Friday, Feb. 2, 2024 | 2 a.m.
While the Kansas City Chiefs enter Super Bowl 58 as a slight underdog to win back-to-back championships, Nevada sportsbooks look like big favorites to bank their second title in three years.
Statewide betting handle failed to set a record in last year’s NFL championship game where the Chiefs edged the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 as 1.5-point underdogs, with the Nevada Gaming Control board reporting $153.1 million in wagers. That marked a 15% decrease from the record $179.8 million risked on Super Bowl 56 where the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 as 3.5-point favorites.
The overwhelming consensus from those in the local sports-betting industry is that the “Big Game,” being held Feb. 11 at Allegiant Stadium, will contribute to an all-time high.
“We’re going to have tens of thousands of visitors in for the weekend and it’s a great way to blend what is the biggest entertainment show on Earth each year, and that’s the Super Bowl, with the entertainment of Las Vegas,” said Ken Fuchs, head of sports and chief operating officer of Caesars Sportsbook. “With all the excitement and everything going on, we think we will break records for Nevada handle of the event.”
Like many of its peers, Caesars, the state’s largest sports betting operator, has gone to great lengths to make sure it attracts more action than ever before for the first-ever Super Bowl in Las Vegas. With most bets in the state now being placed via smartphone, Caesars launched a pair of new apps within the last year — the company also owns the William Hill U.S. brand — that give bettors as many options as are available in other newly legalized sports-gambling states across the company.
That’s something Nevada sorely lacked until recently, and now, it’s not only Caesars/William Hill offering ever-popular wrinkles like same-game parlays, bulky live-betting menus and expansive player-prop offerings on any and every game. BetMGM also launched its enhanced app on Jan. 23 — and the timing right before the Super Bowl was not a coincidence.
“The amount of selections and offerings guests now have on the BetMGM app are overwhelming and unbelievable,” said Lamarr Mitchell, BetMGM’s director of trading. “It was an arduous, very challenging process, but I think putting our collective heads together and ideas together, we were able to make sure it happened right before the biggest event we’re ever going to host in the city’s lifetime in my opinion.”
For the first time, Caesars and BetMGM are now merged with their respective rest-of-country apps so visitors can simply switch their state to Nevada upon arriving to start betting. Caesars, the lone Nevada operator that’s an official partner of the NFL, will even stream the Super Bowl through the app so bettors can simultaneously wager and watch the game in the same place.
The NFL is keenly aware and proud of the betting holiday ahead — a marked change from as recently as eight years ago when Las Vegas was blacklisted out of gambling concerns.
Part of the responsibilities of David Highhill, the NFL’s first-ever general manager of sports betting, is monitoring public sentiment on gambling. He says it’s never been more positive.
The NFL has seen the percentage of fans interested in wagering on games increase every year since 2019, per Highhill. The same data also reveals that the number of fans who say they “actively dislike” sports betting has declined every year.
But some protections are still in place for the shrinking minority. Highhill said it was the NFL’s policy to have roughly no more than one sports-betting commercial per quarter during broadcasts and 5% of all in-game advertisements seasonlong.
The Super Bowl will feature fewer than that with Highhill reporting only two planned advertisements throughout the game and one before kickoff.
“I think there’s times where we’re held accountable for ads that are not running in our games or that are running on other sports programming or sports radio throughout the week,” Highhill said. “Unfortunately, we can’t control all ads everywhere. But I think we’ve taken a very measured and conservative approach there to try to serve our fans, and we’ll continue to evaluate the right way.”
None of the NFL personnel descending upon Las Vegas will be contributing to the sports-betting boon — or even the economic impact via gaming. Fans won’t be able to put it all on red playing roulette next to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the high-limit area or try to bluff 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy out of a cash-game pot in a poker room.
Everyone from the players to league executives remain strictly prohibited from gambling in any form during Super Bowl week. The Chiefs and 49ers are staying 20 miles east of the Strip at Lake Las Vegas.
Many interpreted the hotel assignments as a way to keep the teams away from the highest-concentrated gambling areas, but NFL Executive Vice President of Communications, Public Policy and Affairs Jeff Miller said they were no different than any other Super Bowl. Teams typically stay on the outskirts of host cities to avoid distractions, and Las Vegas required no extra work in that department.
“Las Vegas is a symbol because it’s had sports gambling for quite some time, but it’s also a very sophisticated city, a mature city as it relates to engagement with the NFL and other sports,” Miller said. “At this point, it makes us very comfortable playing the game there.”
The local Super Bowl week should see an increase in sports betting, but it’s up for debate just how much. Occupancy rates are already annually almost at 100% for Super Bowl weekend when the game is not contested here.
This year should lower the number of pure sports-betting tourists, as they could be priced out by the hike in room rates for the game. But the loss of their volume should be made up by the increase in high rollers wagering large dollar amounts.
Not everyone is convinced a record handle is imminent. Legal Sports Report projects Nevada falling just short, calling for $170 million wagered in the state for the most in any American jurisdiction out of a predicted $1.29 billion in total legal wagers placed.
The American Gaming Association is expected to put out its annual projections next week, but it estimated a total of $16 billion bet including illegal gambling last year.
The spread of regulated betting has not diminished the still-prominent role of offshore sports books and local bookies.
Those illicit operators are dealing with the same key factor as Nevada sportsbooks that could potentially prevent the record from being completely crushed — the virtual mirroring of the point-spread and moneyline markets this year.
The 49ers are currently as low as -125 (i.e. risking $125 to win $100) to win the game outright with the Chiefs coming back as low as +105 (i.e. risking $100 to win $105). That’s not all that different from laying -110 on the 49ers -2 or the Chiefs +2 on the point spread.
Historically, the highest-bet Super Bowls are ones that offer a bigger payout on the underdog winning outright like when the Bengals were +175 against the Rams two years ago.
“We’ll see what happens (this year),” Fuchs said. “So many people bet the game in different ways now. Certainly being able to take the underdog at a big price or ride the favorite where there’s a deal can drive handle but with Mahomes, (49ers running back Christian) McCaffrey and really good matchups on both sides with players, I think you’re going to see more investment from customers on player props than ever before. I just think the robustness of the betting menu will really drive the handle.”
The 49ers’ inclusion in the game is no small factor for Nevada’s outlook either, especially not as it pertains to Caesars. With many of its 190 sports books located in Northern Nevada, Caesars routinely attracts 49ers-partisan money in big games.
Nevada set a record handle last decade when the 49ers reached the Super Bowl. San Francisco’s loss to Baltimore in 2013 as 4.5-point favorites drew $98.9 million in bets, breaking a previous high that stood for seven years.
It’s a new age now though. Sports betting wasn’t nearly as widespread or popular back then, and Las Vegas was still a couple years away from being seriously considered as an NFL city.
The first Super Bowl here was always set up to be monumental, and it will have the betting action to match.
“What’s funny is when it’s been in Arizona, you would think that, ‘Hey, it’s close to Las Vegas,’ but that didn’t really seem to drive it,'” Mitchell said. “We would have a lot of casino VIPs come here, make a wager and fly to the game, but now they’re going to stay here. That’s going to drive the handle up.”