Will Las Vegas ever host a Super Bowl?
Sportsbooks would’ve made that proposition a big long shot back in the day.
“Hell no. Are you kidding me? I would’ve had a baby before there’d be a Super Bowl here,” said Vic Salerno, 79, a sports betting pioneer who took over Leroy’s standalone sportsbook in downtown Las Vegas in 1978 and sold his company to William Hill for $18 million in 2011.
“I’m just dumbfounded with what’s happening to this town. All we really had back then was the Rebels. I never even imagined that we would have an NHL team, an NFL team, an MLB team, and I’m sure we’re getting an NBA team. … It’s amazing having the Super Bowl.”
In conversations with 14 longtime Las Vegas bookmakers, none of them thought they’d see the day when the NFL would showcase one of the world’s biggest sporting events in the world’s gambling capital.
“No, I didn’t think that because who in the hell would if you had a brain in your head, because that’s insane,” said South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, who moved to Las Vegas in 1975. “When I got here, there were no teams and no league aspirations to come to Las Vegas to play because of the gambling thing.
“I’m 78 years old and glad to still be around this racket. And I’m really glad I can say I’m sitting in my office at the South Point 3 miles away from the Super Bowl. That’s incredible.”
Former Stardust sportsbook director Scotty Schettler, who moved to Las Vegas in 1968, still can’t get over the fact that NFL teams now have partnerships with sportsbooks and that there are books inside NFL stadiums.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the NFL would be party to that. It’s still hard to get my head wrapped around it,” said Schettler, 81. “I was back in Pittsburgh and they were advertising BetMGM as the Steelers’ favorite sportsbook. It’s nutty. If you would’ve put a sign up like that in Las Vegas, you would’ve had the SWAT team there to arrest you.”
Former Station Casinos sportsbook vice president Art Manteris, who moved to Las Vegas in 1978, said, “The position of the NFL and the leagues in general was so anti-gaming and anti-Las Vegas for so many years. I had always hoped for a gradual embrace of gaming. But in my wildest imagination, I did not see these types of changes this dramatic and this fast.”
In 2003, the NFL rejected a Super Bowl commercial from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority featuring the iconic slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.”
“It wasn’t advertising sports betting. It was ‘What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas,’ and they rejected that commercial because they didn’t want to be associated with Las Vegas,” said IGT president of sports betting Joe Asher, former William Hill CEO. “To go from, ‘You can’t advertise in the Super Bowl’ to, appropriately, 21 years later, and the game is being played in a stadium that is right behind Mandalay Bay, it’s just amazing.”
Two landmark events in back-to-back years paved the way for the Super Bowl to come to Las Vegas.
In March 2017, the NFL reversed its stance on the city when league owners approved the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas.
In May 2018, the NFL reversed its stance on gambling when the Supreme Court struck down a federal law prohibiting sports betting. Gambling on sports is now legal in 38 states.
“I never thought I’d see sports betting outside of Nevada,” said DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello, who moved to Las Vegas in 1979. “A Super Bowl in Nevada would’ve never happened without sports betting outside of Nevada.”
Business as usual
Though hosting the Super Bowl is a watershed moment for Las Vegas, it will be business as usual at sportsbooks.
For years, they have already offered thousands of ways to wager on the game with prop bets, such as whether San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey will score a touchdown or if the game will go to overtime.
“We’ve kind of plateaued as far as the props go,” said South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews, who moved to Las Vegas in 1979. “I’m glad we’re in the rotation for the Super Bowl. But the fact of the matter is we really didn’t need it.
“Whether it was here or they could’ve played it on Mars, it was always going to be a monster event.”
Avello echoed his sentiment:
“I always said, ‘If you can’t make it to Las Vegas to see the Super Bowl, you might consider going to the game.’”