The Las Vegas Sports Book Review – Part One

by dave on November 28, 2012

I have always said that I want to spend my entire life within walking distance of a coffee shop and a bar. This sounds incredibly selfish but in reality it isn’t about me, it is about you. I am only thinking of the greater good.

No one wants me behind the wheel of a car before I have had enough coffee or after I have had enough alcohol. In both instances, my lethargic driving skills would be a hazard to any and all.

You are welcome.

But now, after three months in Vegas, I am debating whether I need to add a third item to my lifetime walking list: a sports book.

Inside of fifteen minutes, without the use of an internal combustion engine, I can find myself standing at a betting window; it is wonderfully convenient. I have always said I won’t open an online gambling account because the idea of me being able to bet 24×7 from my couch would be the first step to ruin for me. This close proximity to sports books is the best of both worlds. Close enough to be convenient but not so close to enable me to gamble recklessly. Or more recklessly, I guess I should say.

My condo also happens to be centrally located to many of the casinos on the southern end of the Strip, so I have made a concerted effort to get out and see as many as possible.

My Sundays are typically spent at the LVH (for obvious reasons), so that leaves Saturdays to sample the other sports books.

In a single weekend visiting from out of town, it is difficult to visit more than a couple sports books, so I decided to put together this guide to the sports books – their advantages and disadvantages – to ensure you know where you want to spend those precious few hours and hard earned dollars.

I haven’t come close to making it to all the books yet, so I label this part one. Over the next couple of months I will add more books to my list and if further experience at one of the below books changes my perception, I will update as appropriate.

 

MGM Grand

My home sports book. The one I visit when I am running down in the middle of the week to place a quick bet or for a quick stop on a weekend day.

The MGM is made up of a long thin, slightly bending band of TVs and seats bisected by one of the main thoroughfares connecting the casino to the Strip. The majority of the seats are rows of theater seats with the wooden arm rests we all had in elementary school. A second set of more lounge-y chairs and couch/benches line the back wall. A section to the side with individual cubicles is focused on horse racing.

There is also a separate VIP balcony on a second floor with dedicated servers. I have not visited this area, so have no comment.

Viewing: The broad wall has a large number of TVs of varying sizes as well as the bet boards, providing a nice single stop for almost any game and bet. All of the TVs are HD and spread out the length of the wall, meaning if you want to watch a game on a small TV you better hope you find a seat in front of it.

Seating: The long flat area dictates the seating – individual seats spread out in a row. The only area where a group can sit in a circle or cluster is in the back (or VIP I guess) but the challenge is that the walkway is between the couches and the wall, meaning your games are interrupted by a constant stream of people carrying yards of alcohol stumbling in from the Strip.

Ambiance: Given its central location and relatively tight size, the MGM is almost always packed if there are games on. On a Saturday, if you aren’t in a seat by noon, you will be begging for a seat or squeezing in next to others. It also seems to be pretty smoky. Maybe the constant stream of through traffic and thin area keeps the smoke in, I don’t know.

Food/Drink: Food is available at a small deli off to the side and waitresses in short skirts wander through to take drink orders on occasion. You can receive a drink coupon for every $100 in bets laid but usually need to ask for it specifically as bet takers don’t seem to offer it up unsolicited. The servers, on the rare occasions when they actually come around, will ask you if you have a coupon though and you can typically return to the window with bets laid that day if you didn’t get a coupon the first time. Without coupons the drinks are expensive. The cheapest beers start at around $8, though they do offer over-sized glasses that can be re-filled at a slight discount for the true binge drinker.

Odds of being your favorite sports book: +200


Mandalay Bay

This is the sports book where I spent the majority of my time prior to moving here. The one I would make home on weekend trips with the boys from home.

The Mandalay Bay book is a massive area that is more deep than wide. A single high up wall contains a number of TVs and the bet boards. In front of it is a small area made up of rows of uncomfortable school seats with built in one-arm desks. Off to the side, as usual are rows of individual cubbies tailored to horse betting.

Up a slight set of stairs behind the rows of desks are groups of tables with 3-4 padded chairs around them. These have unobstructed views of the TVs and betting walls, while also having a small band of TVs directly in front of them. Behind them is the bar.

There is no dedicated VIP area, but they will rope off certain tables and TV sets for VIPs upon request.

Viewing: The higher wall of TVs and their up and down orientation means it is easier to see your game but the biggest problems are the TVs themselves. The biggest screens are projection and not HD. Until you return to watching games on non-HD screens you have no idea how important HD has become. Especially for some of us without the greatest vision at distance.

Seating: The school seats up front are misery for anything but the shortest visit. Uncomfortable and requiring you to crane your neck up to watch the TVs. The area at back with tables and seats is actually very comfortable. Soft padded seats and usable tables. The set up allows for huddling with friends, grabbing a drink or bite and filling out parlay cards without turning away from the action.

