If you listened closely last week, you could hear the collective sighs of relief combined with holiday-like celebration from legal sports betting operators; the NFL season had arrived.
However, you might not have needed to listen that intently. It was no doubt tangible, and it permeated the country, from bookmakers to bettors to casual fans.
At BarCanada and The D hotel in Las Vegas, crowds formed at the retail sportsbooks powered by Circa Sports, every individual eager to quench their long-lasting thirst for the return of professional football.
“I think you saw the pent-up demand that football created,” said Jeff Benson, sportsbook operations manager for Circa, “especially given that it’s not a traditional college football season.”
It’s obviously far from a traditional NFL season, what with the coronavirus pandemic and social activism abounding. But something special is happening in Sin City, because it finally got its own NFL team, the Las Vegas Raiders. And sports betting in Nevada may never be the same because of it, especially during football season.
An NFL team in sports betting capital Las Vegas is a perfect union
For decades, the four major sports leagues have displayed reluctance to establish a franchise in Las Vegas. To no one’s surprise, their go-to argument surrounded the integrity of games and potential distractions that loom. (We also can’t ignore the leagues’ long-time stance against sports betting, which is only implied with the “integrity” justification.)
Yet Vegas continued to woo those leagues. In 2007, for example, as a quasi-bid for a professional franchise in any sport, Sin City hosted the NBA All-Star Game. (It has played host to the association’s Summer League since 2004.) In 2017, at long last, Las Vegas had a team to call its own. The NHL granted an expansion franchise in the desert: the Vegas Golden Knights, who have had an unprecedented and wildly successful couple of years. Now, with the relocation of the Raiders from Oakland, Las Vegas has two major professional organizations.
Despite the leagues’ long-lasting hesitance, Vegas is officially a pro city. And if the short history of the Golden Knights is any indication, pairing the NFL with Vegas is a match made in heaven. It’s a perfect marriage, Benson agreed.
This stems from the area establishing itself as a viable professional city, of course. But Benson argued that the rapid expansion and acceptance (even reluctant acceptance) of legalized sports betting “have definitely helped legitimize” Las Vegas. And the Raiders wasted little time finding an official sports betting partner, as the franchise entered into an agreement with BetMGM.
How beautiful and beneficial this relationship can become, however, will have to remain to be seen.
“I think it will take a couple years to kind of quantify what that impact is,” Benson said. “And then, obviously, [with] everything that’s going on with COVID and properties still being slow to open or not at full capacity, I definitely think it will take a couple years to kind of see what that material impact is.”
New home for Las Vegas Raiders already influencing NFL betting
Though Circa boasts smaller-sized sportsbooks, Benson could not help but notice the effect of football’s return. There were lines running five to 10 people deep, many of whom donned the traditional silver and black of the Raiders, who were on their way to a season-opening victory over the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 13.
This is a scene Benson will grow accustomed to as the weeks wear on. The Raiders’ home opener at their newly completed Allegiant Stadium will play host to the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 21.
Much like coming to a conclusion on the marriage of the NFL and Vegas, observing the Raiders’ impact on Nevada sports betting might have to wait a year.
Said Benson, “The Saints play here this week, and if you had a contingent of Saints fans coming out and things like that, I certainly think that will help the write, especially on Raider games.”
Noting the current popularity of Raiders futures betting, he said, “It’s similar to what you see with Knights games. Every night the Knights play, the handle for hockey is sort of through the roof. I would expect you would see something similar, especially as you see people adopt the Raiders as their team.”
Benson cannot say for sure that simply having a pro football franchise will lead to an uptick in wagers. But, he added, “it certainly can’t hurt.” The Raiders will get their first season under their belt, and as far as the NFL and Las Vegas, it’s only up from there: Las Vegas will host the 2021 Pro Bowl and the 2022 NFL Draft (rescheduled from the much-hyped and then canceled April 2020 event) and will almost certainly land Super Bowl hosting duties within a few years.
All these factors, Benson said, “can only add to the value the Raiders are bringing in terms of what you can see from a sports betting handle.”
As Las Vegas now has teams in two of the four major league sports, there are plenty of companies stepping up their game to be a part of the action. Case in point: ESPN‘s multiyear agreements with DraftKings and Caesars (who are also partners) and the swanky new ESPN studio on the Strip at the Caesars-owned Linq.
Could the Raiders’ move to Vegas shift betting trends?
Naturally, the conversation surrounding the newly minted Las Vegas Raiders frequently circles back to the Golden Knights.
That’s Sin City’s team. Its first. Its original. From birth, the NHL franchise has been successful: two Pacific Division titles, two trips to the Western Conference Final and one appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
So, too, did the Knights affect hockey betting in Vegas. When the Knights began their run to the Stanley Cup Final in April 2018, the industry’s “other” category, which includes hockey, accounted for $60.3 million in handle — a massive 54% spike from the previous year.
There was so much betting action on the first-year franchise that sportsbooks in Vegas were on the hook for upward of $7 million if the Knights claimed the cup, albeit a collective payout stemming from relatively longshot odds.
Still, home team betting was and still is alive and well. That said, the NFL coming to Vegas with a relocated rather than an expansion franchise is something of a different story.
“Given how popular the NFL is, everyone kind of already has their own NFL team from where they grew up or who they follow, as opposed to maybe hockey, which isn’t necessarily as mainstream,” Benson said. “Seeing as that was the first team that Vegas could call their own certainly was helpful in that.
“But it will be interesting to see how that plays out in terms of if (the public) adopts the Raiders like they did the Knights and if people are as passionate about it as they are with the hockey team.”
If the Raiders succeed, though…
The thing about the Golden Knights and the reflected “other” betting increase is not that scientific. It’s observing trends. Fandom, you could argue.
“The better the team is,” Benson said, “the more money they are going to generate in terms of write.
“Obviously, there’s been times when the Knights have struggled record-wise, and you’ve definitely seen that affect the handle. And then when they go on one of these winning streaks or at the top of the conference or on a playoff run, you definitely see how much more interest there is just because of that.”
This is the influence Benson could see the Raiders having on the Nevada sports betting market. If they win, you might see it in the volume of Raiders-based bets. And of course, as Benson observed earlier, there’s the allure of Vegas as a destination. Once Allegiant Stadium finally welcomes the public to games, Raiders fans and opponents alike will flock to the city and bolster the handle even more.
A hometown Vegas team certainly contributes. Mostly, though, that’s just the effect of the NFL.
“The NHL and NBA have definitely been good,” Benson said. “But nothing compares to Saturday and Sunday in terms of a football write.”
Based on the current odds from Circa Sports, the Raiders are seen as a middle-of-the-pack team that is a long shot to win the Super Bowl in 2021.