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Chris Sieroty

Vegas hoping for economic touchdown from Super Bowl

4 February 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- For Chuck Esposito, host of the race and sports book at The Venetian and the Palazzo, Super Bowl Sunday is by far the busiest day of the year as hundreds of football fans take over the sports book to wager and watch the big game.

"We'll even have guests camping out early in the morning to get a prime seat in front of our big-screen televisions in the sports book," Esposito said. "The crowd, buzz and atmosphere in the book will be contagious, and you'll be able to hear the excitement throughout the casino."

With the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers in the big game on Sunday "it's a monster matchup for our industry," he said.

How important has this game become to an industry still recovering from a recession?

"It's an important event for our sports books, but it's also an important event to the property," said Jason McCormick, director of race and sports book at Red Rock Resort and 15 other Station Casinos Inc. sports books. "The Super Bowl has become a full property event with guests playing slots and table games. Everyone looks at Super Bowl Sunday to drive visitors to our properties."

If predictions are correct, this Sunday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will have a nongaming economic impact of $85.6 million locally, while sports books estimate a handle of $88 million to $90 million.

"It's a reflection that the broader economy is improving," said Kevin Bagger, senior director of marketing with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "Las Vegas has long been a draw for people coming to watch the Super Bowl."

Bagger expects visitor numbers to reach 275,000, up 3 percent from the 267,000 tourists last year. Hotel occupancy is expected to reach 84 percent of the 149,177 rooms available citywide, the authority estimated.

"We will have an extremely strong Super Bowl weekend, just like we always do," said George Maloof Jr., owner of the Palms.

He declined to discuss whether the Palms was sold out or what he expects the economic impact on his hotel will be.

A check of room rates late Thursday on the Palms website shows the hotel has rooms available from $750 a night for a "salon suite" to $109 for a "deluxe double."

At the Strip's newest hotel, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a room will cost a Steelers or Packers fan checking in on Friday and leaving Monday from $840 to $930. The most expensive room for the weekend is $1,650 for a suite with a wraparound terrace overlooking the Strip.

"We are optimistic that business will be on the same levels with or even higher than last year," said David Strow, a spokesman with Boyd Gaming Corp. "Obviously, it's the matchup this year that is helping to drive business."

Strow expected a "sell out" at his company's four major Las Vegas hotels: Gold Coast, The Orleans, Sam's Town and Suncoast.

"It was a sellout last year, and we are anticipating it's going to be that way again this year," said Strow, adding guest numbers have been helped by marketing Super Bowl weekend packages in Las Vegas at its properties in Louisiana, Illinois and Mississippi.

Prices for a three-night stay at the Gold Coast ranged from $219.05 to $251.55, according to listings on Boyd's website.

Gary Selesner, regional president of Caesars Palace and the Rio, said the Rio and its 2,500 rooms were sold out for Super Bowl weekend with some 2,000 rooms at Caesars Palace.

"What makes this (weekend) so successful is that we have the Super Bowl and Chinese New Year at the same time," Selesner said. "We are celebrating both, plus the final two Cher shows. We are packed."

McCarran International Airport expects a little more than 460,000 travelers from today through Monday. The figure of about 115,000 per day was up from last year's daily count of 109,000 inbound and outbound travelers, according to airport statistics.

For sports books in Las Vegas, the past two Super Bowls have been disappointing in terms of the amount wagered on the game. Last year, $82.7 million was wagered as the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17. In 2009, at total of $81.5 million was bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh won the game 27-23.

"I am very confident we can reach last year's figure this year," said Jay Kornegay, vice president of sports and race book operations at the Las Vegas Hilton. "It's still not what it was in 2006, but despite the very challenging economic conditions, we'll surpass last year's handle."

In 2006, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10 in Super Bowl XL , which generated a record handle of $94.5 million in Las Vegas.

"We won't break the record," he said. "It should be a terrific turnout for the city of Las Vegas."

Lee Amaitis, president and chief executive officer of Cantor Gaming, expected the matchup between the Steelers and Packers to drive the handle on the Super Bowl.

"From Cantor's perspective, we'll have two new properties ready to go," he said. "The new sports books at the Tropicana and Hard Rock Hotel are open."

Amaitis was confident the Super Bowl could go higher than the $94.5 million wager total in 2006. He said the reasons were the matchup and because "we don't turn down any bets" on the game.

When asked whether the handle for Sunday's game could top $100 million, Dan Shapiro, director of marketing for Lucky's Race and Sports Book, said, "It's definitely possible with this matchup."

He expected a good turnout at the company's 16 locations on Sunday.

"They are two good teams with loyal followings. It's the best matchup we could have hoped for," Shapiro said.
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