Ambiance: Given its size and open floor plan, the back area is a comfortable place to watch games. Community forms between those with common bets, yet there is space for every table to not feel like people are right on top of you. Mandalay is a destination so you only get those staying at the hotel rather than anyone and everyone coming off the Strip and the high ceilings keep it smoke-free.

Food/Drink: Food is available at a small deli off to the side here as well but the servers will place and bring you orders here. There are no drink coupons available so you are paying for every drink. However, get in good with the waitresses and when you order a bucket of five beers, a sixth may magically appear from time to time.

Odds of being your favorite sports book: +185

 

Aria

A relatively new sports book and one I stumbled into one night just looking for a change of scenery.

Nestled down a hallway, next to a sports bar, the Aria trades size for amenities. The area is broken into three distinct areas. The first is directly in front of TVs and is made up of a series of couches, lounge chairs and a few theater seats. The second sits behind the lounge area and houses the betting windows , the bet boards where lines are displayed as well as a few high top tables to sit at. The final area is a dedicated horse racing area, with individual cubicles, comfortable padded seats and a dedicated wall of racing feeds from across the country.

A section of the couch area appears to be cordoned off for reservations and/or VIPs.

Viewing: Sitting in the couch area you are literally surrounded by TVs, with the main walls covered by large HD TVs.  Even behind you, between the couch area and the betting window, a small band of TVs lines a small, high dividing wall. The biggest negative for viewing is the lack of bet boards in this area. When contemplating placing a half time wager or looking for last second line movements, your only option is to walk back out and stand in the betting area. I don’t understand why at least one or two TVs couldn’t be re-purposed to post the lines so you can see them without getting up.

Seating: The couch area is as comfortable as any sports book in town. But it is relatively small. Given its upscale approach the Aria itself doesn’t attract as much of the jersey wearing, Bud Light guzzling crowd though, so you may still be able to find seats. I visited the Aria for a Thursday night and Monday night game and had no problem procuring a seat before kick-off. I also visited on a Saturday night and it was much busier. I ended up sitting in one of the seats in the horse racing area; it was comfortable and after swiveling my chair around I still had great sight lines to the games on.

Ambiance: Small and relaxed makes the Aria almost ‘cozy’ if that can be applied to any Las Vegas sports book. The couch area lends itself to chilling. However the small area also means that if anyone is smoking near you, you are smoking too. During a Monday Night game, a guy lit up directly in front of us and we had to move because we couldn’t breathe.

Food/Drink: I have not bet heavily here, so I’m not totally sure on the drink coupon rules. If I remember correctly, I was told on my first visit that the minimum bet for a drink coupon is around $125. The waitresses however are overall very attentive – both in the couch area and even when I was the only one sitting in the horse racing section late on a Saturday night. I don’t think you can have food brought in, but can go eat in the restaurant next door which is also surrounded by TVs.

Odds of being your favorite sports book: +110

 

Bellagio

One of the bigger, nicer casinos in town, but not exactly known for its sports book.

Similar to Mandalay Bay, the Bellagio is a big open area with individual seats at the front, horse racing cubbies to the side and softer chairs and tables at the back separating the book from a bar. The betting windows sit below the TVs. The betting boards are on a perpendicular wall to the right of the betting windows/TVs (when facing them).

However, the majority of the table/chair area appeared to be reserved on my visit one Saturday night. So the open seating was comprised of theater seating at the far right of the area (upon walking in from behind).

Viewing: The chairs, both in the theater seating and the table area are oriented toward an entire wall of TVs. However the first rows of the theater seating are so close to the wall, that the TVs further down the wall are almost unwatchable.  The TVs are all HD and mostly good sized so that if sitting back in the last rows of theater seats or in the table area, the views would be good.

Seating: The couch area appeared very comfortable if not a little crowded. Again, these appeared to all require reservations. The theater seating is probably the most comfortable I have seen – big over stuffed lounge chairs with a wooden arm rest for writing. Being so close to the wall though, you need the high back and deep angle just to comfortably watch the TVs towering above your head.

Ambiance: Open and airy but with so much reserved seating, it is hard to feel welcome unless you are one of the invited few.  A comfortable, if slightly impersonal space.

Food/Drink: I’m not aware of any drink coupon options, though I didn’t bet heavily here. The waitresses are attentive even to the theater seats and the drinks are not overly expensive (despite being a nicer place, the prices were comparable to MGM). I didn’t see any food options unless maybe while sitting at the bar at the rear of the book.

Odds of being your favorite sports book: +140

 

Caesars Palace

One of the biggest and best known sports books in town but I get the feeling that derives more from the betting options and ubiquity of the Caesars name than it does from the comfort of actually watching games here.

