Column: Las Vegas sports books banking on the experience to attract customers

Derek Stevens
Derek Stevens is making sports gambling a priority at his new casino and hotel, Circa.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

New Hampshire became the 14th state to legalize sports gambling Dec. 30 when Gov. Chris Sununu placed the ceremonial first wager on the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl. He was at Shoppers Pub + Eatery, a family owned neighborhood sports bar with three 85-inch televisions and a dozen smaller screens scattered about the brick-laced building.

He placed the bet on his mobile phone as others downed pints of beer and ate plates of nachos before negotiating the cold temperatures outside. It was both a sign of the growth of legalized sports wagering around the country and an example of why newcomers will be hard-pressed to compete with Las Vegas when it comes to being a destination for sports fans.

The NHL came to Las Vegas first, with the Golden Knights in 2017. The Raiders are next. And Mayor Carolyn Goodman expects the NBA, MLB and MLS to follow.

Jan. 30, 2020

Derek Stevens was a 20-year-old student at Michigan when he first came to Las Vegas 30 years ago between his summer job and returning to campus. Like most college-aged students, he immediately fell in love with the city he would call later call home in 2006 when he and his brother, Greg, bought a stake in the historic Golden Gate Hotel and Casino. They would become full owners a decade later and also open The D Hotel & Casino nearby.


Stevens’ biggest project, however, will be unveiled in December when Circa, a 1.25 million-square-foot, 777-room hotel and casino, opens near his other two downtown properties. While sports books have long been a part of Las Vegas hotels, Circa is one of the first to be built with sports wagering as a priority.

“What we’re building is going to be the mecca of sports betting,” Stevens said. “I wanted everyone around the country to know we have a destination sports book.”

Circa’s three-story sports book is being called “the largest in the world” and will have a 78-million-pixel high-definition screen as well as a studio for the Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSiN). There will be theater style seating for 1,000 with betting and drink services at your seat.

Circa sports book under construction
The Circa sports book under construction.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“I think watching the NFL on television is a far better experience than going to the game,” Stevens said. “I went to the Lions game on Thanksgiving Day and it was a seven-hour ordeal when you talk about traffic, parking, security lines and everything else. That’s not including the in-game experience where you don’t get all the replays and the commentary and you’re in line for an hour to get something to eat or drink.”

Stevens is also looking to have the largest outdoor sports book with a rooftop pool amphitheater able to hold 4,000 and be open all year. It will have a 125-foot stadium-style screen playing games in front of six multi-tiered rooftop pools, 30 cabanas, 38 day beds and 337 chaise lounges.

“I love watching sports in the pool but there was no where to do it so I created the biggest outdoor sports betting pool party in the country,” Stevens said.

Jay Kornegay is vice president of race and sports operations at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, which lays claim to being “the largest sportsbook in the world.” Kornegay previously ran the sports book at the now defunct Imperial Palace in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was a small location on the second floor with dry-erase boards where the odds were displayed.

He now oversees a 30,000-square-foot sportsbook with more than 350 theater-style seats, a 220-by-18-foot 4K video wall, a 60-seat bar facing the screen and a Clubhouse Lounge and VIP boxes for private parties. Kornegay said he wanted the SuperBook to be a Las Vegas landmark.

Westgate SuperBook
A crowd watches the college football national championship at Westgate SuperBook.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

“We wanted people to come see it like they would come see the fountains at Bellagio,” Kornegay said. “When you come to Vegas, one of the things we want you to see is the largest sportsbook in the world.”

The Supreme Court ruled in May 2018 that individual states could offer legal sports betting. Kornegay believes it actually made sports wagering in Las Vegas more attractive.

“Even though it was legal here, there was always this dark cloud hanging over it because of its early connection to organized crime,” Kornegay said. “Now that it’s legal, people are more comfortable learning about it, talking about it and placing a bet. Even though it’s now legal where they’re from you can’t replicate what we have in Las Vegas.”

Sports books in Las Vegas are now as different and diverse as the hotels on the Strip. Each property wants to differentiate itself from the pack and cookie cutter books that once existed.

In 2009, Legasse’s Stadium at the Palazzo Las Vegas put a sports book inside a 24,000-square-foot multi-level theater and dining room with stadium-style seating. Games are shown on a 9-by-16-foot, floor-to-ceiling video wall above a sports betting counter. There are private sky boxes and a menu designed by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

A roundup of new hotels, name changes and renovations coming to Las Vegas in the year ahead, along with a few other key visitor attractions.

Jan. 28, 2020

The Wynn Las Vegas recently unveiled a major renovation of its race and sports book with a high-definition video wall that’s 137-by-11 feet. Guests can now watch games while enjoying a Pat La Frida Steakhouse Burger and a glass of wine.

Caesars Entertainment, which owns and operates over 50 properties worldwide, is partnering with Bleacher Report on a studio at the Caesars Palace sports book and with ESPN on a studio at the Linq.

The Linq’s new sports book has 12 rentable living rooms called “Fan Caves,” with 98-inch screens that can be split into four screens, two 49-inch screens, Xbox, game consoles and VR goggles and a tablet to order food and drinks and place a wager. Nearby is a self-pouring beer wall next to a full-service bar.

The remodeled Caesars Palace sports book is more traditional with a 143-foot screen, 140 seats and 13 betting windows. Behind you is Omnia, a multi-level, 75,000-square-foot night club, to your left is Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and to your right you can buy a ticket to see headliners such as Kelly Clarkson, Shania Twain, Sting and Rod Stewart.

“Sports betting is growing in other states but it’s about the experience you can have in Las Vegas,” said Christian Stewart, executive vice president of gaming and interactive entertainment at Caesars Entertainment. “It’s not just about sports wagering, we have the best restaurants, the best nightlife and the best entertainment options. People still want the adventure that Las Vegas provides.”