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Column: Las Vegas is open again, but it’s a different experience for sports bettors

People make bets in the sportsbook at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa in Las Vegas in 2018.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

As I tried to check in to my hotel Thursday morning, I heard a sentence I had never heard uttered in Las Vegas.

“We don’t open until 10 a.m.”

It was an unusual line during a strange time as most of the hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas Strip opened their doors for the first time since Nevada ordered a statewide shutdown of all gambling operations on March 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the last somewhat normal night of 2020, I was preparing to travel to Las Vegas to cover the Pac-12 Conference basketball tournament before sports around the world were shut down after the NBA suspended the season March 11 when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

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While we’re a long way from anything resembling the normal we knew before, Thursday represented perhaps the biggest first step toward some semblance of normalcy.

As the doors of hotels and casinos opened along the Las Vegas Strip, NBA owners approved a format to restart the 2019-20 season.

After 85 days of uncertainty, Las Vegas and the NBA were back.

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Almost.

Much like everything else during this pandemic, nothing will come back in the immediate future exactly as you remember it. Las Vegas and the NBA you knew and loved before March 11 will be a new experience this summer.

It doesn’t necessarily make it bad. It makes it different, and different after spending the last 85 days at home isn’t the worst thing in the world.

When the doors at the Bellagio opened, the first guests were greeted by loud applause from staff members and executives as they got their temperatures checked. There were hand-washing stations and kiosks with complimentary masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. There were plexiglass dividers between chairs at the gambling tables and every two seats at the bar, and everyone from dealers to bartenders wore masks.

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The one place that seemed more normal than others was the sportsbook. It wasn’t hard to social distance there because there weren’t many people sitting down to watch horse races, sports shows or replayed games, but for the first time in nearly three months the televisions were back on, the odds were updated and there was a timeline for the return of sports.

The NBA announced it was aiming to return July 31, the PGA Tour tees off again June 11, England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga soccer matches are set to come back this month. The NHL and MLS could come back in July. If the MLB gets its act together and the NFL starts on time, August, September and October are shaping up to be the busiest three months in sports history.

“It feels like everything is coming back and August is going to be an extremely busy month for us when it traditionally hasn’t been,” said Jeff Sherman, the vice president of risk management at the WestGate Las Vegas SuperBook. “In the past, August has just been baseball and preseason football and now we could be looking at NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs and international soccer, in addition to everything else.”

The odds that got the most attention Thursday at Las Vegas sportsbooks were the updated NBA lines . They haven’t changed much since the season was suspended in March. The Lakers are still the favorites followed by the Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, but the Lakers’ odds took a slight hit as they will be playing all their games at a neutral site in Orlando.

“We had the Lakers at 2-1 before and I bumped them up to 5-2 because there’s no home court,” Sherman said. “The Bucks and the Clippers are still 3-1. The home court weighed into that. We felt 2-1 was too short for the Lakers without any fans and their great home court. For the Lakers, their home court is worth about two points per game but the Lakers also had an exceptional road record this season, which still makes them favorites.”

Not only did hotels and casinos open in Las Vegas but the city once again became the capital of combat sports. UFC 250 will take place Saturday at the company’s training facility, headlined by UFC women’s featherweight champion Amanda Nunes taking on Felicia Spencer in a pay-per-view broadcast. Next week, Top Rank Boxing will hold two cards at the MGM Grand beginning June 9 with an ESPN show headlined by World Boxing Organization featherweight champion Shakur Stevenson taking on Felix Caraballo. In between the fights, the Professional Bull Riders will be holding a Team Challenge on CBS at the South Point.

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There will be no spectators at the events but fans will be able to watch and wager on them in Las Vegas. It’s not exactly like it used to be but it’s another small step in our long walk back to normalcy.


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