Heading to Las Vegas for a live sports gambling weekend is something that every bettor needs to attempt at one point in their lifetime. Beyond the simple fun of Sin City, a weekend in the desert is an endurance trial; a test of wit and wills against the heat, the night, the clock, and your own body's natural limits. And this battle takes place in a maze that is set up for and populated by people whose sole aim in life is to separate you from your money.
But a trip to Las Vegas can be intimidating. Some people just want to hit The Strip and do some sightseeing. And it can seem daunting to set up if you don't know where to go, what to do, or how to plan your weekend. Sure, there are a million and one websites and articles about planning and executing The Perfect Vegas Weekend. But like all things in Sin City, you can never quite trust those well-wishers or seemingly helpful strangers. You never know what their angle is.
Have no fear: I fired some questions over to Raphael Esparza, a former sportsbook manager on the Las Vegas Strip for over a decade. (Full disclosure: he most recently worked at New York, New York and Aria before leaving the sportsbook business two years ago.) I asked him to give me the inside dope on some of the basics that anyone going to Las Vegas for a big gambling weekend should be aware of. Here is our exchange:
1. If you're in town for the weekend for sports betting, where are the best places to stay?
RAPHAEL ESPARZA: Of course I'm going to say any MGM Mirage properties like Aria, MGM, Mirage, and of course Bellagio. Aria has the nicest rooms with a view. But besides the fact that I have a lot of experience with these places, I recommend them because they are clean, they are up-to-date, and they are all reasonably-priced for anyone that wants to be in the heart of the action and feel that Vegas energy.
2. Where are the best sportsbooks? Why are these ones better than others?
RE: For betting variety, the sportsbook in the Westgate Hotel is the best. They always have a deep pool of lines and sports to pick from. They'll post lines and take bets on almost anything. For the easiest sports betting experience - short lines, helpful staff, and ease of use - I would also suggest the Mirage or the M Resort.
In terms of just a great place to watch the games, I am going to say Aria. It's not the biggest of the sportsbooks. But it has the nicest, cleanest setup, food and drink is fast and easy to get, and it is just an overall good atmosphere to enjoy the games.
3. Are some places better for watching certain sports? Where is the best place to watch college football on Saturday? The NFL on Sunday? Is there anywhere else set up best for other sports like the NCAA Tournament or NBA Finals?
RE: The Westgate hotel is outstanding to watch football because they have a showroom for both Saturday and Sunday. They have stadium seating, cheap eats like 50-cent hot dogs, the Bud Light Girls; it's just a great setup to go, get a seat, and have a great time watching the games all day.
The Bellagio is really nice and has a good setup. But you have to get there really early at like 7 or 8 a.m. in order to get a seat. Also, Red Rocks is kind of a drive. But it's not as busy as the Strip places. It's really comfortable and they have a great, huge bar right next to the book and overall it's a good spot as well.
In terms of the other sports, the NCAA Tournament is going to be crazy busy anywhere. And things like baseball or the NBA Playoffs you can watch anywhere because they are mostly going on during the down times at the sportsbooks.
4. Who has the best staff? Hottest waitresses? friendliest hosts?
RE: Well, I am partial here. I think that Aria has the best staff because I hired most of them!
But I think that the Orleans has the hottest waitresses. And the friendliest staff and hosts are usually at MGM or Bellagio.
5. Which places have the best comps and how do you go about getting a comp?
RE: This is a great question! The first thing that you want to do when you check in to your hotel is get a player's card. Everything that you do or that you spend will show up on the card. If you are a big gambler then obviously it is going to be a little easier to get comped at places for food or drinks or better room rates.
But even if you aren't a big bettor, if you are tipping well, polite to the ticket writers and to the waitresses, and you cash a couple tickets here or there, then the people that work there are going to be a lot more willing to 'hook you up' then they are some jerk that's spilling drinks and smoking at the window, even though that guy might have a $20,000 ticket.
On the whole, though, not a lot of places comp sports bettors. Unless you're betting six figures. Then everyone will be giving you free stuff!
6. Which books have the most "public-friendly" lines? Whose lines are the tightest? Which books are usually the fastest to post their lines? Who has the most flexible limits?
RE: Westgate has the best lines for the public bettors and so does William Hill. The Strip numbers are the tightest. But the Strip casinos will take the most action if you are a known gambler.
Be a little wary of the Cantor Gaming sportsbooks like The Palms or The Venetian. They are nice books, don't get me wrong. But if you are not a "known" gambler and you try to bet anything bigger than a standard, few hundred dollar bet, they are going to start hitting you with questions and starting imposing the limits.
8. What tips do you have for dealing with the sportsbook staff?
RE: First off, always have your bets exactly ready when you get to the window. That's not the time to be making up your mind! And when you are placing a bet ALWAYS use the rotation number, not the city of the team name. Ticket writers have to punch in the rotation number and not the team name.
Some other easy ones are don't ask the ticket writers who they like, if you cash a ticket and you are getting back change then leave the change (don't be cheap), definitely don't use your cell phone when you're at the window and don't smoke at the window.
And if you are being a jerk just know that the sportsbooks can do a lot of things to make your weekend miserable. They can boot you out of the premises, even if you are staying at the hotel. And they could hold your winning ticket until someone from gaming or security can handle any "incidents".
9. How about some general betting etiquette that "pros" know and people who aren't used to betting in a sportsbook should know?
RE: Bet early during March Madness and weekend football. Remember that if you are coming from the East Coast that with the time zones that college football starts at 9 a.m. If you aren't going to wake up in time to get to the books early then make your bets the night before.
Also, don't parlay games. That's a dumb, amateur way to bet and it helped pay my salary for 14 years. And be friendly and tip the ticket writers; that could help you out down the line.
10. Best or your favorite places to grab a bite to eat? How about a breakfast place, a fine dining place to celebrate your winnings, and how about a place to grab a quick bite in between gambling sessions during the day?
RE: Bellagio breakfast buffet is good. Aria has all-you-can-eat crab legs at the buffet. The Mirage has Carnegie Deli for lunch. Gold Coast Casino has the best Chinese food.
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