I Spent An NFL Game Sunday at Circa Sportsbook in Vegas And Here’s How It Went

Written By Brant James on October 29, 2021

It was barely a blip, as Las Vegas benders go. But this half-around-the clock sports betting binge at Circa Sports was showing signs of wearing down even the die-hards.

Maybe because there could be no slow fade on this day: Oct. 3, 2021, and to that point, the most anticipated day of the NFL season, generally, and NFL betting season in particular. While the ebbs and flows of the earlier games produced groans and growls from the crowd between various swigs of Miller Lite or bites of barbecue, the Week-4 night affair between the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots had sharpened the edge in the very large room. In a sportsbook dominated by Cowboys fans, the partisanship was largely done for the day and this last game was about the bet.

The money was very much on the Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady against the team with which he’d won his first six Super Bowl rings. The dissenters and the under-buyers were a vocal enough minority, though.

And it came down to a kick and a kicker. Just like always.

The ball was snapped and positioned in front of the Patriots’ Nick Folk for what would have been a go-ahead 56-yard field goal with one minute, 57 seconds left.

With the Bucs leading, 19-17, the spread bettors who jumped in at -7 had nothing new to interest them. Neither the over- nor under-bettors had anything to sweat at 49.5.

It was down to the win or the loss.

The kick was up. And it failed. The majority rejoiced. Management, no.

“We needed the Patriots outright like most shops. The missed FG was a pretty big swing,” Circa Sports Operations Manager Jeffrey Benson said.

A few minutes later, an expectedly sizeable group rose, if they hadn’t been on their feet already, and headed for the ticket windows positioned under the glow of a massive bank of video screens. The pace and bravado of the walk seemed indicative of the value of the tickets in the bettors’ hands.

A 10-hour sports betting bacchanal was over. Wait, night baseball.

Airline tickets, beer tickets, big screens, big tacos mark a Circa pilgrimage

Vegas Vickie hangs in the atrium of the hotel near Circa Sportsbook.

Seat H8 was a comfortable final destination for a weary traveler. In town a day early for the first in-person Global Gaming Expo since 2019, I’d decided that just getting a sense of the much-hyped, year-old Circa Sportsbook wasn’t enough. With the Bucs-Pats main event sure to pack the place, I’d booked a seat early in the “North Stands.” At $150, it wasn’t cheap, but the idea of jostling for elbow space for 10 hours after flying cross country was unappealing.

It was a good idea. Defying the pitfalls of modern air travel and the scourge of COVID-19, I was able to bank three time zones from the East Coast and make the first kickoffs just in time.

If the 30-something bro inhaling street tacos in H7 hadn’t already used my seat as an extra table, I’m sure my theatre-style lounger would have looked even more welcoming as I wearily approached.

It feels like 1 p.m., but it’s only 10. I’ve been up since 4. … I got this.

Having just opened in fall 2020 with a massive PR blitz largely focused on the new casino-resort’s sports wagering offerings and affiliations, Circa’s sportsbook is cavernous and cozy all at once, at a thousand-capacity, it’s neither crowded nor sprawling. The place boasts breathtakingly vivid and closely-positioned televisions. 1970s moms would certainly have instructed us to scoot back. While Circa boasts ultra-modern audio/visual, the charm of it may be that it feels welcoming, no matter what those gathered on its three viewing levels decided to pay or not for the experience.

The wanna-keep-my-comfy-spot crowd in the 350-seat North and South stands on the sides are treated with a fistful of beer tickets and waitress service. Ballpark-style vendors hawk beers for a reasonable $7 thereafter. Security kept a generally attentive eye for squatters, but H7’s wife was allowed to swap in for her husband when he retreated to his room in a brisket-and-Bud Light coma before the late afternoon kickoff.

Betting on sports in Las Vegas had its own feel, including the feel of tickets

Eating and drinking were the order of the day. So much eating. Sure, the bets of individual members of the crowd could be pegged by their boisterous interest in the Vikings or Ezekiel Elliott‘s yardage total. But the act of wagering here and in Nevada, in general, had a different pace than on the East Coast. It’s particularly different than New Jersey where more than 90% of wagers are placed online and thumb-scrolling hardly ever stops.

Circa’s wagering platform is powered by DeckPrism in a state where the “commercial model” rules. If odds change, they do so during TV timeouts. Subsequently, hardly anyone was perseverating over their phones. Mobile sports betting in Nevada comprises about 60% of the market.

Not that that’s a bad thing – 78 million megapixels worth of screens, thumping play-by-play and food and beer offered plenty of stimulus for most. Interestingly, the one patron most often on his Samsung – the guy in the Seahawks jersey sitting in a $4,500 booth – was perusing an illegal offshore app.

One level of roped-off luxury closer to the screens, amid a table filled with half-full wine glasses, a man in a red Patrick Mahomes jersey pounded the refresh button on his fantasy league matchup.

But outside forces, as outside forces are prone to do, might eventually influence how Circa does its very brisk business.

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Could a DraftKings and FanDuel invasion alter the Vegas sports betting oasis?

A few steps outside the exit at the third level of the sportsbook, gamblers in need of a little sunlight or unconditioned air will notice the beginning of the Fremont Street Experience. A few beer counters down is the Golden Nugget, where change could be smoldering.

Part of the casino’s parent company was acquired by DraftKings this summer, which figures to eventually enter the Nevada market and impact the way the business operates in Nevada. How will a mobile-driven product like DraftKings play in the ancestral homeland of the retail sportsbook?

Circa CEO Derek Stevens has made a point to foist his place as a haven for bettors wishing to make larger wagers. New competition will require adaptation, Circa Sports Director Matt Metcalf said, but without sacrificing the experience that packed the place this Sunday afternoon.

“Obviously, if we’re successful with this approach we will evolve. We will have as good a [betting] menu as anyone,” he said. “I’m just not going to cut corners and sacrifice our limits and our brand in the process. We were able to make decisions using who we are as a company at its core. It makes sense for us. … Our in-in-play product – we use with DeckPrism – we were very selective about who we partnered with because we had to find somebody who was able to take what we consider a fair wager, which was at the minimum $1,000, probably closer to $2,000.

“Right now, DeckPrism has the only answer to that. So we’ll continue to make decisions that are in line with who we are as a brand. I’m not going to speed up the size of the menu just to say we have a big menu. It’s got to be where you can log on there and get what you expect from Circa, which is a $1,000 bet, a $2,000 bet.”

But maybe Las Vegas sportsbooks themselves, especially the newest/biggest/brightest will remain mostly experiential. H7 was going through brisket faster than pulled pork faster than parlays, after all.

“Here it’s a lot different,” US Integrity founder and CEO Matthew Holt said of the Nevada experience as compared to other states where sports betting is legal. “We have more foot traffic, people walking into casinos, more recreational bettors. It’s very different.”

On this day, different enough for everyone to find why they came to the Circa.

Brant James Avatar
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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