Caesars possesses one of the few sports books that is laid out directly in the middle of the main casino floor – taking over a corner of the casino between the slot machines and the party pit, next to an entrance to the Pure night club. Patrons choosing to sit and watch sports seem almost like an afterthought.

The viewing area consists of chairs surrounding small tables; half of which is open seating, the other half roped off and reserved. There is no dedicated theater seating but on busy nights, a number of extra seats can be lined up along the back. As usual, a section is set off to the side consisting of small cubicles for horse racing.

The HD TVs are interspersed with betting boards high above the betting window making for easy sight lines to all games from even the back rows.

Viewing: All of the chairs have good sight lines to all of the TVs. Relative to a place like the MGM there are fewer TVs, outside of some very small TVs that are unwatchable from any distance. Given its size you are most likely sitting quite a distance away from the TVs, so your viewing options are limited to the games on the biggest screens.

Seating: The chairs at each table are comfortable but given the size of the casino itself, it is a relatively small area. Especially when half of the seating is roped off and reserved. When I visited on a Saturday night there were no tables available until the prime-time games ended and I can imagine on a football Sunday it would be nearly impossible to get a seat.

Ambiance: Being located on the main casino floor has positives and negatives. On the plus side, the high ceilings and lights keeps things open and bright. But the whole area feels like an afterthought. The impression is that Caesars would prefer you to come lay a bet and then go spend more money at tables rather than actually watch the sporting event you just bet on.

Food/Drink: While the lay out screams don’t linger, props to Caesars for having the most lenient drink policy I have encountered. For a mere $50 bet you get a free drink coupon, half of what it costs in bets at the MGM. The waitresses, while also attending to others in the casino are attentive and ever-present while games are going on. Even after the main games ended, and I was practically the only person in the book watching late west coast and Hawaii games, the waitress happily brought me 3 rounds of drinks. As far as I can tell, there are no quick and easy food options.

Odds of being your favorite sports book: +150

 

The Palazzo – Lagasse’s Stadium

 

Lagasse’s Stadium in the bottom level of the Palazzo has become the standard bearer for luxury sports book game viewing in Las Vegas. But with that luxury comes a high price tag.

The main area of the Stadium consists of rows of couches built on an incline like a theater. Each couch has its own table and an unobstructed view of a giant bank of TVs, with betting boards off to the side.

In addition to the main theater there are also ‘boxes’ off to the side of the main theater with their own TVs as well as a bar area consisting of a bar (duh) and more mini-boxes. Finally a third section consists of standard restaurant tables also with their own dedicated TVs as well as banks of TVs.

What separates Lagasse’s Stadium from the others on this list is the cost. Where every other sports book allows anyone to sit on a first come, first served basis with no expectation on spending, Lagasse’s requires minimum food and drink purchases for any of the main areas during prime viewing time.

For a couch in the main theater that cost is $100 per person per game. For the couch areas in the bar or one of the tables it drops to $50 per person per game. For the boxes it is considerably more (for the coming BCS national title game, a box that seats ten will cost $2,000).

The Stadium is also very popular, so without a reservation, expect to stand in line just to gain admittance during any popular game time.

Viewing: Given the wide disparity of seating options, it is hard to generalize. The theater seats are great with perfect sight lines to both TVs and betting boards. But the number of TVs is relatively limited, so if you have money on a Sun Belt game you can forget about watching it. The boxes and couch areas near the bar have a dedicated TV per section which you get to choose what is broadcast. But if you are looking to track 2 games, you either need to strike a deal with your neighbor or hope you have a lucky view of a random TV not in your section.

The Betting boards are also centralized around the theater so if you are sitting up in the bar area or at one of the standard tables, expect a short walk to check the lines.

Seating: If you are willing to pay for it, the seating is as comfortable as they come; big, soft couches and low tables. If you aren’t in a reserved couch section, you are stuck at a crowded, tight bar or at one of the tables, which is just like sitting at a sports bar for 3 hours.

Ambiance: The Stadium is one big party. Everyone is there for one reason – to watch sports while eating and drinking. There is no ‘just passing through’ here. With that comes the fun of loud cheering and booing and fortunes are won and lost. The only negative is the segmentation of the areas. Sitting at a couch in the bar area (where I spent a whole game a few weeks ago), you have no idea which game other sections are cheering for.

Food/Drink: As you would expect in a sports book named after Emeril, The Stadium excels at food and drink. As it should when you have minimums you have to spend. A full menu is available comparable to any slightly upscale sports bar. Food and drink are both competitively priced, which seems almost counter-intuitive with minimum spending requirements.  It is easily the best meal you will eat in a sports book. But it should be.

As far as I can tell, there are no free drink coupons offered and even after several buckets of beer, I don’t think we ever received an ‘accidental’ extra.

Odds of being your favorite sports book: (If money is no object): -100; (for the cost conscious): +130.

 

Click here for Part Two of my sports book reviews (including an update on Lasgasse’s Stadium)

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