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Bookmakers expecting Las Vegas Super Bowl to be their best ever

Forecasts estimate that $23 billion will be wagered on the first NFL finals played in the world’s gambling capital

Super Bowl XVIII souvenirs for sale in Las Vegas.
Super Bowl XVIII souvenirs for sale in Las Vegas.MIKE BLAKE (REUTERS)

Two huge Clydesdale horses entered a Las Vegas casino on Thursday afternoon. This may sound like some sort of prank, but it most certainly was not. The animals, slightly larger than Percheron horses, were used as part of a publicity stunt for a well-known brand of beer. The unexpected spectacle, which occurred inside the South Point Casino, once again proves that anything can happen during Super Bowl week. The grand finale of American football has landed in the gambling capital of the world for the first time. This Sunday will be a lucrative day for the bookmakers, as the Kansas City Chiefs go head-to-head with the San Francisco 49ers for the championship, with records also set to be smashed in the booming sports betting industry.

Forecasts estimate that Super Bowl 58 will trigger a total cross-spending of around $23 billion. This figure is close to the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, $16 billion was at stake in Arizona, where Patrick Mahomes downed Philadelphia (38-35) to clinch his second title with the Chiefs. According to the American Gaming Association, some 68 million Americans will be placing a bet on Sunday. That is 35% more compared to those who did so for the previous final.

“It surely does have an impact,” said Brendon Plack, the NFL’s vice president of public affairs, of the growing sports betting market. “The league has worked really hard over the past years to establish good ground rules around legalized sports betting to make sure it’s done right.”

In Nevada alone, casinos are estimating that there will be at least $180 million in bets placed on the day of the showdown. This is a conservative figure and is based on the record set in 2022 in the Super Bowl between the Rams and Bengals.

Billy Walters, a 77-year-old businessman and local legend, said on Thursday that he will be placing a “small” bet on Kansas City. He’ll be wagering between $500,000 and $1 million out of his pocket. He has complete faith in Mahomes, a two-time MVP winner, who he hopes will extend a claimed 36-year winning streak that was interrupted in 2017 when he went to prison for fraud.

Casino Circa
In 2020, Circa Casino opened one of the largest areas in Las Vegas dedicated to sports betting.DAVID BECKER (Reuters)

Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner, recently took action to curb the hype surrounding the Super Bowl in Las Vegas. In early February, he sent a memo to all 32 teams in the league as a reminder that no player in the organization may gamble or disclose inside information. An exception is in effect for this week that allows players to participate in casino gaming, provided they do not belong to the two teams from San Francisco and Kansas City.

The NFL moved quickly to adapt to the new times ushered in by a 2018 Supreme Court ruling. The justices then declared a 1992 law banning sports betting unconstitutional. The decision paved the way for the legalization of an industry that had been lingering underground and in which Americans have spent $245 billion since. Today, gambling is legal throughout the country, with the exception of 12 states. People in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont will be able to gamble for the first time in 2024.

The transformation of the league is reflected in Radio Row, the NFL’s media zone. The virtual betting shops have sets there that rival those of the major television networks in terms of both size and content. FanDuel, which became one of the NFL’s three partners for the event in 2021, featured interviews with current players on its set, including Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua, who placed second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting on Thursday.

“This is a great moment to showcase our offering,” says Stephen Miraglia, spokesman for DraftKings, another of the industry’s big names. During these days, the company produces from Las Vegas 77 hours of programming geared to the public that will be gambling a few dollars on the game’s smallest details. “There is a rising demand for this type of content, which is why we are producing more and more of it,” explains Miraglia.

These days, casinos are distributing their prop bet options, containing suggestions on how to make a bet. Circa is expecting 2,500 people on Sunday and is offering various betting combinations from a 14-page spread. A modest 900-strong army of employees will be taking bets this weekend on the more traditional options, such as the first team or player to score, the total points scored, which player wins the MVP and so on. The list goes on to include the most improbable occurrences. These include the score being a Scorigami, an unprecedented outcome in NFL history; a player completing a pass to himself or a kicker making a tackle. Nearly seven out of 10 bets are placed on predictions of this type.

Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs (l) celebrates with Taylor Swift after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 28, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs (l) celebrates with Taylor Swift after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 28, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. Patrick Smith (Getty Images)

Fans will also have the chance to wager a few dollars on Taylor Swift, the pop sensation and girlfriend of Chiefs wide receiver Travis Kelce. Station Casinos will be offering the option to bet on whether Kelce will collect more receptions in the finals than his partner has platinum albums (10). Other companies are looking to capitalize on Swiftmania with more playful props: from arriving at the stadium, how many times she is shown on the telecast or what color lipstick she wears. These types of bets, however, have not been authorized in Nevada.

The Super Bowl being in Las Vegas is “surreal,” Jay Kornegay, vice president of Westgate Casino, told the Las Vegas Sun. The executive reminded the local press that a few years ago the city could not even advertise on the Super Bowl broadcasts. “What everybody’s finding out [is] that Americans love their sports,” he said, “and they love betting on their sports.” Today, the city is expecting the introduction of a professional basketball and baseball team to represent all the major leagues in the United States.

Silent gamblers

Billy Walters, a disgraced Las Vegas businessman, confessed last year in an autobiography that golfer Phil Mickelson had bet about $1 billion on sports competitions with him. The revelation forced the sportsman to open up about his gambling problems. Mickelson’s confession, in a social media post, is an exception for a disease that is usually endured in silence.

The boom in the gambling industry has not been backed up by an effort to combat addiction in the U.S. The most important study to determine how many gambling addicts there are in Nevada was carried out more than 20 years ago. It indicates that only 6% were suffering from this problem. However, the situation differs on the ground. Gamblers Anonymous holds more than 100 weekly meetings in Las Vegas, where the city’s inhabitants speak out about the lack of controls. According to this organization, between 400 and 500 people receive help from state social programs, which aim to reduce dependence on gambling. Yet, the industry is booming like never before.

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