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September 25, 2017

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Start of the NFL season is big for some books, not others

March Madness, Super Bowl still outsell first week of regular season

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Steve Marcus

Football fans watch games during NFL opening day at the Red Rock Resort’s race and sportsbook Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015.

Football fans aren’t the only ones looking forward to the start of the NFL regular season on Thursday. The sports books in Las Vegas have also been preparing for the end of the six-month pigskin drought.

While ads for NFL betting contests and promotions are everywhere, sports book executives differ on just how important this week is in terms of business. For some, like the books at Caesars Entertainment properties or the Westgate, the first week is a fairly big deal.

“The first week, it’s all hands on deck,” said Bill Sattler, the director of specialty games for Caesars Entertainment who oversees the new Cromwell sports book, as well as the books at Paris, Bally’s, Flamingo, Planet Hollywood and the Linq.

“In all our sports books, everyone’s going to be working and are expected to work overtime. As the season progresses, we’ll scale it back a little. But this is the week. We don’t want to have any windows not being manned.”

Jay Kornegay, vice president of the Race & Sports SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, agreed.

“The first weekend of NFL season is one of our biggest weekends of the year,” he said. “There are a lot of people who plan their trips to Las Vegas for the first weekend not only because they’re excited about their favorite team but also to place a lot of seasonal wagers.”

For bookmaking company William Hill, however, which manages sports books (some full books, others unmanned betting kiosks) for casinos around Nevada, the first week is not quite as important.

Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill, said the first week is exciting and the handle (the total amount bet) can be twice what it would be in weeks 7 or 8, but business doesn’t drop that much as the season progresses.

“I would disagree (that the first week is the busiest),” Bogdanovich, said. “Sports betting is at an all-time high. Everyone has a mobile app now, and so they are just betting more. Customers have it at hand all the time, and that’s a huge reason. Plus the economy is doing good.”

While the Nevada Gaming Control Board records revenue from betting at all of the sports books in Nevada, it doesn’t track results from the start of the NFL season.

However, both Kornegay and Sattler say that for their books, the first week of the NFL is the most important regular season game after Super Bowl weekend and March Madness.

“Well, Super Bowl weekend ... it’s the biggest individual event,” Kornegay said. “And if you take March Madness, the first four days of March Madness is very similar to what we see in the Super Bowl but over a four-day period.

“So Week 1 (of the NFL) is very similar to March Madness in that way. There are a number of games, and there is a full slate of college games before that and then a full slate of NFL games Sunday and Monday. It’s by far the biggest regular season week of the year.”

Sattler says he expects the first week to be up possibly by as much as 10 percent, compared to the first week last year. And, he says, it’s already typically 50 percent better than any other regular season game.

Still, he says, “It pales in comparison to the Super Bowl and March Madness.”

According to all three betting execs, the first NFL week, like the Super Bowl, still attracts its share of bettors who use their hearts, rather than their heads, to make picks. But that group is getting smaller as the years go by.

“Over the course of the last couple of decades, sports bettors have been a lot better than they were years ago,” Kornegay said. “They’re more educated than ever before. And that’s what the internet and social media will do If you follow the teams and filter out all the hogwash that’s out there.”

“There are still those out there who bet their hearts,” Bogdanovich said. “The teams they want to root for and so on. But, in general, the sports bettor is smarter now than they ever have been. There is so much information on the internet and so many shows talking sports that people really have a fighting chance.”

Sattler says he sees a progression in the ability of some bettors as the season progresses and they learn more about the players and teams.

“Yes, they sure do,” he said. “The first week of football is like an appetizer everybody wants to bet but they are still not sure how to bet until the third or fourth week. Usually the sharp action (more educated betters) you don’t see a lot of during the first week. They like to wait a week or so later.”

But the thing that truly sets the first week apart, Kornegay said, is that theoretically at least, every team still has an equal shot.

“One thing that’s very special about Week 1 is every team is in first place,” he said. “Even the Browns. So the Browns fans are still very optimistic.”

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