As sports betting becomes increasingly legal across the U.S.—with three dozen states and Washington, D.C., all having taken the plunge—the pastime is arguably more popular than it’s ever been before.
Nevertheless, Las Vegas bookmakers say the Entertainment Capital of the World remains the undisputed destination for sports bettors. Even as sports betting expands within new markets, the venues and facilities in those places just don’t compare to Las Vegas, said Jay Kornegay, executive vice president at the Westgate’s SuperBook.
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“In Las Vegas, you have the 360-degree experience,” he said. “You have top restaurants, top chefs, top shows—entertainment across the board. So you could come in for the game and enjoy so many other things all within a 10-block radius. And that’s something that I don’t think will ever be replicated.”
Though many Las Vegans might worry that other markets will take business away from the city’s sportsbooks, Kornegay said that hasn’t been the case. In fact, he said, the widespread legalization of sports betting only seems to be expanding Las Vegas’ reach.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guests that have come in from newly legalized states, and they said as soon as they started betting, one of their goals was to come to Las Vegas and enjoy a weekend here,” Kornegay said.
Jimmy Vaccaro, a longtime Las Vegas bookmaker and sports marketing director at South Point, said that—even with a majority of states having legalized sports betting—it hasn’t hurt Las Vegas’ revenue from the industry.
Since the growth of sports betting elsewhere, he said, Las Vegas has actually had to make more space for new sports bettors.
“It just built a whole new culture,” Vaccaro said of the growth of the public’s interest in sports betting.
It’s undeniable that Americans love sports, and they love betting on those sports—especially football, Kornegay said. Sports betting has grown so popular that it’s now a $20 billion business, he said, with estimates showing that number reaching $200 billion in the future.
Sports betting is an exciting way for people to get invested in even the most boring of matchups, so they spend a whole game cheering or lamenting at the TV, he said, emphasizing that sports betting is a great form of entertainment as long as it’s just that, and not a way of paying the bills.
“The camaraderie aspect is tremendous as well,” Kornegay said. “Going and having a good time with your friends while watching the game is always one of the main reasons why they show up here in Las Vegas.”
Vaccaro echoed Kornegay’s sentiment, noting that Las Vegas is still the forerunner when it comes to entertainment, and can offer a long weekend of events and activities unlike any other market.
“I’m not saying the other places, the other states, wouldn’t do that,” Vaccaro said. “But they’re all catching up. We’ve been doing this.”
Sports betting’s popularity is certainly a sharp contrast from just a few years ago, when Kornegay said sports betting—and even being a bookmaker like himself—was still relatively taboo.
For a long time, he said, there was a “dark cloud” over Las Vegas because of its openness to sports betting, which prevented the city from becoming home to major pro sports teams or even being permitted to advertise during the Super Bowl.
“But now, with it expanding to other states and other jurisdictions, it feels like that dark cloud has certainly lightened up,” Kornegay said. “And I think it’s making Vegas more attractable, especially when they have major league teams coming here.”
The growth of sports betting has ultimately benefited Las Vegas, Kornegay said, not hurt it. One industry development that could make a notable dent in the number of sports bettors traveling to Las Vegas? The legalization of sports betting in California, though that remains in flux.
Even if California did legalize sports betting, however, Kornegay said he doesn’t believe San Francisco, San Diego or any of the state’s other major cities would be able to emulate Las Vegas.
“There’s still going to be that attraction,” he said. “I think it’s also going to introduce sports gaming to new players that have never even thought about coming to Las Vegas, but once they experience it—enjoy it—eventually will make a trip to … Las Vegas.”
This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.