Column: Las Vegas sports books searching for anything worthy of drawing bets
The 30,000-square-foot Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, which lays claim to being “the largest sportsbook in the world,” was still open for business Saturday despite most sports in the world coming to a stop during the week because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of the 350 theater-style seats were empty and the 220-by-18-foot 4K video wall showed highlights of previous games, advertisements and odds on future bets such as the winner of the Super Bowl, World Series and NBA Finals.
“It’s unprecedented times so we’re doing what we can with not a lot to work with,” said Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations at the Westgate sportsbook. “We’ve actually added five soccer leagues to the menu today and we’re adding the KHL hockey playoffs.”
The Westgate had odds on college basketball, NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, XFL, international soccer, auto racing, golf and tennis this weekend, but they were all postponed or canceled, leaving Kornegay and his team to scramble for any live sports events on which they could place odds.
With major sports leagues halting play over the coronavirus, small businesses that count on game-day traffic face difficult economic prospects.
“We’re trying to find anything going on worldwide that we can add,” said Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. I found five soccer leagues that are playing games without spectators. We’re adding things right now we don’t normally book.”
Sherman helped set odds on games being played in the Argentina Primera B Nacional, Australia A League, Hungary NB 1, Mexico Liga MX, Russian Premier League, Serbia SuperLiga, Turkey Super Lig, Ukrainian Premier League and KHL Russian hockey playoffs. Since Liga MX is the most popular of the leagues still playing in North America, Sherman has added first-half wagering, halftime and full-time results, as well as some game propositions.
“We’re trying to expand our betting menu on the games and events that are taking place,” Sherman said. “For example, with the Mexican soccer league, we’re taking bets on the first team to score, total goals by Puebla, total goals by Atletico San Luis and the over/under on each team’s individual total goals. We’re doing that for each game along with halftime and full-time prop bets.”
“Selection Sunday” is normally the start of one of the busiest weeks in Las Vegas. The first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament has become one of the three busiest weekends in the city, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Hotel occupancy during the first week of the tournament has been more than 98% in recent years with nearly 2 million passengers traveling through McCarran International Airport during that time.
Las Vegas is generally considered the second-best place to be if you can’t attend a big sports event live and it would have become the best place to be if the NCAA had gone through with its initial plan to play the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments without fans. But when the NCAA canceled the tournaments on Thursday, Las Vegas sportsbooks lost out on their biggest four-day stretch on the calendar.
“We’ll handle more money on the first four days of the tournament than the Super Bowl,” Kornegay said. “So losing one of your top two events that you host every year is going to be damaging to our financials. We’ve accepted that and understand it. Our priority is everyone’s safety.”
Nevada sportsbooks won $36.5 million on college and pro basketball in March 2019 from $498.7 million in bets. Around $350 million was wagered on the NCAA tournament last year, compared to $154.7 million wagered on Super Bowl LIV.
The NCAA is giving spring sports athletes whose 2020 seasons were majorly disrupted by the coronavirus another year of eligibility.
One of the biggest draws now at sportsbooks is horse racing, which is still taking place around the world. On Saturday afternoon, Santa Anita ran eight races in front of only a handful of owners and state officials. While there are regular horse racing bettors in Las Vegas, the lack of other sports to bet on has made other gamblers want to learn how to get in on the action.
“One of our regular sports players came up to me today and said, ‘I’m not sure how to play horses or even call out bets and I’ve already done it wrong a couple of times so can you help me with this?’ ” Kornegay said. “We actually had a pretty good horse-betting crowd and we were actually understaffed for it, so we’ll have to make some adjustments to accommodate for some new horse racing fans until the other sports return.”
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