Las Vegas Doubles Down on Sports, Live and Broadcast
When it comes to sports, Las Vegas is more than just a boxing town, thanks largely to the 2017 arrival of the Golden Knights, who went to the N.H.L. championship final in their inaugural season.
Now, as the N.F.L.’s Oakland Raiders team prepares to move to Vegas this year, professional sports — both live and broadcast — are ascendant tourist attractions.
“If you’re going to see an away game, what better place to do it than Las Vegas?” said Derek Stevens, who operates several downtown casinos and is building the new Circa Resort & Casino with a three-story, stadium-style sports book.
The arrival of professional hockey and football to Las Vegas dovetails with a surge in sports betting nationally that has inspired local casinos to redesign their betting areas, known as sports books, to energize the fan experience.
In 2018, the Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on sports betting known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (Nevada had been exempted from the 1992 law). Legal sports betting is now available in several states, including New York and New Jersey. In 2018, revenue from sports betting grew to $430 million from $261 million in 2017, according to the American Gaming Association.
“The ruling has opened sports betting up to more people,” said David G. Schwartz, a gaming historian at the University of Las Vegas. “People now come to sports books not as a place with weird numbers. They actually understand it.”
Since then, casinos have begun positioning Las Vegas as the epicenter of sports wagering — worth the trek instead of visiting a facsimile closer to home.
Initially designed as amenities for casino gamblers to keep them in house, sports books tended to look like business centers with rows of desks facing vast walls of screens broadcasting games and betting odds. Though they filled up during major events like the Super Bowl and the N.C.A.A. March Madness tournament, the books are now getting needed makeovers as inviting places to catch the action.
“It was rows of seats facing the TVs and tellers,” said George Kliavkoff, the president of entertainment and sports at MGM Resorts International, which aims to apply the same design sense it brings to its nightclubs and restaurants at properties like the Bellagio and Park MGM to remodeled sports books. “We’re rethinking them to be more entertaining and engaging sports bars that happen to be a place you can place a bet.”
At the Park MGM, the recently updated Moneyline Sports Bar & Book looks more like a neighborhood sports bar — albeit with bigger and more numerous screens — with large booths where groups can gather and a “tailgate menu” offering cheeseburgers and nachos. The teller area, where the betting takes place, is in the entry foyer.
Up the street, The Linq Hotel + Experience has updated its sports book to include “Fan Caves,” living room-style areas available for rent with 98-inch televisions guests can control, video games and nightclub-style bottle service. The resort is also building a studio for the sports network ESPN overlooking the Strip, to be completed next spring. (Its sibling resort, Caesars Palace, now has a Bleacher Report Studio producing content for the popular sports app and steaming service.)
“We wanted to create an actual living room experience where fans can be social together,” said Chris Holdren, the chief marketing officer for Caesars Entertainment, which runs The Linq, Caesars Palace and several other resorts. “In traditional sports books, you were lined up and if you wanted to high-five after your team scored, it meant going down the aisle.”
Making casinos more game-day friendly may expand their appeal. Research by the American Gaming Association found that sports bettors are generally younger, more affluent, more ethnically diverse and better educated than the general population of the United States.
In terms of live sports, Las Vegas has the W.N.B.A. Aces, pro soccer’s Lights, and Triple-A baseball’s Aviators, as well as pro hockey. Major League Baseball exhibition games have been held in Las Vegas nearly every year since 1991 and will take place again in February and March 2020 in the newly constructed Las Vegas Ballpark. Still, only 4 percent of visitors attended a sporting event in 2018, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Operators here expect that to change given the popularity of football, America’s favorite spectator sport, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. The Raiders organization said that it has already sold 99 percent of the licenses to buy season tickets. Leading up to the team’s debut, Las Vegas will hold the NFL Draft, April 23 to 25.
The Las Vegas-based low-cost carrier Allegiant Air bought the naming rights to the new 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium where the Raiders will play, going up just west of the Mandalay Bay resort and expected to open in August. The airline plans to offer packages that bundle tickets, hotel rooms and airfare, starting at roughly $500 a person. It also plans to increase capacity to Oakland, Fresno and Stockton in football season and offer charters to fans of Raiders’ opponents where it doesn’t already have service.
Resorts, too, plan to offer comprehensive package deals — yet to be determined or priced — with rooms, concerts and games. And if fans can’t get a ticket, there’s always the amped-up sports books.
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