Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2021

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Las Vegas sports books ready for big NFL opening weekend

Westgate Tracking Program

Steve Marcus

Chairs are spaced for social distancing in the SuperBook at the Westgate Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.

Las Vegas sports books are gearing up for a busy first weekend of NFL action, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

John Murray, executive director of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, said he expects a big turnout Sunday, even though fans and bettors will have to adhere to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Those include mandatory face masks and social distancing protocols.

“We were packed for the Kentucky Derby last week — it was much more crowded than we thought it would be,” Murray said. “Sports betting has always been one of those things that’s recession-proof, if you want to call what we’re in a recession.”

Murray said guests are generally cooperative in complying with virus safety rules.

“I think people get it,” he said. “Sometimes we might remind people that their mask needs to be covering their mouth and nose, but most people are used to all that now.”

The new NFL season got underway Thursday night with Kansas City beating Houston.

Week 1 continues Sunday with a full lineup of games, including the first-ever game for the Las Vegas Raiders, who will take on the Carolina Panthers.

For those planning to visit the SuperBook for the early NFL games — they start at 10 a.m. local time — Murray said he’s encouraging people to show up early to get their bets in and get a seat.

Already touting the largest video boards in Las Vegas, with more than 4,000 square feet of TV screens, the SuperBook displays are brighter than ever following recent upgrades.

New screens are in place at the book’s I Bar, and Football Central at the Westgate’s International Theater is back, though seating is limited. The sports book takes over the 1,600-seat theater on game days.

While mobile betting is gaining in popularity, there’s still a market for counter betting and the experience of being at a sports book on game day, Murray said.

“It used to be that mobile handle was running about neck-and-neck with counter handle, but it’s getting to be more like 65% or 70% mobile,” Murray said. “Mobile certainly is the future, but I think people are a little less likely to come down here with everything that’s going on. It’s just so easy to bet on a mobile device.”

With tourism down in Las Vegas because of the pandemic, it remains to be seen how opening weekend NFL crowds at the sports books will compare with those of previous years.

At the Flamingo and Linq, Caesars Entertainment is offering a poolside play promotion where guests can rent a cabana with a TV and food and drink options.

At MGM Resorts International properties on the Strip, guests are being encouraged to take advantage of digital options to place their bets, the company said. It reduces lines at the betting windows and promotes social distancing, a spokesman said.

“Guests can make their sports bets through our BetMGM kiosks, which they’ll find in and around our sports books,” the spokesman said. “Those who prefer to place their bet at a counter can still do so.”

As for which NFL teams bettors are laying money on, Tampa Bay, which features newly acquired superstar quarterback Tom Brady, leads all clubs with 8% of the total number of futures tickets to win Super Bowl 55, according to William Hill officials.

The Bucs are followed closely by Kansas City and San Francisco, both at 7%, and Dallas, Seattle and Las Vegas, all about 6% as of Wednesday.

“It should be an interesting year down in Tampa,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill’s U.S. operation. “I’m sure we’ll be rooting against them most weeks, that’s for sure.”

Likely because of Brady’s move to Tampa Bay, bettors have been shying away from the New England Patriots more so than in recent years, Murray said.

“There’s a bit of a void there now because New England has been so popular for such a long time,” he said. “Who knows, if the Raiders get off to a hot start, maybe they can become that type of very popular public team.”