Even with no NFL team, Vegas scores big during football season

Even though Las Vegas doesn’t have an NFL team, football is a popular pastime in the city, and one that has a huge economic impact on the area.

Yes, there are the Locomotives of the United Football League and the UNLV Rebels, but football’s real impact here isn’t felt on the field or in the stands—it’s in the sports books and bars of the Valley.

To provide an idea of what this means, some perspective from the “real world” of big-city professional sports: Proponents of new stadiums have estimated the annual economic impact of a football team to be between $100 million and $150 million.

That’s not bad for eight home games a year, but Las Vegas—with the closest games being played just less than 300 miles away—doesn’t do so badly either.

Last October, for example, Clark County’s 109 sports books accepted about $59 million in straight-up wagers on football (both pro and college) a week. They took about $2.9 million more in parlay-card action per week. The books kept more than $2 million a week of the nearly $62 million wagered on football. Multiplied by the 17 weeks of the NFL regular season, that’s more than $34 million of football sports-betting revenue—and that doesn’t include the playoffs.

Sports books alone account for a pretty good chunk of the economic impact that an NFL team might have—with no public funding for a stadium or infrastructure improvements, and no threat that the team will leave in a few years for a newer, shinier home.

One could argue that sports betting is more resilient than the game itself. NFL ticket sales have seen a decline since the recession began in 2007. This year, game attendance is forecasted to fall to 1998 levels. But Las Vegas-area sports betting, while experiencing overall annual declines since 2007, has been surprisingly robust during football season. From September through December of last year, Clark County sports books reported winning more than they had in 2008, a bright spot amid a general decline.

Even when people don’t want to spring for tickets, they still want to bet on games. And that works to the advantage of Las Vegas, the country’s mecca for legal sports wagering.

But football brings more economic activity to the Valley than simply through sports betting. According to Chris Abraham, vice president of marketing at Golden Gaming, the games are a godsend to the company’s taverns.

“Football fans are really in our demographic: 25 to 45 years old,” he says. “Football is a great television sport and we make sure our taverns have plenty of HDTVs.”

What kind of economic impact does this devotion make? According to Abraham, Monday nights are the slowest during offseason at most Golden taverns as people are settling back into the swing of the workweek. During football season, however, Monday is an extremely busy night, when overall business can more than double. Because the season is relatively short with 16 regular-season games per team, fans feel like each game matters and don’t want to miss one.

The addition of Thursday and Sunday night games helps, as well. On Saturdays and Sundays, games run all day, extending the usual evening peak hours.

Because football lends itself to a group dynamic, it’s perfect for bars and sports books. Whether or not a fan has money riding on the game, watching in a public place seems to make it more of an event.

And taverns compete avidly for football fans. Golden’s taverns, which include PT’s and Sierra Gold locations, offer a variety of food and drink specials to get customers through the doors, as do competitors such as Steiner’s pub. With watering holes trying to outdo themselves to attract customers, there are plenty of values to be found, which translates into more people going out—a welcome boon in these difficult economic times.

In the end, football might be such a good draw because it invites people to join the crowd, celebrate big plays and play bar-stool quarterback, arguing a coach’s play-calling often with a better high-definition view of the action than the coach himself.

In a way, those fans watching on TV have plenty in common with Las Vegas, which seems to be profiting quite well from football despite its lack of an NFL team of its own—just another way the town has shown that, given lemons, it can make a great lemon drop.

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