Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

Las Vegas has built a reputation through the years as the best place for fans to be for the Super Bowl if they can't get their hands on tickets to the game.

When Super Bowl LIV kicks off on Sunday, Feb. 2, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., it will be the crescendo of a busy weekend 2,500 miles away in Sin City, where special events and performances are on tap and the sports books will be humming.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board reported that $145.9 million was bet in Nevada's 200 sports books for last year's Super Bowl, the New England Patriots' 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. The biggest-ever handle was in 2018, when $158.6 million was wagered as the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Patriots, 41-33.

The Patriots won't be back this year,  their string of three straight Super Bowls snapped with a wildcard-round loss to the Tennessee Titans. But the crowds will be back in Vegas, to be sure.

"It remains the single biggest betting day of the year," said Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of race and sports operations for Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. "It's important on many levels because it touches every inch of our property and beyond. The Super Bowl has positive effects from the airport to the cab drivers to the restaurants, the bars, the hotel and sports book."

Kornegay has worked in the gaming industry since 1987, the last 31 years in Las Vegas.

"It's critical that not only the sports book but all the other amenities on property and in town put on the best show possible because we are entertaining many guests and, most likely, most of our top players. We have to bring our A-game to make sure that they have a great time and they keep coming back to our great city."

Kornegay was at the forefront of creating diverse betting options in the late 1980s and 1990s when he was at the Imperial Palace. A string of dull, one-sided Super Bowls back in those days prompted sports books to offer more proposition bets, or props, designed to hold bettors' attention even after the game was not.

The props depended not only on the result of the game but on the statistics generated by players sometimes matched with players in other sports.

One of the first of these more creative props Kornegay remembers from January 1990: Who would score more points? The 49ers in the Super Bowl or the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan in an NBA game played the night before. (If your money was on the Niners, it was well invested: They scored 55 in a trouncing of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, while Jordan was "held" to 39 against the New Jersey Nets.)

A standard menu of 20 to 30 prop bets in the early '90s soon doubled, inspiring other sports books to offer these bets. The Imperial Palace was dubbed "the Prop Shop," and Kornegay  was "The King of Props."

"We were just trying to give them something they would be interested in and make the game more fun," Kornegay said, noting the Westgate will have more than 400 prop bets for this year's Super Bowl. "It has led to creativity that we couldn't have imagined back in those days."

Westgate completed an $18 million renovation to its 25,000-square-foot SuperBook in January 2016. It included more comfortable seating, an expanded VIP area, a 50-seat sports bar in a prime location and a food court with a view of all the action. What's touted as the world's largest indoor LED video wall is 240 feet wide and 20 feet tall.

A couple of tips for those traveling to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl:

• Plan ahead: For groups, look at different betting venues and consider packages with reserved, all-inclusive seating areas that include food and drinks. "Whether it's a party of four or a party of 10, it's always comfortable in those settings rather than coming down to the sports book two hours before the kickoff and trying to find four seats together. That's just not going to happen," Kornegay said.

• Bet early: Get to the betting window early, before Sunday afternoon, especially for those making bets for the first time. Sports book employees are generally happy to guide newcomers, explain nuances and answer questions, but patience wanes as the kickoff draws closer and lines get longer.  

• Go mobile: Visitors can avoid lines entirely by opening a mobile account. "A lot of guests don't realize that you don't have to be a Nevada resident to open up a mobile account," Kornegay said. "Anybody can open a mobile account, but keep in mind it only works while you're in the state of Nevada. All the options that we have at the counter are also available on the mobile."

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