Under the sparkling neon lights that define the main strip of Las Vegas lies the tantalizing allure of a number of attractions. Ranking high among the enticements, if not at the top, is an act that's been outlawed in all but four states: placing monetary wagers on sporting events. And this time of year, when the end-all, be-all game in professional American football is played, for some, that attraction can be irresistible. To reprise the popular saying, when it comes to gambling on the Super Bowl in a Las Vegas casino, for the most part, what happens in Vegas does indeed stay in Vegas.
Underscoring that point was the state of Nevada's banner betting year in 2014 during Super Bowl weekend, which saw the highest-ever amount of money earned on Super Bowl wagers -- $19,673,960, a 21 percent gain over the prior year's Super Bowl. Not coincidentally, $119,400,822 was spent by those same bettors, another all-time record. Michael Lawton, senior research analyst at the Nevada Gaming Control Board, says that’s no fluke. “It’s definitely an upward trend,” Lawton said, noting that last year also had the highest “hold” percentage, when 16.5 percent of the bettors won their Super Bowl wagers, the second-highest winning percentage for all Super Bowl gamblers in the past 10 years. That rate, however, is a clear indication that there is no such thing as a sure bet. When asked about the positives and negatives associated with legal sports gambling, Lawton hedged a bit. “We don’t get into whether it’s good or bad,” he said.
'If I break even, I am thrilled.'
This year, most bookmakers have the New England Patriots favored by a little more than one point over the Seattle Seahawks, but for some, ironically, those odds can be besides the point. Traveling to Las Vegas for the big game is sometimes more about how the game is played than the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. “I bet for entertainment, not to win,” said Jim Wiltman, a financial advisor who travels from his home in southwestern Pennsylvania to Las Vegas annually just for the Super Bowl. “If I break even, I am thrilled. My buddy and I enjoy sitting in a room of 1,500 people having bet 20 props,” said the casual gambler, referring to the practice of placing wagers on the most random aspects of the big game. “Checking off your winners and losers is exciting. Other than that, the NFL bores me.”
On the flip side, the 24-hour party atmosphere that is the calling card of Las Vegas can be anything but boring. If it isn’t enough of a draw to inspire a friendly – or even aggressive -- bet, then an even more ramped-up version of its normal self during the biggest sporting event in the U.S. surely is. So says Tony Miller, who has been working in Las Vegas sports books for more than half of his 58 years. Miller, the Race & Sports Book director at the Golden Nugget casino in Vegas, wonders why anybody wouldn’t want to come participate in Sin City's annual gridiron revelry.
“It’s the biggest event in town,” Miller told International Business Times about Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas. And, much like Wiltmer, Miller said that for many in town for the game, the main objective is not always to earn money from the bets. “People come in and bet just to have a souvenir ticket whether they win or lose,” he said. “The general public dies to be a part of that.” Plus, Miller said betting in Las Vegas this year will be much easier for football fans who actually travel to this weekend’s Super Bowl. “Arizona is right next door, and we expect some of those people to swing on by and make a bet before the game,” he added, referring to the relative proximity of Las Vegas to Glendale, Arizona, the Phoenix suburb where Super Bowl XLIX will be played on Sunday.
Sports Betting Illegal In Most Of U.S.
While the amount of money people bet in Las Vegas may seem impressive, it's a mere fraction of what is spent on black market gambling, which one gaming expert estimated will generate nearly $4 billion in illegal Super Bowl bets this year. The prohibition of legal sports betting nationwide aside from four states – Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana – was partially what prompted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to pen an op-ed late last year in the New York Times, in which he wrote, “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.”
But until that reform happens, Las Vegas is the prime destination for bettors looking to legally wager money on sporting events. The American Gaming Association predicted that there will be $3.8 billion in illegal betting for this year’s Super Bowl, its director of media relations, Chris Moyer, told IBTimes. Noting that the illegal betting market is 38 times greater than the legally regulated one, Moyer said it's clear that “the law isn’t working.” Whether or not betting is a waste of time and money is open to debate, Moyer said. “People clearly enjoy doing it." Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the AGA, echoed that sentiment. “The AGA is closely examining the current state of sports betting, the laws that govern it, and the best way forward for the gaming industry,” Freeman said.
Boston Globe columnist Steven Syre took it a bit further and called for the end of legalized sports gambling altogether because it would compromise the integrity of the games and their respective professional leagues. "Gambling is the most serious threat to sports in general, to the public’s belief that the outcomes of games are legitimate, Syre wrote late last year. "More gambling — even regulated betting — and league enthusiasm for it would do real damage to perception of the games themselves. This is moral high ground actually worth defending." Syre also pointed his finger at the politicians, casino owners and executives in professional sports who just want "to get their hands on more money."
'The house always wins.'
Gill Alexander, a 46-year-old sports betting podcast host and professional bettor from San Francisco who on Thursday returned from four days in Las Vegas, reminded IBTimes that there are still potential pitfalls to betting on sporting events. Especially in Las Vegas. Alexander, who has been betting professionally for the past 10 years, offered a cautionary tale when it comes to betting on the Super Bowl. "I believe that just like last year, folks are easily influenced by what they saw last," said Alexander on the practice of betting based on emotion. "And what they saw last was Seahawks squeaking by and Pats dominating," he said in reference to the NFC and AFC Championship games, respectively. Based on those two games, he said, the obvious logic would be to bet for the Patriots. But there is more than just that casual observation that is needed to make an informed bet. Despite the odds, Alexander said his pick to win is the Seahawks. But he also knows a consistent truth when it comes to betting on the Super Bowl in Vegas. "The house always wins."