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Kevin Smith

XFL Bets are on at Vegas and Online Sportsbooks

2 February 2001

"Hitmen" and "Outlaws" may have a long and storied past in Las Vegas, but a new band of renegades has sportsbooks up and down the Strip talking.

Not since the ill-fated USFL (United States Football League) took the field in 1983 has a professional sports league been met with as much pre-launch hype and publicity as the XFL, the new extreme football league that is the brainchild of current World Wrestling Federation headman Vince McMahon.

The USFL was able to land big-name players in its short history; the league had three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners sign with the league out of college. But, even with the star power of Hershel Walker, Jim Kelley, Doug Flutie and a host of other players who were household names to football fans, the league only lasted three seasons.

Out of the gate the XFL certainly doesn’t have the star power on the field that the USFL did, but moves the league has made off the field, a national TV deal with NBC (which also has a stake in the league) and the marketing savvy department of the WWF Entertainment, Inc. have a few people giving the league half a chance to survive.

If inking deals for NBC to televise two games every Saturday night for the duration of the season wasn’t enough, Las Vegas sportsbooks recently gave the league its initial vote of approval by allowing gamblers to place bets on the XFL schedule.

So, when the Las Vegas Outlaws square off against the New Jersey Hitmen in the league opener this weekend, once again those fabled characters will be back on the Strip, just in a much different way.

Representatives from both the league and sportsbooks admit that the XFL has more to gain than Vegas does by offering the lines.

The point spreads give the games a certain amount of legitimacy in the public’s eye. Considering WWF matches are scripted, it initially wasn’t known if the football games would be fixed as well.

Online sportsbook operators have followed suite, offering spreads on the opening weekend of games, but some say the action has been slow and may not pick up until the season gets rolling.

"We’re geared up for the XFL," said David Grouse, communications director for "We have lines up on two of our sportsbook sites. We're a customer-driven company, and so as long as our customers show us that they want to bet XFL, we’ll be happy to run, and possibly expand the service as the season progresses."

The Vegas books are even taking some precautionary measures to make sure they don’t get burned on the opening weekend. Depending on the book, bettors can lay down only $500-$1,000 on the four games that get the season started this weekend.

And say what you will about the WWF and all its sex and violence, but no one ever said McMahon was stupid.

Realizing how important a role Vegas could play in the success or failure of his league, McMahon recently had scrimmages for the team closed to the public. Although no reporters or fans were allowed in, those who had a vested interest in the league got a glimpse of the action, as did Vegas Sportsbook operators. Putting bookies on the same level as financiers and sponsors of the league is a dark contrast from the NFL, which frowns upon the betting industry.

Most sportsbooks, both online and traditional, admit that the league has created very little activity in terms of wagers, but many feel as the season progresses and as fans get more attached to teams, the action will pick up. The deal with NBC will no doubt help that situation.

"We have only put the games up recently therefore the amount of action has been limited but we have had a number of inquiries regarding the league," said Tony Gallenbeck the North American Sports Manager for International Allsports. "I anticipate the interest will increase closer to game time because of the primetime television coverage in the states."

The XFL is hoping to reach many of the same demographics to which the WWF appeals. Rules such as the elimination of fair catches and the absence of a roughing-the-passer penalty are thought to be designed to entice younger males who like to see a lot of hard hitting and scoring on the football field.

In addition to some of the rules, XFL players will be paid a bonus for every game they win. Base salaries are in the $40,000-$50,000 range. While the wage is certainly a decent amount, it is far below the over $300,000 minimum salary for NFL players. To make sure its players are not involved in any point shaving scandals, the league is doing its best to keep contact to a minimum between players and less-than shady characters. Each team has a traveling security representative with him who is charged with the sole purpose of watching out for the players in that regard.

Jeff Shapes, a spokesperson for the XFL said it best when asked about the idea of the games being fixed or players trying to make a buck from the betting world.

"We need Las Vegas a heck of a lot more than they need us," he said. "We are only going to account for a small amount of the business for the sportsbooks when compared to the NFL and college basketball and other games, but that amount of action could create enough excitement to increase our ratings and really give us some staying power."

In addition to the new rules, the XFL has stated it will not allow convicted felons to play in the league; the NFL certainly has its fair share of those. While the players themselves may not be criminals, McMahon and NBC are hoping a band of Hitmen, Outlaws, Enforcers, Maniax, and Demons will not only create a fervor at sportsbooks, but also give the XFL some staying power.

XFL Bets are on at Vegas and Online Sportsbooks is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith