Where the action is? It’s still Las Vegas

Bet on it: Though legal gambling has spread far and wide, Sin City retains its preeminent status in the business.

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Unlike years ago, casual bettors aren’t intimidated by the displays at Westgate.

Rob Miech/Sun-Times

LAS VEGAS — Second-generation Vegas bookmaker Kenny White recalls vivid scenes from his side of the counter, a magnificent tote board bearing games and corresponding odds behind him in various colors.

“My favorite question was from people who’d walk up and ask, ‘Are these games being played today?’ That was the number-one question. Number two was, ‘What do those numbers mean?’ ”

Veteran oddsman Jeff Stoneback witnessed intimidated patrons stumble over those figures, -135 and +155, -3.5 and 148.5, and inquire what they meant.

Today, such inquiries are rare.

“It’s much more mainstream now,” said Stoneback, BetMGM’s director of trading. “Everyone is more aware.”

Proving how far the comprehension of its terms has come, and how the proliferation of the industry has not hurt Nevada, the Silver State registered its first $1 billion month in sports-wagering business in October 2021.

Its follow-up acts also have been formidable, 10-figure months in November, December and January.

February action will be boosted by a record $179.8 million in Super Bowl LVI wagers, obliterating the former standard by $20 million, according to the state’s Gaming Control Board.

And along comes the NCAA Tournament, which did $347 million and $351 million in business in its last two iterations, respectively, in 2019 and 2021.

“And it will continue getting bigger,” White said. “We’ll keep breaking records.”


Art Manteris saw the future.

In his entertaining and insightful 1991 book “SuperBookie,” the famous sportsbook director who opened the impressive SuperBook at the Hilton — now the Westgate — detailed his career and the industry.

When New Jersey added casino gambling in 1978, he called it a plus for Vegas.

“Everyone thought Las Vegas would lose its appeal to the 40 million people living within a couple of hours of Atlantic City, yet the Nevada resort-casino industry is stronger today than at any time in history.

“Competition helps . . . people in Las Vegas built new hotels, revised marketing strategies and upgraded properties, which has been terrific.”

Bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, in Manteris’ tome, predicted that 30 states would have legalized sports betting by 2000. It took a bit longer to marinate, but Vaccaro “had an inkling” that the business “would go crazy.”

In May 2018, thanks to tenacious New Jersey legal beagles, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal bill to allow states to pursue their own sports-betting destinies.

Today, 30 states, and Washington, D.C., have legal sports wagering. For 2021, the AGA reported a staggering U.S.-record sports-betting handle of $57.22 billion — nearly halving General Motors’ revenue.

Since New Jersey started in June 2018, its total handle has been $25.1 billion, with $1.7 billion in revenue and $210 million in state-tax revenue. Since Illinois went live nearly two years ago, its respective figures are $9.8 billion, $730 million and $116 million.

Manteris, who helmed the Station Casinos sportsbook empire in Vegas before retiring in May, made many prescient statements in his book.

Nevada, he predicted, would not buckle to competition.

“We’ll still be Las Vegas. People will still take time out of their lives to come here.” He also wrote that it’s conceivable “that one day you will be able to wager at an NFL game.”

Cheeky stuff in 1991, but spot on. Today, people who attend an NFL game inside Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas can make bets, on their mobile phone apps, while watching the Raiders.

“I see almost every state eventually looking toward sports gambling as a revenue producer,” wrote Manteris. “All the social, political and technological trends point toward it.”


Resorts International debuted casino gambling in Atlantic City in May 1978, and Kenny White recalls the death knells.

“It started spreading throughout the country, and everyone said Las Vegas would become a ghost town,” he said. “It didn’t, because the more popular something gets, Vegas benefits.

“No one can duplicate what we have here, with the Strip, restaurants, shows and parties. And I’m willing to lay odds that they’ll keep coming.”

The industry’s enormous growth was brought into perspective for White when he recently rang a friend in Denver. White asked how many legal sportsbooks operate in the Centennial State.

“And he said there are something like 30,” White said. “Amazing. Here in Nevada, we only have 10 or 12. It’s awesome for the bettor, in Colorado, because everyone’s fighting for customers.”

Illinois has seven entities running 10 books, and at least four more are in the works. Nevada is now the lone state, among the 31 legal jurisdictions, to require in-person registration for a mobile sportsbook account.

White saw the 2021 football season as the first in which Nevada’s sportsbooks promoted so heavily their apps, allowing punters to make bets outside the brick-and-mortar shops.

Illinois recorded $868 million in January business, so it, too, is eyeballing its first 10-figure month.

That likelihood was boosted two weeks ago, when it reinstated remote sign-ups for mobile sportsbook accounts. 

“A game-changer,” Avello said. “Now that we’re able to sign up people remotely in Illinois, business is going gangbusters. But when they do go to the window, they’re far less intimidated.” 

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