. “I thought it was like a (newspaper) sports writer. I thought, ‘What the heck? I’m not good at English, but I’ll give it a stab.’ ”
It was an entry-level position writing out betting slips for bettors.
A family emergency led to a brief stint back in Albuquerque and one in Seattle with his sister, who married former University of New Mexico and later Seattle Seahawks quarterback Steve Myer. While Rood met his future wife in Seattle, his stay there wasn’t long; his old boss in Reno offered him a job opening the MGM Grand in 1993.
He’s been with the company since, working his way up from ticket writer to his current position running the show for the largest sports gambling empire in Las Vegas.
Now anytime you see the MGM Mirage set a Floyd Mayweather betting line, it was set with the pen, or keyboard, of Rood. It was Rood who set the MGM’s Super Bowl line. (Vegas made out quite well when the Seahawks won, by the way.)
And while he’s still loves sports, fandom tends to take a back seat to business. And emotions about any team don’t make for good business.
“I’m in the business of asset protection for this company,” Rood said. “I’m not in the business to be a gambler with the company’s bank roll. … I’m generally rooting for the house. I don’t have too much of an allegiance to any team.”
But he still considers himself an Aggies fan.
As an undergraduate, Rood was in the Pan American Center in Las Cruces in 1990 as the Aggies beat the eventual national champion UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. And he was as a freshman in 1987 when he proudly smiled for TV cameras during the Rio Grande Rivalry game against the New Mexico Lobos holding a sign that, if a couple of key consonants hadn’t been changed, would have directed an obscenity at the Lobos.
Now, Rood carries no animosity toward either of the Aggies’ past and current rivals. In fact, both fan bases are now good for his business – the Rebels as the local team and UNM as the school that brings the most fans to Las Vegas during conference tournament play.
“The most prominent group there is,” Rood said of UNM. “Lots and lots of red.”
Rood said if he wasn’t in the position he’s in now, this is the week – with the conference tournaments as opposed to the standing-room-only sports book settings of the NCAA Tournament – he’d come to every year.
But it isn’t just the buzz of March Madness, the thrill of huge Super Bowl profits or when a game hits “the sweet spot” for the house – when a favorite wins the game but the underdog covers the spread, oftentimes resulting in the most profit for the sport book – that put smiles on Rood’s face now.
While thousands of New Mexicans are making their annual trek this week to Sin City for hoops, living this sports dream for Rood is a year-round affair.
“Vegas has been really good to me,” Rood said. “It’s been a success story here from the start to me. It’s like the busboy who worked his way up to own the restaurant. I really enjoy what I do.”