Each May, Mark DeRosa typically makes a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to lock in favorable odds for a bevy of futures tickets months before the NFL season kicks off.
But for sportsbooks in Las Vegas, along with the casino industry altogether, hardly anything over the first half of 2020 could be characterized as typical.
When DeRosa, a 37-year-old sports bettor from Florida, received word that a handful of top books on the Strip were opening their windows for the first time in weeks, he booked the first flight he could find to Sin City. Within a span of 48 hours, DeRosa visited at least seven books, including Circa Sports at Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, where he collected a $63,000 payout on a 2019 NFL MVP wager (see photo above).
During his excursion through the sportsbooks, one commonality stood out: an unwavering commitment to customer safety, with concerns related to COVID-19 at the forefront.
“I didn’t see a single casino employee without a mask on,” DeRosa told US Bets.
Christmas in June
For many sports betting enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels, the 78-day casino shutdown in Nevada represented their longest period without entering a sportsbook in years. Not only did Las Vegas sportsbooks have to deal with the first extended closure of retail casinos in more than five decades, the books faced the unenviable task of promoting niche sports with a limited following. Since Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 in March, the majority of top global professional sports have been on hiatus, including Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, the English Premier League, and all NCAA athletics.
Last week, more than three dozen Las Vegas-area sportsbooks resumed retail operations within hours after an order from the Nevada Gaming Control Board permitted statewide casinos to reopen their doors on June 4. Some casinos even orchestrated a New Year’s Eve-style countdown for guests as their doors shot open at 12:01 a.m.
At Sunset Station in Henderson, Nev., Sportsbook Director Chuck Esposito guided traffic inside the sportsbook on the first day of business.
“I had a lot of guests that were texting and emailing and calling me in the days leading up to June 4,” Esposito told US Bets. “They all said, ‘This is like Christmas for us, we’re counting down the days to Christmas Eve.'”
Prominent Las Vegas-area sportsbooks that reopened on June 4:
- MGM Resorts: MGM Grand, Bellagio, New York-New York
- William Hill US: The Stratosphere, Oyo Hotel, The Plaza, The M Resort
- Station Casinos: Red Rock Casino, Green Valley Ranch, Sunset Station, Palace Station
- Boyd Gaming: The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Aliante, Sam’s Town
- CG Technology: The Venetian, Silverton Casino
- Wynn Sports
- The South Point
Caesars Entertainment is set to reopen its expansive sportsbook at Caesars Palace on Friday. Caesars Entertainment, like many other top books, will offer a wide menu of sporting events on its mobile app.
Last weekend, betting activity at MGM’s retail properties outpaced the BetMGM app in Nevada by a 3:1 ratio, said Jeff Stoneback, BetMGM‘s director of race and sports in Nevada.
Upon last week’s reopening, an overwhelming trend prevailed. While many sports bettors continued to place sports wagers on their mobile apps, horseplayers around town returned to racebooks in droves. Seasoned horseplayers packed into the books for last Saturday’s Grade I Santa Anita Derby, a top Kentucky Derby prep, but also filled the seats for minor claiming races earlier in the week.
Among locals, horseplayers are a close-knit group comprised mostly of retirees known for playing the ponies as a hobby.
“I think our guests were so excited to see familiar faces. It was like Cheers, everyone kind of knows your name,” Esposito said. “We’ve built these relationships, everyone was so happy to be in there, it was actually fun to be a part of it because they’ve become such a big part of our lives.”
Last Thursday, alone, Boyd Gaming opened seven racebooks across the Las Vegas Valley. At two properties, The Orleans Hotel & Casino and the Suncoast Hotel and Casino, the race handle on June 4 nearly matched the handle on the same date in 2019, according to Bob Scucci, director of race and sportbooks at Boyd Gaming.
A similar dynamic played out at the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa, where racebook foot traffic at certain times of the day exceeded the traffic inside the sportsbook. On the Strip, lines at race windows inside The Bellagio last weekend swelled to six or seven deep, Stoneback said.
DeRosa, an ardent Buccaneers fan, visited Las Vegas to cash a $500 wager at Circa Sports on Lamar Jackson to win the 2019 NFL MVP (odds of 125/1). In total, DeRosa pocketed about $300,000 on the Jackson prop — he owned three other tickets ranging from 66/1 to 100/1. Besides the Circa book at the Golden Gate, DeRosa visited sportsbooks at the South Point, Bellagio, Wynn, Venetian, and El Cortez during his trip.
Ticket writers at each of the properties all wore masks and gloves, DeRosa observed. While some places had plexiglass windows installed at the counters, others did not, he said. For the most part, every sportsbook had stickers on the floor encouraging bettors to remain six feet apart while waiting to place a wager.
“I can’t imagine what they are going to do come September, the lines will be out the door into the parking lots,” said DeRosa, who is known as @edteach23 on Twitter.
One thing I learned on this last trip to Vegas and having my temperature taken a minimum 5 times a day going into casinos- I am cold blooded. Temperature was as low as 97.2 and never above 98. Ice in the veins as they say.
— Ed Teach (@edteach23) June 8, 2020
Return to normalcy
If the NBA and NHL move ahead with plans to hold their respective postseasons in the summer, three sportsbook executives interviewed by US Bets expect the handle for the playoffs to increase exponentially from normal betting periods.
In September alone, sportsbooks could offer action on the NFL, NCAA football, MLB, the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Kentucky Derby. Historically, the latter three events occur in the spring.
“It’s going to be an interesting September,” Stoneback said.
Image courtesy of Circa Sports