Johnny Nolon’s Owner David Minter Gradually Embraces Sports Betting

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When asked whether his beloved club West Ham United F.C. will ever win the English Premier League or if his wish for world peace will one day be granted, Johnny Nolon’s Casino and Colorado Grande Hotel & Casino owner David Minter cleverly responded that the latter proposition is more likely.

For years, Minter placed comparable odds on the probability that Colorado would eventually legalize sports betting. To illustrate his skepticism, Minter pointed to longstanding restrictive policies that until recently prohibited NFL teams from associating with gambling companies. The NFL relaxed the ban earlier this year, while the NCAA scrapped a decades-old policy that prohibited states with legalized sports gambling from hosting championship events. And last November, Colorado voters legalized sports betting via referendum. Six months later, on May 1, the first four operators went live in the state.

“Do you think people in Colorado would give up the Broncos so we could have sports betting? That’s the biggest nonstarter I could think of,” Minter told CoBets.

Minter is the latest entrepreneur to enter the sports gambling fray. Earlier this month, both casinos added sports betting kiosks inside the properties in Cripple Creek. The kiosks are powered by Las Vegas-based ISI Race & Sports.

Minter’s career arc

Minter, 59, got his first taste of the casino industry as a student at the University of Nevada-Reno when he interned at the nearby Pioneer Inn and Casino. While at UNR, Minter took coursework in the school’s renowned accounting program but quickly changed his career path weeks before graduation. Minter, who attended grade school in Maidstone, England, a small town southeast of London, initially planned to embark on a traditional CPA route as graduation neared. At the time, however, a handful of prominent accounting firms in Reno mostly specialized in auditing U.S. government contracts, providing a barrier for Minter’s employment prospects.

“I wasn’t a U.S. citizen so I couldn’t be employed by them anyway,” Minter said, adding that he had “a sudden moment of enlightenment,” when he realized that he had “absolutely no interest in auditing other people’s books.”

After graduation, Minter accepted a position as a cage cashier at the now-defunct Harold’s Club in downtown Reno, while working on the side as a bank teller away from the casino. He then served as an accounting manager at Reno’s Riverboat Casino, before accepting a position as comptroller of Saddle West Casino Hotel in Pahrump, Nev., a tiny community located about 60 miles west of Las Vegas. Minter moved to Colorado in 1992, then became the general manager of the Colorado Grande a year later.

In 1997, Minter met his goal of owning a casino before he turned 40 when Jilly Billy Bones, of which he was president, took over the lease of Johnny Nolon’s from retiring businessman Robert Konczak. Minter later assumed control of the Colorado Grande in 2012 when his company G Investments LLC purchased the property from Nevada Gold & Casinos Inc. for $3.2 million.

Minter’s rags-to-riches tale contains a rare instance of an entrepreneur gaining ownership of a Colorado casino years after previously serving there as an employee.

“He started with almost nothing and then built two casinos,” said Bill Stearns, president of ISI Sports. “They’re very successful, they’re fun, beautiful places. It’s all because of him as an operator. His whole story from A to Z is quite fun.”

Minter has endeared himself to business partners with his quick wit and amiable personality. A former competitive runner in England, Minter remarkably finished the 2015 New York City Marathon in 2 hours, 56 minutes, 7 seconds, months before his 55th birthday. In the span of six weeks, Minter completed two marathons, having finished the Chicago Marathon in 2:51:28, weeks earlier.

Yet the British entrepreneur continually downplays his accomplishments with a flair for self-deprecation. Minter, on occasion, may drive by 2018 Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden when she conducts training runs outside the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He does not regard himself as the fastest long-distance runner in his neighborhood, and he even jokingly remarked that he doesn’t rank in the Top 10.

The English gambling culture

Although Minter has spent decades in the U.S. casino industry, culturally he still regards himself as very English. Unlike in the U.S., sports betting has been part of the fabric of English culture for decades, as betting parlors line the cobblestone streets in London and small villages alike. When the U.K. held the first draw of a new national lottery in November 1994, more than 1.1 million Brits won a minimum prize by correctly picking three of six numbers. One ticket was held by Queen Elizabeth II, who split the £10 payout ($15.70) with 20 members of a royal syndicate.

Each member received 50 pence, the equivalent of 80 cents, based on exchange rates at the time.

“That’s probably not something the average American thinks about when they’re thinking of the royal family,” Minter said with a laugh. “But they are very involved in horse racing and other betting-involved things.”

ISI Sports, which runs the odds for both of Minter’s properties, developed a number of sports betting kiosks for several casinos in the Caribbean. Typically, small casinos that partner with ISI have two-six kiosks inside, Stearns said. At first, Johnny Nolon’s and the Colorado Grande will have two kiosks each.

“We’re the perfect platform for small casinos that want to offer sports gaming to their customers,” Stearns said. “Almost every casino has a bar, we typically put the kiosk next to the bar and boom, you’re up and running. It’s that simple.”

While Johnny Nolon’s reached an online sports betting partnership with Malta-based The Carousel Group in May, it has yet to launch a mobile sports platform. Minter is also working on a separate deal for online sports gambling at the Colorado Grande.

Though Minter has little experience running a sportsbook, he appears to be a quick study. Minter doesn’t expect to compete with heavyweights such as DraftKings and FanDuel, but noted that some larger companies in Colorado haven’t decided whether to operate retail books, along with mobile. Consequently, there is a strong possibility that local saloons will be able to carve out a niche in the marketplace.

“I think we’ll get our fair share,” Minter said.

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Matt is a veteran writer with a specific focus on the emerging sports gambling market. During Matt's two decade career in journalism, he has written for the New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, Reuters and CBSSports.com among others. In his spare time, Matt is an avid reader, a weekend tennis player and a frequent embarrassment to the sport of running.

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