When it comes to sports, Las Vegas is more than just a boxing town, thanks largely to the arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights pro hockey team in 2017.
After a successful inaugural regular season, the Golden Knights would reach the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals that spring.
Now, as the Raiders of the NFL prepare to move to Las Vegas from Oakland 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 betting area, known as a sports book.
The arrival of the NHL and NFL in Las Vegas dovetails with a surge in sports betting nationally that has inspired local casinos to redesign their sports books, 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 Nevada, 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.
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 NCAA Division I men’s national basketball tournament, the books are now getting needed makeovers.
“It was rows of seats facing the TVs and tellers,” said George Kliavkoff, 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.
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, video games and bottle service.
“We wanted to create an actual living room experience where fans can be social together,” said Chris Holdren, 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 also has the Aces (WNBA), Lights FC (United Soccer League) and the Aviators (Pacific Coast League minor league baseball) as well as varsity teams representing UNLV. Major League Baseball exhibition games have been played in Las Vegas nearly every year since 1991 and are taking place again this month and next in the new Las Vegas Ballpark. Still, only 4% 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 says it has already sold 99% of the licenses to buy season tickets. Leading up to the team’s debut, Las Vegas will host the NFL draft in late April.
Allegiant Air, the low-cost carrier, bought naming rights to the new 65,000-seat stadium where the Raiders will play. The airline plans to offer packages that bundle tickets, hotel rooms and airfare, starting at roughly $500 a person.