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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta

Big Game Hunting

7 February 2005

Bob Ameral was so excited about watching the Super Bowl in a casino Sunday that he got to the tiny sports book at the Cannery 2 1/2 hours before kickoff to get the best seat.

"I've waited for this all year," said Ameral, who moved to Las Vegas with his wife, Judy, from the San Francisco Bay Area in September.

Even though they had no vested interest in the outcome -- Bob is an Oakland Raiders fan and Judy follows the San Francisco 49ers -- the idea of watching professional sports' biggest spectacle in the electric atmosphere of a sports book was something he wanted to do since the first snap of the National Football League season.

"I live for sports," Ameral said. "I played Little League, Youth League and Babe Ruth when I was growing up, so it's always been a part of me."

One table over, brothers Bob and Rick Novick were scanning the proposition bets, looking for a bargain.

Bob, of San Diego, and Rick, a recent transplant to North Las Vegas from El Paso, Texas, were trying to figure out whether to take the over or the under on the total number of punts in the game in ther first Super Bowl in Las Vegas. Rick liked the Patriots to cover; Bob sided with Philadelphia.

Would they watch the game at the sports book?

"No, we'll probably just go to my house," said Rick, an orthodontist at Vegas Valley Orthodontics. "In the sports book, you can't hear the commercials and during the Super Bowl, that's usually the best part. Hey, I don't see any place where I can bet on the best TV ad!"

The Amerals and the Novicks were a part of the massive Las Vegas casino crowd Sunday for Super Bowl XXIX, a more-exciting-than-expected 24-21 victory by the New England Patriots over the Philadelphia Eagles.

The casinos were likely to be big winners with the underdog Eagles covering the 7-point spread. Early today, Nevada regulators had not determined the handle and gaming win, a figure that is likely to be announced later this week.

Last year, the state's 152 sports books won a record $12.4 million and had a record handle of $81.2 million. Book operators hadn't expected such robust numbers in New England's 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers. With that win, the state's books have won 10 years in a row.

Bettors often go with the favorites and many who wagered Sunday were confident the Patriots would rout the Eagles.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority projected 287,000 people would be in the city for the Super Bowl, producing a nongaming economic impact of $101 million. If the projection were met, the totals would have eclipsed last year's 285,000 people and economic impact of $100.7 million.

Because there was a greater hotel room inventory this year compared with last year, LVCVA officials anticipated hotel occupancy at 95.3 percent this year, down from 95.8 percent in 2004.

Late Friday, LVCVA officials announced they had reached an agreement with the Fox network to run one of its "Vegas Stories" ads in some target markets in pre- and post-game slots.

The NFL has banned Las Vegas ads during its telecast because of its opposition to gambling. Ralenkotter said two "Vegas Stories" ads featuring the "What happens here, stays here," tagline were rejected because the city's resorts could be seen in the background of the ads. In the ad that was accepted by Fox, titled "Punch Drunk," there were no resorts or casinos on camera.

Terry Jicinsky, executive vice president of marketing for the LVCVA, said today he hasn't received much feedback yet on the ads, which depict a trainer questioning a boxer about how much he remembered about the previous night after getting knocked out in a fight. When the fighter can't remember what the trainer did in Las Vegas the night before, the trainer proclaims, "He's all right."

"We thought it was a good ad to use in conjunction with a sporting event," Jicinsky said of the ad, which was completed last week.

Jicinsky said the ad ran in the regional markets of Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. In some markets, the spot ran during the fourth quarter of the game, he said.

A television ad that may have caught the attention of local viewers showed Steve Wynn atop his new Wynn Las Vegas resort.

KVVU Channel 5 and Wynn Las Vegas officials could not be reached for comment on how widely that ad was distributed or whether they received any criticism from the NFL over it.

Jicinsky said LVCVA officials were aware the Wynn ad was going to run and he said he thought it did a good job of building expectation for the resort's opening in April.

While an NFL clampdown on advertised Super Bowl parties and restrictions on screen sizes permitted to show the game were expected to dampen some of the enthusiasm at resorts, representatives of several resorts said business was good because the game didn't turn into a runaway.

While some locals found their way to the sports books, others had their own home parties.

Mike Quinn has opened his northwest Las Vegas home to church friends for the Super Bowl for the last six years.

"We just look at it as a social gathering and everybody brings lots of great food," he said. "If you leave hungry, it isn't my fault."

Most of the friends he invites doesn't have a betting interest in the game or even care who's playing. But then, there was the 2000 game when the team he follows, the St. Louis Rams, beat the Tennessee Titans in a game that ended with the Titans falling a yard short of a tying touchdown as the final gun sounded in a 23-17 thriller.

"That was one time when I was really into the game and I really don't remember what happened at the party," he said.

This year's Super Bowl wagering frenzy is actually the first of three big February events for Nevada resorts, with the current week providing a trifecta of marquee activities.

The Chinese New Year begins Wednesday. Several resorts began preparing for 4702, the Year of the Rooster, even before the Super Bowl. Big resorts are anticipating the arrival of high rollers and other Chinese New Year celebrators all week.

And, by the end of the week, the city will begin filling up with couples planning to get married in Las Vegas for Valentine's Day as well as couples celebrating anniversaries of weddings on previous Valentine's Days.

While Mondays normally are slow for the city's wedding chapels, most have slots sold out for Feb. 14. Calendars are also busy for the weekend preceding Valentine's Day.

Rose Valdes, wedding manager at the Venetian, sad between 20 and 30 weddings would be conducted a week from today at the Venetian, where wedding packages range from $750 to $5,000 each.