Don't expect to bet big on the NFL draft in Vegas

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Las Vegas was ready to host the NFL draft in 2020 before having the red carpet pulled out from under the Strip due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the city is again ready to host the 2022 draft on Thursday to Saturday, April 28-30. But it might surprise a lot of people – including the hundreds of thousands of people coming to town to witness the event – that gambling is a very small part of the festivities.

Las Vegas has a decades-long reputation for hosting major sporting events of all kinds, including world championship boxing matches, Super Bowl parties, March Madness, National Finals Rodeo and the like. The city hosted the 2007 NBA All-Star Game as the pro sports leagues’ opposition to Vegas started to soften and NCAA conference tournaments started expanding there beyond UNLV hosting the Mountain West Conference tourneys for years. Of course, sports in Las Vegas made the quantum leap when the NHL put the Golden Knights franchise here in 2017 and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders announced in 2017 that they were moving here in 2020.

Even before the Raiders made the move, Las Vegas threw itself in the NFL draft ring and was granted the 2020 event on Dec. 12, 2018, at the league’s winter meetings in Texas. During the winter of early 2020, you probably remember seeing artist’s renditions of the players walking the red carpet at the Bellagio Fountains and the other stages for commissioner Roger Goodell’s announcement of the picks. It was being touted as an over-the-top spectacle . . . until it wasn’t.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world and pretty much everything else, the brick-and-mortar casinos were shuttered on March 18 until early June. After March Madness, the 2020 NFL draft was the next major event in Las Vegas to get canceled. The NFL held its draft virtually for the first time and announced that the 2021 draft would go on in Cleveland as planned but that Las Vegas would get a do-over in 2022.

Derek Stevens, owner of Circa, Golden Gate and the D hotels downtown, is on the local NFL Draft Committee and said the plans have stayed pretty much the same from two years ago.

“This is really Caesars’ show, though actually the NFL comes in and takes care of everything as it’s their show,” he said. “Everything was so well-developed that we put the plans on ice for 24 months and went from there.

“The NFL draft is obviously a great event and we’re excited to showcase Las Vegas and make it the best experience possible for all the players, visitors here for the draft and the millions watching on TV.”

There is wagering on the NFL draft in Las Vegas, but it wasn’t allowed in Nevada until 2017 and the sportsbooks have a love/hate relationship with it as they often get beat to news on certain players and when they’ll be drafted. Earlier this month, none of the Vegas books had posted odds (not wanting to get beat by early bettors), but as of the week prior to the draft, only William Hill books at the Caesars properties and its other locations had a full betting menu -- and other books started adding smaller menus. Stevens said Circa’s offerings would be up by Monday of draft week, available for just a few days and “wouldn’t be too robust.”

Another important note – and the main reason why betting won’t be the main focus of the activities here on Thursday through Saturday – is that Nevada Gaming regulators require that draft bets be taken down 24 hours before the draft, so unless visitors arrive earlier on Wednesday, they won’t be able to get any bets down.

So, while other states don’t have as stringent of regulations and will certainly outhandle Nevada this time around, Vegas will party on.

Stevens said there will be seven viewing parties on his properties alone. Westgate VP Jay Kornegay said the SuperBook will open its theater (where it hosts NFL Sundays and March Madness viewing parties) for the first round of the draft on Thursday. Station Casinos’ race & sports book director Jason McCormick said the Red Rock will host its biggest party hosted by former NFL coach Mike Tice and defensive back Corey Chavous, while their other properties will host smaller events all over town.

And that’s the case with all other casino companies around town. When visitors arrive, they’re going to be inundated with all the ads for viewing parties all over Las Vegas.

As a Las Vegas sportswriter since 1998, I’ve written dozens of these types of articles previewing major events like this. The Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority often projects how many visitors they expect to come to town and the non-gaming economic impact that the event is expected to generate. But while they do that for Super Bowls, New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July, etc., LVCVA director of communications Erica Johnson told VSiN that they’re not doing it for the NFL Draft “because it’s a unique event.”

Johnson said they would release figures after the fact and expect that nearly all of the city’s 150,000 hotel rooms will be at full occupancy. If you’re coming to Vegas for the draft, you probably already know that; if you’re trying to find a room now, good luck.

There have been unofficial predictions of 500,000 visitors coming to town for the draft and taking part in at least some of the festivities, and we can also take cues from recent draft hosts. 

The estimated economic impact for the 2017 draft in Philadelphia was $94 million, the 2018 in Dallas was $12.5 million, the 2019 draft in Nashville was announced as $133 million and the 2021 draft in Cleveland was $42 million. We’ll see where Las Vegas falls on that list, though the guess is it’ll give Nashville a run for the money.  

As for the event itself, it’s being held outside the “Caesars Forum” which is actually across the Strip from Caesars Palace and behind Harrah’s, The Linq (formerly Imperial Palace for old-timers) and the Flamingo -- and adjacent to the High Roller observation wheel. That’s where the main stage is being constructed for the made-for-TV event and the area will also include the NFL Draft Experience with interactive exhibits (throwing footballs, kicking, 40-yard dash, etc.), taking photos with the Lombardi Trophy, shopping and live music after the selections are done each night. 

Visitors should enjoy all that Las Vegas has to offer, but know that there won’t be many betting opportunities at the NFL draft this time around.

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