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Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas won’t be quite the same this year

Updated January 31, 2021 - 4:08 pm

The Big Game won’t be quite so big in Las Vegas this year.

Super Bowl Sunday, historically one of the busiest weekends in Las Vegas, is expected to fall short of its typical visitation and spending numbers. Foot traffic has yet to catch up to 2019 levels because of the pandemic, and casino floors are still operating under a 25 percent occupancy cap.

“It’s going to be a lot different than the last 20 years,” said Derek Stevens, owner of downtown’s newest property, Circa. “I think everyone’s trying to make adjustments as much as possible. … We’ll have a lot of 50-person events in various ballrooms, a lot of smaller group events.”

A different look

The 2019 Super Bowl brought roughly 310,000 visitors to Las Vegas and had an estimated economic impact of $425 million, according to research company Applied Analysis.

The firm did not have a comprehensive analysis on the 2020 game, but preliminary estimates show results were about 5 percent higher than the previous year.

“It’s one of those amazing things,” Applied Analysis principal Jeremy Aguero said. “Those things draw people in, even if the event isn’t taking place in Las Vegas. … It’s pretty substantial.”

But casino operators are prohibited from hosting massive crowds this year. This month, the Nevada Gaming Control Board warned that its agents would be monitoring events over Super Bowl Sunday and enforcing capacity restrictions. Properties that fail to comply can be fined or have their licenses suspended or revoked.

Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine said its members are adjusting their Super Bowl events to ensure they are in full compliance with gaming regulations.

“Certainly, this year’s Super Bowl weekend will look different than years past with much more intimate events given the current occupancy restrictions,” she said. “Our members … look forward to providing the exciting Super Bowl experience fans expect. As always, the health and safety of our employees and guests remain the industry’s priority.”

It’s unclear how many visitors will be in Las Vegas for the game. Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokeswoman Lori Nelson-Kraft said the organization cannot provide a visitor count projection “due to the fluid nature of the pandemic.”

Aguero said visitation demand for the Super Bowl should be higher than the surrounding weekends, but he doesn’t expect numbers to match those from 2020.

“We’re going to continue to be affected by COVID-19,” he said. “Things will be subdued, like what we’ve seen before.”

Westgate spokesman Gordon Prouty said the Strip-adjacent property will forgo the usual large ballroom watch parties this year for a few smaller get-togethers each capped at 50 people. Other visitors will be able to watch the game throughout the casino while socially distanced in spaces such as iBar, Sid’s Cafe and the SuperBook, which will offer special game day foods including stuffed potato skins, ribs and pizza.

Prouty said the 25 percent cap under the statewide pause will hurt business, but he maintained that customer safety remains a priority for the property.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s something we have to do,” he said. “The most important part of all this is making sure we’re following the guidelines and keeping everyone safe and healthy so that we can more quickly get back to better times.”

Prouty added that Westgate is focused on making sure the guests it does get to host on Sunday still have a great Las Vegas experience.

“There are things that are missing, but there are still a lot of fun things to do,” he said. “There’s still a lot of fun here (in Las Vegas) that isn’t available to you at home. … It’s still a great destination.”

Sports betting still strong

Last year’s Super Bowl had an estimated $6.8 billion wagered by roughly 26 million Americans, according to the American Gaming Association.

The AGA isn’t set to publish this year’s sports betting estimates until next week, but consultant Sara Slane said she expects to see numbers through the roof.

“I think it’ll be, nationwide, the biggest sports betting handle we’ve ever seen,” she said. “You’ve got two great teams that are going to be there, in addition to the fact that so many more states have opened up” sports wagering.

Twenty-one U.S. markets currently offer legal, regulated sports betting, including Washington, D.C. This time last year, there were 14.

Nevada’s sportsbooks face more competition and operating restrictions this year, but Slane said mobile betting should help them overcome the difficult circumstances.

“It’ll look different … but I don’t think it’ll stop people from betting,” Slane said. “Is it going to be the blockbuster weekend Vegas is used to having? No. … But I expect the number (in Nevada) to be strong.”

Nevada’s sports betting handle, or amount wagered, was down $1 billion from 2019 to 2020 because of pandemic-related challenges. But football seemed to be pandemic-proof in the state, with Nevada books setting all-time records with a $1.9 billion football betting handle and $127.7 million football win.

Looking forward, as more states build their own sports betting empires, Aguero said Las Vegas’ unique offerings will continue to make it the ideal destination for Super Bowl watch parties.

“The sportsbooks are a big part (of what makes Las Vegas popular during the Super Bowl) … but it’s more than that,” he said. “It’s (the city’s) 150,000 hotel rooms, and most of those are in integrated resorts. It’s huge opportunities with food, entertainment and shopping … you can’t get that anywhere else.”

Growing demand

Las Vegas foot traffic is expected to be lower this year compared with previous Super Bowl weekends, but room rates show demand for hotel rooms during the game are still spiking.

A stay at Wynn Las Vegas starts at $303 on the Saturday of Super Bowl weekend, a 66 percent increase from the previous Saturday. Rates at Park MGM go up 151 percent to $118 in that same time frame, while a room at the Sahara Las Vegas jumps 162 percent to $102, according to a Thursday search on the companies’ websites.

Other properties, like downtown’s Golden Gate, Circa and D Las Vegas, are expected to be sold out over Super Bowl weekend, Stevens said.

The casino owner said the recent decline in coronavirus cases gives him hope. The state’s positivity rate declined for the 15th straight day Thursday to 18.3 percent, according to state data. The number of patients hospitalized across the state with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases dropped by 78 to 1,322.

“The trends are faring so much better the last 10 days,” Stevens said. “(We hope) we’re able to generate some memorable events for people and go forward.”

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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