The first bet I made in Vegas? That would be nearly 17 years ago, when I left San Diego with my bride of three months (talk about your gambles!) and made the five-hour trek up Interstate 15, having accepted a job in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s sports department. Essentially, I was wagering that leaving America’s Finest City for Sin City—for a pay increase, mind you, of exactly 15 cents an hour—was a wise career choice.
I’ll spare you the near two decades of details and just reveal that I won that bet. But had you asked me at the moment the U-Haul pulled into my northwest Vegas apartment complex on that late-summer day in 1994, “What are the odds you’ll still be living here in 17 years?” I would’ve said 1,000 to 1. And then I would’ve raced to the nearest sports book and bet my life savings (which was roughly $437) on “Hell, no!”
Thankfully for my life savings, Vegas books don’t take that kind of action. Unlike in England—where you can bet on the color of your cab driver’s teeth—state gaming laws have only permitted the placing and accepting of wagers on competitive athletic events whose outcomes are 100 percent objective.
Or at least that was the case until early this year, when the Nevada Gaming Commission, looking to expand revenue streams, amended its regulations and opened the door for sports-book operators to take action on nontraditional events.
For five months, though, the new relaxed rules went untested … until a couple of weeks ago when John Avello, executive director of race and sports for Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, finally broke the ice by posting odds for the World Series of Poker. Now rumor has it that Avello, who for years has distributed odds—for entertainment purposes only—on such non-athletic events as American Idol and the Academy Awards, is seriously considering putting the Oscars on his betting board in 2012.
Here’s hoping that Avello goes for it … and doesn’t stop there. After all, just think of the possibilities. Or, better yet, let me do the thinking for you:
• Anyone who’s played the stock market in recent years knows it’s a bigger gamble than any game in Vegas. And anyone who’s lived across the pond knows that the Brits offer bettors the opportunity to wager on sessions of the Dow Jones Industrial—in essence, whether the final Dow figure will be over or under a predetermined number. If jolly ol’ England can figure it out, shouldn’t the gaming capital of the world be able to?
• Forget about sports. The 2012 Republican presidential nomination battle royal is the best competition going right now. No fewer than 17 GOP’ers have officially thrown their hat into the ring (and that doesn’t even include Sarah Palin!). Like you wouldn’t take a flier on Ron Paul at 250 to 1, or throw down $50 on a Palin-Michele Bachmann Republican ticket.
• I’ve always claimed that Seinfeld was a TV show ahead of its time, and one 1995 episode in particular stands out: Kramer and a cowboy-hat-wearing Texan sitting in an airport lounge betting on arrival and departure times. Jackpot! Seriously, how much money could this destitute state collect if it installed betting kiosks at McCarran that allow you to wager on when your plane will take off? Not to mention one last chance for the tourist who had a bad weekend to “get it all back.”
• We all have one: that restaurant down the street that’s gone through multiple incarnations but just never gains neighborhood acceptance. Even the Strip isn’t immune to this problem. So how about props on restaurant lifespans? For instance, Dick’s Last Resort in Excalibur would’ve been given 5-to-1 odds that it would last a year. (Would’ve lost my ass on that one!)
• The Valley’s housing market is so far underwater that the few homeowners still around need SCUBA gear to breathe in their kitchens. Someday, we keep telling ourselves, someday this thing will turn around and we’ll see home values back to their 2005 levels. And dammit, we’re willing to bet on it. Give me a $1,000 at 15-to-1 odds on summer 2015.
• Ever gone to see a risqué show (think Zumanity) or a raunchy comedian (Andrew Dice Clay) or something that’s just plain awful (Carrot Top)? What’s the first thing you do? Scan the crowd pre-show and guess how many patrons have no clue what they signed up for and will eventually leave the theater in disgust. Now imagine if you could bet the over/under on number of walk-outs—it’s like a show within a show!
• Is there a week that goes by without someone staging a news conference to announce plans for a new sports stadium or arena project? Is there a month that goes by without a follow-up press release being circulated announcing that said projects are no longer? Why aren’t we betting on this?
• At the north end of the Strip sits a $2.9 billion, 63-story, almost-completed megalith known as Fontainebleau Las Vegas. I’d love to be able to bet on the month and year when that bad boy finally opens—or when it will be imploded.
• God bless the rich and famous. They keep our cash register ringing … and our police blotter buzzing (we’re looking at you Ms. Hilton!). I smell a futures board. “Who’s the next public figure to end up behind bars?”: Mötley Crüe bad boy Vince Neal and boxer Floyd Mayweather (co-favorites at 3 to 1), Paris Hilton (6 to 1), Justin Bieber on his 21st birthday (25 to 1), Carolyn Goodman (1 million to 1).
• Three words: Celebrity Death Pool. Morbid? Without question. Tasteless? Sure. Potentially lucrative? Damn straight! Imagine the kind of coin you could’ve pulled in if you had a ticket on “Bin Laden Sometime in 2011”! For the record, the current even-money favorites would be Zsa Zsa Gabor, Kirk Douglas, Larry King, Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. Elvis coming back to life: 500,000 to 1.