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May-01-2002,
The Heritage of Customer Service...By J on Booking & Betting

   

   RJ, one of the working partners of Heritage Sports, grew up around the sound of action. His dad was a bookmaker, and one of his earliest memories is of being put to bed under an unused desk in the room where his father took action. There he would drift off to sleep to a chorus of clerks saying, "Yawantanythingelse?"

As a teenager RJ worked for the man who would later put together CRIS. Their office was a room in a warehouse in LA constructed of crates of produce. RJ tells of moving seventy-pound boxes of cabbages, lifting slats, and crawling six feet on his belly to get to where the phones had been installed. Despite the precautions, though, police persecution eventually took RJ from his hometown to work as a street bookie in Las Vegas.

He arrived there at the time when the plays of the Computer Group were beginning to drive the betting market, and there was no Don Best screen to turn black in response to them. RJ.s father and his other mentor had had a hold-it-all bookmaking philosophy, but in Las Vegas RJ learned the circumstances in which "laying-off" is not necessarily giving away business.and that in fact "calling out" can pay dividends.

It was at this time, also, that RJ recalls doing his books and realizing that the big teaser players were consistently taking his money. He decided to lay all that action off with the near-by strip casinos, and the very next year the casino books themselves raised the two-team six-point teaser price from pick to eleven to ten.

RJ is now a principal of Heritage, one of the first books to open offshore. He has been at Heritage since it began operations in Margarita in the early 1990.s. At that time there were no offshore bookmakers taking the action of recreational gamblers, and Heritage decided to make them its target market. It was one of the smartest decisions in the history of sportsbook marketing because there turned out to be thousands of sports-fan gamblers hungry enough for action to send money offshore. Bettors in metropolitan areas might find this hard to believe, but there was and is several degrees of separation between the appetite to bet on sports and access to those who serve that appetite. Lessening those degrees is the essence of marketing offshore sports wagering.

Although there was a learning curve involved for both customers and house, Heritage served their newly recruited customers well. This was not just a matter of doing the right thing, it was a matter of figuring out by trial and error what the right thing to do was. The first offshore bookmakers dealt to the same customers that they.d been working with for years.they just answered the phone in another country. But as the Heritage people discovered how to make themselves available to the sports fan whose place in life.geographically or socially.didn.t happen to bring him into contact with a bookie, they had to invent the ways to take care of this customer.

The foundation of Heritage.s success, then, had to do with advertising to a new breed of player. They built their reputation, though, by serving and educating this player. Many of the new sign-ups needed, for example, to be walked through the process of getting a run down or asking for a specific game by its rotation number. And of course they also needed instruction on the intricacies of sending and receiving money from an offshore location.an expertise JR and his associates had themselves to master and stay current on.

Further, when glitches developed in such customers. accounts, it was crucial to have someone on hand who could trace the problem and correct it or explain it to the customer in a way that would nurture his trust. Heritage understood before anyone else did that customer care was the best form of marketing, and its commitment to this insight was substantive and unstinting.

So the first books that moved offshore had to learn how to become what we now know as offshore books, and Heritage invented the learning curve. As the first shop established to serve customers solicited through advertisements, their Customer Service Department was the first to have a staff and budget completely separate from the guys who ran Wagering. In today.s more corporatized world of offshore bookmaking this division of labor is standard administrative procedure, but then it was an arrangement arrived at by some smart people who were involved in serving a segment of the wagering public who had never before been served.

Poker players have a saying: It.s one thing to win, another to get paid. What it means is that even if you play your cards just right stuff can happen. Maybe the guy who gave you the marker isn.t getting an inheritance next week after all. Maybe you step out the door and somebody who knows what.s in your pocket hits you in the head. Maybe on your way to the cashier station you decide to make just one bet on the pass line, and after that it.s all a blur but you have to conclude that the same you who can be pretty smart can act awfully stupid. Quitting winners, then, has rightly been called highest of all the high arts of booking and betting.

After a few years of operation word came down from the Justice Department that a major assault on those involved in the industry might soon take place. Heritage itself was never made a specific target, but the United States was between wars at the time and one had to wonder if the Special Forces might be sent in to chase bookies just to give them something to do.

At the same time, the wildly profitable days of the very early 1990.s looked to be a thing of the past. In the beginning a $2000 ad might bring Heritage 1500 telephone inquiries out of which 300 could be turned into deposits. Now, depending on the reputation of the shop, the design of the ad, and the skill of the marketing people in talking to the customers, account acquisition costs had risen by a factor of ten to forty and given the number of new books opening it looked like these costs could only go up (which they have). The owners wondered if the industries best days might be behind them.

They also feared that because they had been so astonishingly successful in establishing themselves as the name brand offshore book, they might be at the top of the hit list when the President of Veneuzuela received a call from the U.S. State Department on the behalf of the Attorney General seeking to make a country-stay arrangement for a large party of short haired men in suits with guns.

So with the same administrative brilliance with which the Heritage team had built their money machine, they shut it down. All customers were written a letter explaining the situation and their funds were returned to the penny. There were a few fallow accounts whose contact information proved bad, and for their benefit the toll free number was kept alive for one year. Anyone who called it received recorded instructions on who to call and what information to have on hand in order to get their money. The group.s exceptional attention to detail was evident to the very end.

The time then came when JR and his associates walked out the doors of their Margarita office for the last time. In the months that followed children were withdrawn from schools, houses and boats were sold, long delayed Caribbean vacations were now taken, and plans were made to re-occupy old stomping grounds. The team began to disperse to the various parts of the world from which they.d assembled. They had proven themselves business people and gamblers of the highest order. They had quit big winners, gotten paid, and treated the customers who had played with them with absolute integrity.

But after a few years away some of the team began to feel the itch. It turns out the Special Forces never did arrive for Operation Kyl, and despite a much more saturated market, all the analysts said that, for those with the special expertise to do it, offshore bookmaking would remain a growth industry. The URL fees on BetHeritage.com had been kept up, and there were two to three thousand gamblers walking around who had once been Heritage customers and who had been left with good vibes when it closed. Could the money machine be turned back on? The old crew gathered to discuss the possibility. The state of the industry was assessed, those who wanted back in discussed procedural innovations suggested to them by their time away, and Costa Rica was determined to be the most cost-effective location for the new business. In 1999 with backing from an investor not from the United States, Heritage was relaunched.

As it was in the beginning Heritage remains a retail shop. They have, for instance, a score phone.something that hardcore gamblers with multiple outs would hardly see as a valuable feature. But the customers Heritage knows how to serve use the score phone and click through the sports news made available on the Heritage homepage. They could just as easily read it some place else, but they like to be able to get their sports news and make their bets all at one site because for them as recreational players it.s all one world. When my cousin, who knows nothing about sports books, wanted to make some twenty-dollar bets on NASCAR match-ups I gave him Heritage.s number. Knowing what I do about their business, I was confident no one would take better care of him.



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