Despite the ease of expanding online betting, Las Vegas holds strong as the destination to wager on major sports event.
At the historic theater where Elvis Presley performed more than 600 times during his famed Las Vegas residency, sellout crowds packed inside paid up to $2,500 per ticket for VIP access to March Madness.
The event — and others like it along The Strip — showed despite the billions of dollars wagered across the nation through expanding online sports betting, Las Vegas still has a timeless, Elvis-like ability to draw massive attention.
While chatting with his customers, who stood inbetting lines at casino windows and entered bets on their mobile apps, SuperBook Vice President Jay Kornegay said a prevailing theme emerged.
“They all spoke of how they insisted on making it out here for this event because there’s nothing else like it," Kornegay said. “There are some great venues across the country to watch a game.
“But there’s still nothing like Las Vegas.”
Kornegay crunched numbers measuring the surge. He expects the first week of March Madness betting this year to exceed what the SuperBook produced even in the days before legalized mobile sports betting in 2017.
One factor is Americans’ interest in reuniting with friends and family following the COVID-19 shutdown of the 2020 NCAA basketball tournaments and ongoing restrictions.
The Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl 56 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals last month powerfully illustrated sports bettors do not balk at returning to Las Vegas even with widespread, legal access to betting on their phones.
Nevada regulators reported its sportsbooks accepted a record $179.8 million in Super Bowl bets this year, shattering the over $158 million bet on the 2018 Super Bowl.
The state reported an impressive 8.6% profit from the game.
And while likely more than half of the Super Bowl betting came through mobile devices — 65% of sports bets in Nevada last year were placed online — a wealth of action belongs to tourists now able to avoid the betting-window lines.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority blames the still-recovering convention industry for January’s visitor volume lagging 27.5% below pre-COVID business in January 2019, but gaming officials report business has never been better.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board reported an unprecedented 11 consecutive months of gaming wins exceeding $1 billion. The board credits federal stimulus money and the easing of COVID-19 restrictions among the driving factors.
Beyond that, there is an enthusiasm to reconnect with the spirit of Las Vegas even as states such as New Jersey, New York and neighboring Arizona report dynamic online sports betting interest.
New Jersey became the first state to generate $1 billion in monthly sports betting in September. Arizona’s near $500 million handle in October pushed the nation to reach a record $7.5 billion of monthly activity, and New York arrived with a staggering $1.176 billion bet during the state’s first 16 days of business in January.
“Many were surprised by how quickly online sports betting has reached them, but they still want to come out here to maximize the experience," Kornegay said. "It’s almost like the other states have done us a big favor. It wasn’t like betting hasn’t been going on in these other states all along, it’s just that they were using illegal channels.
“They’re getting introduced to online sports betting in other states, but, ultimately, they want to hit the Mecca of sports betting."
A Caesars Palace representative said $2,000 VIP viewing tickets for March Madness sold quickly. Bettors rushed to their cozy seats by 6:15 a.m. last week and one group bought the $11,000 “fan cave” that featured seating on an L-shaped couch arranged behind interactive coffee tables, five television screens and a view of elevated, additional big screens.
The American Gaming Association expects $3.1 billion wagered nationally on the NCAA tournament this year, triple the money wagered on the Super Bowl through U.S. sportsbooks.
As Nevada awaits total tourism traffic to reach pre-COVID figures, it is basking in the riches of mobile betting. Last year’s $445.1 million captured from $8.1 billion in sports wagers easily surpassed the prior-record $329.1 million won from $5.3 billion in sports bets in 2018.
“It’s obvious that sports betting levels here are historic and that the legalization of sports wagering in other parts of the country has done absolutely nothing but to help our business in Nevada,” said Michael Lawton, senior research analyst for Nevada Gaming Control. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
As Kornegay sneaked away from his position supervising traders setting the Westgate SuperBook’s latest odds, he smiled at the scene inside the venue Elvis rocked in the early 1970s.
“It’s all about the timing,” he said. “The energy and the atmosphere becomes very electric at the end of each half and at the end of games, when all the money is on the line. Those are the good times — in that room, with the games reaching their decisive climax in the final minute.”