MGM Grand Race & Sports Book
This is the sports book where the odds are set for every MGM property in Las Vegas. In 2011, the luckiest St. Louis Cardinals fan alive made a late-season $250 bet on his team to make the World Series at 500-1 odds and another $250 to win the Series at 999-1 odds. He got such great odds because the Cards were close to being eliminated. Instead, they mounted one of the most amazing comebacks in baseball history and streaked past the collapsing Atlanta Braves into the playoffs. They ended the season as world champs, and their smart-betting fan enjoyed a $375,000 payday. When I asked the head of the book, Jay Rood, if he personally approved the bet, he pointed to a guy standing behind me at the back of the room and said, "No, but he did." Ok, so I really know how to create uncomfortable moments. At any rate, Rood runs a classy operation. The main floor of the MGM sports book is a fine place to make a wager and watch all the games on giant screens, but if you're visiting Vegas with some buddies and want to have a truly memorable afternoon, talk to a casino host about booking one of the skybox suites that overlook the main betting floor. You'd better hope the game's exciting, though--the giant leather seat I snared during my visit was so comfortable that I almost drifted into a blissful sleep after five minutes. Not that there's anything wrong with catching a disco nap during a lost weekend in Vegas.
The race and sports book in the property formerly known as the Las Vegas Hilton is billed as the world's largest, and the place is indeed cavernous. But the cool thing about the Superbook is the vast array of sports and parlay bets available. Soccer fans who want to bet on their favorite teams from around the world should make a beeline for the Superbook. I had fun making a silly parlay bet--which is a linked bet that only pays off if you get two or more outcomes right, like winning a daily double at the horse track--on the Australian Open tennis tournament that would have won me close to a thousand dollars on a twenty-buck bet if it had come in. LVH is also where I got a painful lesson in the importance of shopping point spreads. I made a bet on the NFC championship game my group was set to watch at the Mirage nearby so I could make sure to get it in before kickoff. Everyone else waited to place last-minute wagers at the Mirage, where the spread was just a half a point different from that offered by the LVH. It was enough to make the difference. I lost my bet, and my companions won theirs when the Atlanta Falcons failed to cover that additional half-point of the spread. (By the way, though the Mirage has a fairly nondescript Sports Book, it was a blast watching the NFC championship game on the outdoor patio of Rhumbar just down the hall with palm trees swaying over the tops of the big-screen TVs.)
Cantor Race & Sports Book at the Palms
This remodeled sports book boasts more than 1,200 square feet of LED TV screens, as well as a satellite station across the lobby for when you're caught on the wrong side of the casino just before game time, but my favorite part of this book is the fact that the poker room is nestled right inside it, so hold 'em players can enjoy some side action while they're hunkered down at the tables. Pro tip: If you love hoops and you're coming down with a sports-fanatic group, try to book the Hardwood Suite at the Palms. I've spent a couple of afternoons there at this point, and count it as an all-time Vegas highlight. The centerpiece of this two-story, 10,000-square-foot suite is a beautiful half-court setup that will have you hustling on the hardwood in no time. Check out the autographs on the far wall behind Plexiglas--especially the one from George Clooney, who notes, "Guys, if you can't get laid in this room..."
Heraea at the Palms
Billed as the place "where girls go to play," this new restaurant at the Palms is aimed at women who love sports, and it includes a Cantor satellite betting station and lets players bet on mobile devices as well. The contemporary American menu includes such playful options as "king crab cones" and there are plenty of flat-screens for watching the big games. Heraea was a couple weeks from opening during my visit and I'm not in the target audience, but it looks like a fun place for a sporting women's day out.
Lagasse's Stadium at the Palazzo
During my first visit to Emeril's sports-themed restaurant and wagering lounge a few years back, I was able to make in-game wagers during the NFL playoffs on a handheld device available to diners. On my most recent visit, the sports betting here, powered by Cantor, was made even easier. Set up an account through the Palazzo sports book and download Cantor's iPhone app, and pretty soon you can wager on sports inside Lagasse's Stadium--or anyplace else inside the state of Nevada. Imagine landing at McCarran International Airport and being able to bet on your favorite game even before taking your luggage out of the overhead bin. Heck, you could be broke--or maybe rich--before checking into your hotel. Lagasse's also offers iPads to guests wanting to play while they dine, and Emeril's crew serves up above-average sports-bar fare in an elevated-seating environment that guarantees a good view of the televised sports action.
Writer's trip courtesy of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.