Circa Sports setting up shop in Waukegan, promises elite customer experience

LAS VEGAS — The Vegas sportsbook landing in Illinois this fall has been conceived and constructed by professional bettors who aim to treat every customer precisely how they’d want to be treated.

Circa Sports owner and Michigan native Derek Stevens, and Matt Metcalf, Chris Bennett and Jeffrey Benson, among other Stevens lieutenants, all know about risking substantial amounts of dough on sporting events.

They know fair odds and prices. They’re aware of the dastardly schemes, unscrupulous tactics and felonious unaccountability that so pervade the industry.

Benson, the Circa Sports operations manager, tweeted recently about “the sad state of sports betting.” He capped it, “Be Careful.”

“When certain people get platforms to say certain things, I think sometimes the bettor can be left holding the bag,” Benson told me last week. “When [entities] aren’t being transparent, a lot of times pigs can be led to the slaughter.

“It’s a shame to see. As people look at the space and understand how much money is in it, others are looking to make a quick buck and sometimes, or quite frankly a lot of times, they don’t care at whose expense it is.”

Circa has made mistakes, probably will make more. It’s the transparency, Benson says, that sets his shop apart from competition:

“You’ve got to own it. We might grade a game wrong or a patron might not have an A-plus experience, whatever it might be.

“But owning your mistakes, understanding them and figuring out how you can learn from them is, I think, something that makes us approachable and relatable. We’re very organic. I think that’s something that resonates with people.”


Benson, 33, majored in communications, minoring in business management and leadership studies, at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. He envisioned building a career in Vegas.

His family felt otherwise. A 21st-birthday trip to Vegas with his father, Steve, staying at the Mirage and betting college conference-tournament hoops, served as a litmus test.

“They were hoping I’d get crushed,” he said. “I did not get crushed. I wanted to pursue things out here on both sides of the counter. Yeah, the rest is history.”

Benson possesses the savvy and skills of someone much older, yet it’s even money that his youthful countenance will get him carded, in bars and casinos, into his 60s. He laughs and said, “That’s a prevailing theme.”

He will wager four figures on a game. “I’m not a risk-averse person. I’m looking to bet on things that I believe I have an edge on. Being able to work in a sportsbook that has the same mindset, and approaches sports betting with that mentality, is exciting.”

Stevens hired Metcalf to design and run a premier sportsbook, and Metcalf’s first hire was Benson — whom he called the best customer-service figure in Vegas, at Palace Station — in 2016.

The front of the house at The D, Golden Gate and Circa, all Circa Sports spots downtown, get Benson’s five-star treatment. Its app is also available in Colorado and Iowa.

“I had a lot of ideas, as did Jeff, but he was able to execute them at such a high level,” Metcalf said. “We wouldn’t have the reputation we do without him. Nobody executes like Jeff Benson.”

The 10-dollar bettor gets the same red-carpet attention from Benson as someone wagering $10,000. He cleans areas, strewn with bottles, paper or other debris, and straightens furniture as if the book were his living room.

Leading by example and setting that high standard, Metcalf said, rubs off on less-experienced colleagues. Being out there and being accessible is a daily priority.

“To allow people to come in and ask high-level questions, and get answers, is enjoyable,” Benson said, “which you won’t get at most other places.”


A Circa Sports shop will be housed in a Full House Resorts property in Waukegan, Circa’s first brick-and-mortar operation outside the Silver State. Its mobile app will serve the entire state.

“We’re looking for states that have favorable remote funding, and remote registration rules and regulations,” Benson said. “The goal is to bring sports betting, the way it should be, to all in this great country.”

Circa offers odds on every golfer in tournaments — not just half, or fewer, of a field — and holds a lower percentage than most books. It allows parlays on futures action in different sports, and it dangles Yes/No props.

In the recent Kentucky Derby, bettors who wagered No on favorites Epicenter (about -600), Messier and Zandon (both around -1000), would have cashed in Rich Strike’s upset victory.

Tennessee’s dominant baseball team is +350 (wager $100 to win $350) to claim the College World Series, -450 (risk $450 to win $100) on No, followed by Oregon State (+775/-1,190), Oklahoma State (10-1/-1,600) and Arkansas (13-1/-2,200).

The Sky is +975 to defend its WNBA crown, -1,750 on No. To win the college football title, Alabama is +195/-250, then Georgia (+265/-350), Ohio State (+410/-600) and Clemson (11-1/-2,000). Notre Dame is 40-1/-7,200.

“If you’re a winning bettor,” Benson said, “you’re going to continue to be provided the same limits that you got Day 1.”

He has a simple statement for prospective Illinois clients.

“Our goal is to provide sports bettors in Illinois with another out that treats them respectfully, and fairly, and welcomes them with open arms. That’s what we believe is our calling card.”