Hockey in the morning is a weird thing. Watching hockey in Las Vegas at 10:00 AM in a sportsbook ratchets that weirdness up another level. The days of Vegas sportsbooks being smoke-filled rooms filled with gentlemen of dubious character watching grainy T.V. feeds from around the country are long in the past. Now, they are multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art living rooms, if the living room came with a literal wall of televisions.
As I am writing this, there are 22 screens playing a variety of hockey, college basketball, Premier League soccer games as well as horse racing from across the country on what the Westgate Superbook describes as the “largest LED video wall”. The size of that wall is 240 feet wide and 20 feet tall. That’s a lot of sports action coming at you. It’s a lot like watching sports at a bar, with constant stimulation happening all over. It just has the added benefit of gambling. And the chairs are a lot more comfortable.
While there is only one audio feed playing through the overhead sound system, matched to a game playing on the largest screen, there is an app that allows you to broadcast the feed of the game you want to watch on your smartphone. Technology is a wonderful thing.
So here I am, on a Saturday morning sitting in a comfortable chair watching and listening to the Lightning game surrounded by a mishmash of humanity. The young gentleman to my left acknowledges, in a voice that is a dead ringer for McLovin, that Stamkos is “really good” between sips of Dr. Pepper. He is betting on Montreal so while we will be cordial, we will never be friends.
There is a last minute scramble for bets as the screen shows Louis Domingue as the starter. Late money is being bet on Montreal, and while Tampa is still a favorite, it’s not by quite as much. My friend Link sees the number drop and we finally decide to bet on the Bolts. Well, on the over. So we’re rooting for offense. If the teams combine for more than six goals - we are winners. Six-one, four-three, five-two, seven-zero - we don’t care. Just get to seven goals.
Meanwhile, while we’re doing that, the first big cheer of the day goes up as UMBC, a 10 ½ point underdog, upsets Marty St. Louis’ alma mater, Vermont, to win the Mid-American Championship.
With so many contests going on, and so many bets out there, almost every act of offense draws some sort of positive reaction. It’s often hard to know exactly who is cheering for what. There are times, especially on a championship weekend like this, when there is no doubt what the cheer is for. Case in point, the Retrievers’ upset victory. Everyone loves an upset….except of course for those betters who took the favorite and are now silently tossing their tickets to the floor.
Overall, it’s a subdued crowd. It is 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning after all. The one drawback of sports betting in Vegas is that there isn’t much time in the morning to get your bets in, especially if you’re staying off the strip as we were. Couple that with a late night at Fremont Street and some five-dollar craps at South Point Casino and we’re not exactly firecrackers ourselves.
On a side note, if you have never been to Las Vegas and are wondering what the Fremont Street experience is like on a Friday night? It’s much like the entrance to Beer Fest. Except with more thongs. I personally can think of thousands of reasons to work out and develop six-pack abs. Standing on the street in only a thong, platform boots and Kiss makeup is not one them.
There are faux Vegas showgirls and a smattering of con artists dressed in costume (Deadpool is popular) while bad musicians play music badly and scantily clad ladies dance on bars. Zipliners fly through the air underneath the lighted canopy while promoters walk around advertising various strip clubs of both the female and male variety. Meanwhile, tourists happily lead their kids or push strollers through this debauchery because, after all, Fremont Street is billed as a family experience. If you get the chance, you should definitely check it out.
Back to the hockey. An early power play goal sneaks by Louis Domingue and the guys next to me cheer. I mutter an obscenity, but it masks a small bit of relief since that’s the first goal on a march to seven. Early goals and power plays are two things you want to see a lot of when you bet the over. Blocked shots and outstanding saves are the bane of your existence.
Brayden Point has the best chance for the Lightning and is denied by Antti Niemi. Meanwhile, on the screen next to the Lightning game, Brad Marchand leaps into Anthony Duclair for some reason and sends the young Blackhawk tumbling to the ice awkwardly. The Duke immediately reaches for his knee and Marchand skates to the box.
As that happens a disgruntled bettor walks behind me and declares that he’s never betting on a “four horse” ever again. In my experience that vow will be broken before the day is over. There is a lot of regret in the few seconds after a losing bet, but most gamblers can talk themselves out of any vow that they make given enough time and twisted logic.
On the ice, Steven Stamkos draws a penalty and the second power play unit for the Bolts is chewing up ice time. Tyler Johnson bangs home the game-tying goal to the applause of one - me. Not only did the LIghtning tie it up, the goal tally is up to two with time left in the first period. It’s a cause for double celebration.
The period ends with the Lightning back on the power play. Two goals in the first period is a good start, but an early goal in the second would be super nice for the over. With a break in the action it’s time for a quick walk through the casino. One thing about spending a day in the sportsbook is that it’s hard to get your steps in. The betting windows aren’t that far away.
