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Sin City Superbowl

Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas is Mardi Gras and Spring Break all wrapped up into one huge party
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Hugh Grant, November/December 2009

(continued from page 2)

Early on game-day afternoon late-betting fans filter into the casino sports books, checking out the lines and odds. Nothing is moving too heavily, a lot of the serious money is already in place, but a long day's worth of small and medium sized wagers will add up big-time. Behind the scenes at Mirage, computer-monitors flicker with action rolling in from affiliated casinos that stretch from one end of the Vegas Strip to the other.

Horse racing is up on the big wall-mounted screens, and gamblers seem to be betting the ponies as a warm-up for today's main event. However, Jay Rood, director of sports betting for MGM Mirage, isn't thinking equine at the moment. He rolls a lucky baseball around in his right hand, holds an energy drink in his left and watches the flow of Super Bowl action.

Behind an aural backdrop of continually ringing telephones, Rood takes time to okay a $5,000 bet and keeps tweaking the odds, money-lines, and point spreads. "It's going good," Rood says, as much to steady himself as to inform me. "We have $2 million on each side and can come out at around $10 million all told. I'm trying to get us into a position where we are on a freeroll with the Steelers. If the Steelers win, we do well. If the Cardinals win, we'll be even and relying on prop bets. We throw 100 of them out there and it's like a blackjack shoe."

He tells me about one offbeat bet in which a gambler took the Cardinals with an inflated 21½ points, but, in exchange for that, he's laying 8. This means that for every $8 bet, he can win $1. This guy, who clearly is willing to lose big in exchange for an almost sure thing, bet $400,000 to win $50,000. "It is the most we'll take for that one," says Rood. "For us, though, it has the potential for a high win with a low risk. If there happens to be a Steelers blowout today, I just might get to sign a new contract."

I figure that Rood is joking, but he's not laughing. He surveys a growing crowd at the betting windows, sips from his energy drink and braces himself for what will soon be a rush of last-minute wagers.

Over at the nearby Hard Rock, preparations are under way for its infamous annual lingerie show (a special, private perk for the casino's heartiest gamblers). Over at Wynn Las Vegas, at least one craps table is a crush of competing jerseys. And inside the Palms sports book, a ton of Cardinals action suddenly materializes. The money-line moves and bettors follow suit, now flirting in the opposite direction, illustrating the yin and yang of sports wagering.

The Palms' best customers, including an ebullient, single-malt sipping Mr. H are gathered in the Playboy Club, snacking on fried munchies and taking in a 52-story view that is dwarfed only by statuesque playmates who ferry drinks and deal blackjack. As gametime nears, Mr. H and his group head upstairs to a high roller accommodation that is known as the Hardwood Suite. In lieu of a formal living room, it's outfitted with a regulation-size half-court basketball setup. Today the Hardwood is reserved for the Palms' elite Super Bowl viewing party.

Waitresses have been decked out as scantily clad cheerleaders, and their job seems to be part socializing and part cocktailing. The guests, mostly guys of course, don't mind mixing with the help. In fact, up here, the emphasis would be more on the party than on the Super Bowl. Everybody cheers the big touchdowns, the big hits and all the good commercials, but nobody takes it too seriously. George Maloof slips in, checks things out in the shadows, sips a Fiji, then splits. Hosts, showing a bit more edginess, circulate and schmooze heavily, keeping customers happy and (Anthony Brandonisio's earlier assertion aside) doing what they can to gently insure that their guys return to the tables after the game ends.

As the final seconds of the first half tick down, even the most jaded in the suite have to take notice as the Steelers' James Harrison intercepts an Arizona pass and runs it back 100 yards for a touchdown. Disbelief—for good and ill—is the overriding response as TV commentator John Madden shouts about the setting of a new Super Bowl record.

As Harrison crosses the goal line, a quartet of Steelers fans explodes with a storm of high-fives. They obviously love Pittsburgh, but, just as obviously, they love money even more. The play is worth $20,000 to one of the guys who haphazardly made a prop bet that the Steelers would rack up 14½ points or more by halftime. "Dude!" one of the group exclaims. "That's a $40,000 swing. If he didn't score right now, you'd have lost 20K." His bottle of Corona in the air, he mock chants, "Har-ri-son! Har-ri-son!"

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