Tuley’s Takes: Super Bowl LVIII

Super Bowl LVIII is finally here in Las Vegas. Well, technically, it’s 10 days away from this writing, but the buzz is palpable with price gouging going on at every turn for tickets, hotels, and even the private airports are booked solid.

The Super Bowl in Vegas. I still can’t believe I’m writing these sentences, and I would have had you committed to a mental institution if you had proposed the possibility at the turn of the century and even up to a few years ago.


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Las Vegas has long been a destination for Super Bowl bettors and the betting handle had gone from $40 million in 1991 to $71 million in 2000. This was despite the emergence of Internet offshore books in the 90s, which took a lot of business away from Nevada but – at the same time – helped feed the appetite of bettors nationwide.

However, US Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) was pushing for his Amateur Sports Integrity Act, seeking to ban college sports betting in the neighboring state of Nevada. It was a scary time for our industry as the commissioners of the pro sports leagues, including the NFL’s Paul Tagliabue, were in support of the NCAA, and it was clear that they saw this as an opportunity to outlaw betting on their own sports if McCain and the NCAA were to succeed.

I was managing editor of Gaming Today, a weekly industry newspaper here, in 2000 and then moved to the Daily Racing Form that summer. I wrote a series of articles on Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Newell, who was in support of legalized sports betting because he believed it was going to happen anyway and saw the sportsbooks here as a watchdog. We helped get the American Gaming Association to use Newell as a witness before McCain’s Senate Commerce Committee in 2001 to counteract Tom Osborne, Dean Smith and Lou Holtz speaking in fact of the ban.

With the Republicans in control of the Senate, it looked like a done deal, especially as the bill was referred to as Screw Nevada II because there was no political reason for any other states to support Nevada’s case since they didn’t have sports betting themselves (historical note: Screw Nevada I was the bill to transport and store the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, just 80 miles northwest of the booming metropolis of Las Vegas).

At the hearings in April 2001, the bill passed out of committee with a 20-20 tie (and McCain needing to cast the tie-breaking vote), but fortunately, the momentum had been stopped. College sports betting survived here in Nevada because Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Ver.) switched from Republican to Independent (at the urging of Harry Reid), giving Democrats control of the Senate, and McCain lost his chairmanship and moved onto campaign finance reform as his pet project and his subsequent failed presidential run in 2008.

That was a close call, as I truly believe legalized sports betting in this country would have never reached its current stage if McCain, the NCAA, and the pro leagues had succeeded with their plans at that time. Still, it was clear the NFL was opposed to anything to do with Las Vegas. If you’ve ever seen an ad for a Las Vegas Super Bowl party or grabbed a packet of Super Bowl props, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the words “Super Bowl” are never used as it’s the NFL’s carefully guarded trademark (as well as the shield and the Lombardi Trophy or any official logo to do with the league or game). I assume you’ve heard all the euphemisms used here for Super Bowl parties or prop sheets: the Big Game. The Pro Football World Championship. Or the current year’s alphabet soup that was as long as SB XXXVIII if you go back XX years, though this year’s is the relatively short Super Bowl LVIII.

In the ensuing years, the nation had come out of the 9/11 tragedy, and the economy was booming. Business was good for a lot of us here in Vegas and elsewhere.

But the big news here in regards to sports betting and the NFL was that in the previous year, 2003, the league banned any Las Vegas ads during the Super Bowl telecast. It didn’t matter that the city’s R&R advertising agency submitted commercials that didn’t include any mention or images of gambling or even any casino buildings (historical note: this was during the height of the popular “What Happens Here Stays Here” campaign).

Things got pretty ugly. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, the former mob attorney, threatened to sue the NFL. This all reached a head in 2004 when R&R produced a commercial that it aired in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl Weekend on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, TBS, and several of the major non-sports cable channels like VH1, CNN, MSNBC, Bravo and Comedy Central. I described it in a DRF column like this:
The Las Vegas Strip is lit up in all its glory with the sounds of a roaring crowd. The text flashes by on the bottom of the screen. “It’s the biggest game of the year. Hundreds of thousands of fans are on the edge of their seats, living and dying with every play, going nuts on every snap. If only it was this exciting . . . at the game in Houston.”

The NFL was obviously not too pleased with the jab and countered with a vicious blow. The Palms, which had been advertising a party with the game to be shown on movie screens at its Brenden Theatres, received a cease-and-desist letter from the NFL nine days before the game stating that showing the Super Bowl on such a large screen was against the law. David Proper, legal counsel for the NFL, told me at the time that the Palms stood “in violation of Section 110 of the copyright law. The law states you can’t show a copyrighted event on a screen larger than normally would be found in a household, and you can’t charge admission.” He also added that anyone in violation of copyright laws would be subject to a civil lawsuit from the NFL.