The buffet line is rapidly growing at the restaurant next to the sports book. The days of $1.99 all-you-can-eat buffets have gone the way of the Rat Pack in Vegas, but if you bet enough (I’m not) you can still get a free meal.
Walking past the Elvis statue (the Westgate used to be the Las Vegas Hilton where the King of Rock and Roll once had a suite) there are a solid line of folks checking into the hotel. It’s a busy weekend in Vegas and there are folks with luggage all over the place, including the slot machines.
The power play fails, and Montreal picks off a cross-ice pass by Ryan McDonagh. Alex Galchenyuk buries it on the odd man rush and the Lightning are down one. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we are halfway home to at least getting our money back on the over bet. Silver linings, my friends, silver linings.
Dick Vitale’s distinctive voice cries out an “Are you serious?” as something happens in the Alabama/Kentucky game. The folks behind us applaud a couple of made free throws by Kentucky. Since there is still 16 minutes left in the game they most likely have Kentucky or the over and need as many points as possible. Meanwhile Philadelphia scores against Winnipeg and that hurts me personally as I have the Jets to win. The action is starting to pick up.
Niemi makes a couple of nice saves to keep the game at 3 (yes we’re scoring by total goals now) while Jonathan Drouin dangles with the puck a little in the Lightning zone. It’s still very weird to see him do that in another team’s uniform. There is a goal review in Philadelphia and it’s ruled a good goal for the Flyers. That’s not helping things.
Neither did the last ten minutes of the period of the Lightning game. The Bolts couldn’t get any pressure and Montreal seemed content to take the puck away and skate around with it. A late flurry by the Lightning comes up short and we end the second at three goals. Not ideal, but with the explosiveness of their offense it’s not the end of the world.
I head over to pick up some futures bets. Tiger Woods’ performance in Innisbruck has my dad feeling good about his chances this year so he’s asked me to put a few bets in for him. His loyalty to Baltimore sports adds a few tickets to the pile as well. Probably not the best way to spend my money but the good news is, he’ll have some tickets worth cashing if the Ravens or the Orioles win this year.
Cell phones aren’t as verboten as they once were in casinos. Now, unless you’re standing at a gaming table or at the window making a bet you can be on your phone. When I first entered the gambling world, they were pretty much not allowed at all. Now they’re almost encouraged. They advertise their mobile app and as I mentioned earlier, their alternative sound system runs through a mobile app as well.
The game is back underway and Cedric Paquette gets into a fight. Hopefully, the old maxim of teams being motivated by a good scrap comes true and the Lightning can find some offense. Instead more shots drift wide and the scores stays the same as time ticks down. The clock is our enemy now. A check in on the Winnipeg game offers no relief as they continue to trail 2-0.
JT Miller drives Charles Hudon into the boards and now they’ll be shorthanded for two minutes. A power play goal for Montreal would be nice as it would push the score to 4, but a Lightning goal would guarantee the score going to 5. Nothing happens (although Winnipeg scores in their game) other than Alex Killorn kissing a puck off the pipe.
A flurry of offense takes place on the screens around the Lightning game. The Arizona/Colorado game accumulates four goals in the first five minutes of their game. Boston scores twice on a double minor power play to cover their puck line (a bet where you wager on a team winning by a certain amount of goals. Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s 1.5 goals) while Vegas ties their game in Buffalo. Everyone is scoring….well except for the Lightning. We’re at seven minutes to play and the light is fading on the over.
Just when the light is the dimmest a hero emerges. Stamkos pounces on the puck and feeds it to an open Kucherov who buries it. The game is tied! There is hope. Things are looking up. There is plenty of time to rattle off some goals. Unfortunately not for my other bet as time expires on Winnipeg’s comeback and that bet is officially dead. Sad.
A cheer goes up as the Golden Knights prevail in a shootout. Hockey is definitely being embraced in Sin City. There is more than one Vegas jersey in the sportsbook and their logo is splashed all across the city. Sadly they are out of town as the T-Mobile arena is hosting the Pac-12 Championship so we weren’t able to see a game.
Chris Kunitz takes a bad penalty that gives the Canadians a power play with four minutes to go. We’re now looking for a quick goal from either team and then a tying or empty net goal as the time starts to tick away. A good (or desperate gambler) can quickly calculate all of the ways, no matter how improbable, that they can still win. Unfortunately, the scenario does not play out and the teams are heading to overtime as another losing ticket flutters to the ground.
The Lightning eventually prevail in an overtime to reach 100 points, but by the time Domingue swats away Montreal’s last attempt it’s already time to start looking at the late games to see how we can make the money back.
And that’s how it goes.