With tickets to Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla. in short supply, many football fans flock to Las Vegas for the biggest Super Bowl viewing parties on the planet and to wager a little money, too.
By Stephen Dorman/Special to The Malibu Times
LAS VEGAS-Carrie Kelley and her family arrived at the Caesars Palace Race & Sports Book at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, approximately nine hours before the scheduled kickoff time for Super Bowl XXXIX between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.
Had the Kelleys arrived two hours later, instead of having access to a table directly in front of six large projector screens, they would have likely been left without seats for the world’s most famous football game.
“We’ve been doing two and three hour shifts holding the table,” said Kelley, a Boston native who speaks with a New England accent thicker than clam chowder. “We met a bunch of family members out here for a reunion and planned it around the Super Bowl because we thought the Pats would make it.”
Las Vegas has always been a popular destination when it comes to Super Sunday. For decades, casinos hosted huge viewing parties that often included cheerleaders, former NFL players, and all the food and drink fans could stomach.
But before last year’s game, the NFL issued cease-and-desist letters to several Las Vegas casinos that planned to host Super Bowl extravaganzas, claiming parties that charged admissions and showed the game on multiple television screens violated the league’s copyright laws.
Not wanting to alienate the image-conscious league, casinos decided to scale back their Super Bowl bashes, limiting viewing of the game exclusively to sports books and television monitors throughout the hotels’ bars and restaurants.
The end result was fewer options for fans and increased crowding inside sports books during the game. However, Las Vegas continues to reap financial rewards despite the NFL’s actions. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, approximately 250,000 visitors were in town for Super Bowl weekend, with hotels operating at more than 90 percent capacity.
“It’s still great here,” said Scott Gerger, director of sports and promotions for MGM Mirage. “All of the fans gather around the [televisions] at the race and sports books watching the game…and of course they can bet on any of the proposition bets or just the game itself. It’s just a great experience.”
While office pools can add excitement to the Super Bowl, it’s the proposition wagers (bets placed on certain aspects of the game) that set Las Vegas apart from other “illegal” gambling options available.
Caesars Palace, where patrons waited in lines in excess of 30 minutes to place bets, offered hundreds of propositions. For example: team to win coin toss, team to score first, jersey number of player to score the first touchdown.
“I’m betting the Eagles will win the game, they’re just the stronger team,” said a woman in line who only identified herself as Trish from Chicago. “The rest of the bets are so wide open. They’re not confusing really, just hard to pick.”
Philadelphia entered the game as seven-point underdogs to the defending champion Patriots. Tension levels rose and cigar smoke emerged thick as smog during the singing of the National Anthem, as Eagle fans, Patriot fans and those looking to get rich quick awaited the coin toss.
When the Eagles scored first on a Donovan McNabb touchdown pass to L.J. Smith, the sports book erupted in a cocktail of applause and boos.
“I bet Smith would score the first touchdown at 12-to-1 odds,” said Justin Bell of Philadelphia, who flew in to watch the game with his dad. “That made me like $300.”
By halftime, New England had tied the score at 7-7 and this Super Bowl, although plagued by somewhat sluggish play by both offenses, had all the makings of becoming a classic.
As drinks flowed during Paul McCartney’s halftime performance, the crowd, now lined up wall-to-wall and down the aisle floors, remained festive and in control despite the tight quarters.
Those in the audience hoping to see and hear the commercials, which cost advertisers $2.4 million per 30 seconds of airtime, were somewhat disappointed, as low volume levels and loud trash-talk relegated the pricey ads to muffled background noise. However, a boisterous round of applause did break out during a commercial saluting soldiers returning from the Middle East.
Once the game resumed, the teams traded third-quarter touchdowns before the Patriots tacked on 10 unanswered points at the start of the fourth quarter for a 24-14 lead. Philadelphia fought back and pulled to within three points at 24-21 with 1:38 left in the game. But when Patriots safety Rodney Harrison intercepted McNabb with less than 20 seconds remaining in the contest, Caesars’ foundation nearly crumbled again.
“It was destiny, man,” said Patriots’ fan and Denver resident Elijah Jenkins. “I couldn’t get tickets to the game so I decided to come to Vegas and have a good time. And what a great party is was.”
Immediately after the final whistle blew, New England was listed as 4-1 favorites to win Super Bowl XL.