Jim Hughes, a Palms spokesman at the time, filled me in that “Copyright laws that the NFL are quoting allow us to show the game on TV screens up to 55 inches in diagonal, but forbids us from showing it on screens larger than that or on any commercial screen.”
By the time Super Sunday rolled around, I knew the Palms had downsized its party, but I hadn’t heard of any more letters or canceled plans by any casinos, so I took my wife to Caesars Palace as she had grown to love their parties. Now, even though I’m sure we didn’t own anything bigger than a 40-inch TV in 2004, it was still amazing how big of a letdown it was when – instead of being in a huge ballroom with movie-sized screens – we were put in a curtained-off cubicle probably no bigger than our living room with 6 or 7 other couples and watching the game on a 50-inch TV with a minimalist buffet spread (no carving stations this time).

My wife didn’t go back to any Super Bowl parties for several years after that disappointing experience and it wasn’t until 2009 that the NFL even allowed Las Vegas to again advertise on postseason telecasts (but still with no gambling references allowed).
The whole relationship between the leagues and Las Vegas slowly improved over the years. New Jersey took the lead in challenging Nevada’s sports betting monopoly and finally won before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998 to overturn the (PASPA).

Even so, it was still a long shot for Las Vegas to host a Super Bowl, but those barriers slowly eroded with the city landing the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in 2018 and then the big shocker of the Oakland Raiders being approved by NFL ownership to relocate here and the building of Allegiant Stadium, where the Raiders first played in 2020 without fans due to the pandemic. And that, of course, led to the Big Game being played here a week from Sunday.

But enough of the history lesson. Let’s get to the matchup with my “takes” on the side and total. Programming note: in next week’s column, we’ll update our thoughts – especially if the lines move, which we don’t expect – and also give our top proposition wager, including those tied to our handicap of the game, plus our other favorite props from the ever-expanding menu of choices.

San Francisco 49ers (-2, 47.5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs

On Sunday, as the 49ers were holding off the Lions 34-31 in the NFC Championship Games to earn the right to face the Chiefs, DraftKings and its nationwide network of books installed the 49ers as 2-point favorites with an Over/Under of 48 points. Here in Vegas, the opening line ranged from 49ers -1.5 at BetMGM to -2.5 at Circa Sports, so basically a consensus -2. Early betting showed on the Chiefs as the line dipped to -1 at some books and looked like it would go to pick ’em, but then support showed for the short fave, and it’s climbed back to the consensus -2 as of early Thursday night. The Over/Under also ranged to 47.5 and 48.5, but has settled at 47.5 at every book in Vegas as of this writing.

Regular readers of this column know me as a “dog-or-pass bettor,” and that worked out perfectly in the conference title games as we went 2-0 ATS here and on our appearance on Brent Musburger’s “Countdown to Kickoff” show on VSiN last Sunday with the Lions covering as 7-point road underdogs in their aforementioned 3-point loss to the 49ers after the Chiefs had pulled an outright upset of the Ravens 17-10 in the AFC title game as 2.5-point road dogs.

We’re not changing our approach here as we’ll take the 2 points with the Chiefs as well as +115 on the moneyline (some books only offering +105 to +110, so shop around).

Just like with the Lions, we concede that the 49ers are the better team on paper – ranking No. 2 in scoring offense at 28.9 points per game and No. 3 in scoring defense at 18.4 points per game – but as we’ve always said: “the game isn’t played on paper.”

The defending champion Chiefs have the edge in playoff experience, plus even though San Fran QB Brock Purdy has a stronger supporting case, we’ll still take Patrick Mahomes with the game on the line. Plus, we all know how KC coach Andy Reid is with extra time to prepare (regular season bye weeks or the postseason). And this isn’t even counting a bigger coaching edge for Reid when you consider San Fran coach Kyle Shanahan has been at least partly to blame (I’m trying to be kind here) for two Super Bowl collapses as he was the offensive coordinator in the Falcons’ infamous 28-3 blown lean to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI and then as the 49ers’ head coach when these two teams met just four years ago in Super Bowl LIV after the 49ers led 20-10 before the Chiefs outscoring them 21-0 in the final 6:13 for a 31-20 victory.

As I also said on Uncle Brent’s show, the Chiefs’ offense hasn’t been as consistent all season – ranking just No. 15 at a mere 22.1 points per game – but the thing most people overlook is that the Chiefs’ defense is No. 2 in scoring defense at just 16.8 points per game.
We expect this to be a close, back-and-forth game with the defenses stepping up, so we also like Under 47.5 points. I’m not usually a big fan of teasing totals in NFL games, especially with the Under, as I hate when I end up having to cheer against my team from scoring more – but I wouldn’t talk anyone out of doing a 2-team, 6-point teaser with Chiefs +8.5 and Under 53.5.

See you next week!