Gambler's wisdom first: In the end, the bank always wins. However, if the bank is called Las Vegas and bets on itself, then everyone might win after all - that roughly sums up the steep rise of the once infamous gambling metropolis into a sought-after sports city.
Just ten years ago there was no serious professional sport anywhere in the Nevada desert. Now Las Vegas is hosting the biggest event the US entertainment industry has to offer on Monday night in Germany (12:30 a.m./RTL and DAZN): the National Football League Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers.
“More parties, more events, more hotels. The whole show will be different,” said German football professional Jakob Johnson to the German Press Agency. “Vegas is designed to host big events.” The Stuttgart native has been playing for the Las Vegas Raiders for two years and experiences the city up close as a resident several months a year. "Vegas is definitely changing. It is becoming more and more family-friendly and is therefore also oriented towards sport."
Warning from NFL boss
The road there was long. In 2003, the NFL banned commercials for Las Vegas during the Super Bowl. Under no circumstances did the league want to be associated with (sports) betting. There was great concern about doubts about the integrity of the sport, not only in the NFL and American football, but also in the other professional leagues. Basketball, ice hockey, baseball - the major US sports all kept their distance from the famous casinos.
And NFL boss Roger Goodell still believes a warning is necessary. In a memo to all NFL teams last Thursday, he emphasized that betting on the Super Bowl is not allowed. "Fans around the world will be tuning in for the game and related events and we must do everything we can to protect the integrity of our sport and avoid even the hint of wrongdoing," he wrote.
But in just the past six years, the perception of Vegas in professional sports has changed dramatically and fundamentally. 2018 was not only the year in which the sports betting law was overturned by the US Supreme Court - the NFL now has several betting providers as advertising partners - but also the first season for the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL. With a dream run, the new team played its way to the final of the Stanley Cup, and last season the team finally won the championship. The Golden Knights had been preceded by the Las Vegas Aces, who won the final series in the WNBA women's professional basketball league in 2022 and were the first Vegas team to bring a title to the city. In 2023 they defended their number one status.
The Raiders have been in town since 2020, offering NFL fans of the Green Bay Packers and the rest of the USA reason for a weekend trip to the desert. Formula 1 invested half a billion dollars in its new location before the race last November because the US market promised so much money. The premier class of motorsport will race across the famous strip for at least ten years.
There is a gold rush atmosphere
In the fall, the NBA determined the first winner of its new tournament format in the shadow of the world-famous hotel and casino giants MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and Caesars Palace. Superstar LeBron James has been promoting a new team in the city for months - with him as the owner. In 2028, the Oakland A's from Major League Baseball are scheduled to play their first season in Las Vegas after moving. The growth doesn't seem to stop, there's a gold rush atmosphere.
So now the Super Bowl. 38 US states and Washington, D.C. now allow sports betting, but for Vegas the attendance on the NFL final weekend has been bombastic in recent years. With around 150,000 hotel beds, the city can accommodate huge numbers of guests. In the days surrounding the highly exciting duel between the Chiefs and the 49ers, the experts are expecting conditions across the board due to the masses of fans that also mean a state of emergency for Vegas. And all because the league that once didn't even want to advertise "Fabulous Las Vegas" is now exhibiting its premium product in the city.
But Vegas doesn't want to be satisfied with that. The best hotels, the best food, the best parties, the best show: Vegas wants to deliver all of that, according to Steve Hill, executive director of the Fair and Visitors Authority. Because: “Our goal is that the NFL wants to be here every year.” This city prefers to bet on itself.