Vegas set for an NFL rally

July, 15, 2011

Sunrise in Las Vegas has a way of whitewashing all the damage that was done the night before. That is worth remembering if, as expected, the NFL lockout ends next week.

For many months the conversation that has been bubbling just beneath the surface of, "Will there be a season?" is, "What would happen to Vegas?" Last year, of the more than $2 billion in sports betting handle accrued by the state, more than 40 percent was football-related wagering. The Gaming Commission doesn't differentiate between pro football and college. But I'd put the over/under on NFL wagering at 25 percent. Not many businesses can thrive if a $500 million chunk of its gross revenue suddenly disappeared.

The good news is, thanks to the wisdom of the players and the owners, we may not have to answer this ugly question. But that doesn't mean, when the sun rises next week and all is right with the world and we can look forward to a full slate of games to waste our money on (preseason betting is the best value on the board!), bookmakers won't have suffered some damage.


You can't put up under 8.5 wins on a 10-game schedule.

" -- Bob Scucci, The Orleans

It's a testament to how powerful and popular the NFL is as a betting vehicle that, almost as soon as the lockout began, bookmakers' coffers were getting a bit lighter. In many places, the Week 1 lines, which often go up as soon as the schedule is made and draw a lot of interest, have yet to be posted. And in places where they are up, action is slower, as a lot of bettors don't feel comfortable betting until they know how the player movement dust has settled. (This isn't entirely the case. Column regular Fezzik has strong opinions about the opportunities in betting Week 1 lines, which I detailed here during the spring.)

Future odds, another huge play for fans, have made only sporadic appearances around the state. Some books, like The Orleans, posted futures and then took them down. Others, like the Hilton, are offering them with heavy contingencies based on the length of a season or any season happening at all. "And we haven't written as many tickets as years past," said Ed Salmons, bookmaker at the Hilton. "The lockout has removed the NFL from bettors' thinking."

Finally, there is the lack of season win total options. "How can we put those up without knowing how many games there will be?" asks Bob Scucci, the boss at The Orleans and several other Boyd Gaming properties throughout the state. "You can't put up under 8.5 wins on a 10-game schedule."

The past few days I have spoken with more than a half dozen bookmakers -- at shops big and small -- to get a sense of what the lockout has already cost in terms of handle. And it's significant. One of them estimated that it's already reduced his intake by $1 million. Another estimated that his handle was down by double that. Think about it: That is just at two books. Multiply that by just the sports books in Las Vegas and the conservative estimate is in the tens of millions. Before the season has even started!

There's one more factor to consider: When wiseguys walk into a book to bet on season-win totals or when fans take a stroll to the counter to put money on their favorite team to win the Super Bowl, they usually drop a nickel or two on whatever else is happening on the board that night. Could be NBA playoffs or MLB regular season or Stanley Cup. With no NFL, there is no trickle down. "Losing that incidental foot traffic really hurts," one bookmaker told me.

Now for the good news. As soon as the lockout ends, the books will be ready to whitewash the past. At The Orleans, they'll just press a button and Super Bowl future odds will light up the big board again. Two days later, Scucci and his gang will have season win totals posted, too. "We've been thinking about them and are ready to go," he says. "We'd just need a couple of days to make minor adjustments."

At the Hilton, home of my favorite season-long handicapping tourney (which will go off as long as there is a season), they'll need about a week to get up the season win totals. "There are five or 10 players we need to make sure of their teams, like Kevin Kolb, before we are ready to offer numbers," says Salmons.

And when they do it will have everyone whistling, "Here comes the sun."



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