SBJ/20090126/Super Bowl XLIII

Parties may be smaller, but Vegas still draws crowds

The NFL’s clampdown on massive Super Bowl viewing parties in Las Vegas a few years ago tempered the atmosphere on the Strip, but the ability to legally gamble on the game continues to attract crowds.

The league in 2003 sent cease-and-desist letters to numerous casinos, citing copyright violations over promotions and large public viewings on television screens of more than 55 inches. Prior to that, casinos would clear out convention halls, put up large televisions and throw lavish Super Bowl parties. For a $50 entry fee, the typical party offered all-you-can-eat food and drink to spur wagering in the sports book.

These days, casinos show the game on TV screens in restaurants and sports books, but the large-scale parties are no more. Hotel marketers still entertain guests, but they do so in a more underground fashion by throwing smaller parties and flying in former NFLers and other public figures to mingle with key clients in suites.

Two of the larger hotel properties in Las Vegas declined to comment about their plans this weekend, citing concerns about attracting the ire of the NFL. Marketers with two other properties did not return messages.

“We probably shouldn’t be talking about this considering what happened a few years ago,” said one hotel employee.

Travel to Las Vegas over Super Bowl weekend rose incrementally the last few years, topping out at an estimated 290,000 in 2008, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, though hotel occupancy rates for that weekend declined from 95 percent in 2005 to 92 percent in 2007, the last year data was available.

“It’s still a very nice weekend for us,” said Kris Tibbs, senior research analyst for the visitors group.

Despite the NFL’s actions, the Super Bowl remains one of the more popular weekends of the year in Las Vegas in terms of gambling revenue. Analysts believe Las Vegas casinos could record up to $100 million in Super Bowl wagers this year.

“The lack of parties hasn’t affected the amount wagered at all,” said John Avello, executive director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas.

Counting total dollars wagered at the sports books along with table wagering, Super Bowl weekend ranks with other busy dates like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.

“It’s definitely among the top three or four weekends of the year,” said Frank Streshley, senior research analyst for the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

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