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WILD CARD CITY

<p>Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers fans react during the Super Bowl in February in the sports book at Red Rock Resort. Sports betting and watching the games in sports books are an event on par with other live sporting events.</p>

Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers fans react during the Super Bowl in February in the sports book at Red Rock Resort. Sports betting and watching the games in sports books are an event on par with other live sporting events.

Bedlam. Lunacy. Chaos. Call it what you will. There’s nothing quite like being in one of the major sporting books in Vegas at this time of year. Wildcard playoff NFL football!

Wildcard? This is a city founded on that principle. Where else in the world could you go for the thrill of rabid sports mania than Vegas?

Yet, I’m surprised by how many locals have never leapt into this fray.

At first, you might say it’s like those who avoid the Strip on New Year’s Eve. I can understand that, because New Year’s celebrations aren’t really all that different year to year.

But major playoffs? No one knows what’s going to happen! (As the games over the weekend proved in spades with three betting underdogs winning outright.)

I think if you haven’t piled into the scrimmage of the sports betting scene here you, you’re missing out on a lot of huzzah, and an important anthropological phenomenon that defines our city. After all, this is the realm of the Mystical Bookmakers.

“The odds are…”

Ever since I was a kid, I wondered where was thisplace where the odds were made? And even if you put gambling aside, short of a corner bar in Brooklyn, I don’t think you could find anyplace simply more fun to catch the buzz of what national sporting championships mean to the culture.

I visited three prominent sports books over the weekend and the atmosphere was beyond electric. More like hot magnetic filings flying around, curses, invocations, strange animal cries, wads of cash and many, many cocktail napkins. Of course there are other times of year when the action is running hot—but not quite like this.

Football is the perfect game to drive tribal loyalties and private obsessions. Everything you see on the field on one of the giant screens, you see reflected on the floor in some way—Monday quarterbacks, would’ve been-sportcasters, cheerleaders, coaches, and referees of various kinds.

What I particularly enjoy about sports wagering is that it’s the one form of gambling I can think of where the serious high rollers rub shoulder and raise glasses, and shout and cheer, right alongside the average light beer bettor. The sports book is actually more democratic than the stadium with its corporate skyboxes.

I’ve attended in-person and covered as a journalist several major international sporting events: the Indianapolis 500, two Grand Prix races, the Melbourne Cup and Australian Open Finals, a Grand Final AFL match in the MCG in Melbourne, the finish of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, a bullfight in Spain, the Ashes in the U.K., a World Cup Soccer match, a World Series opening game, the Rose Bowl, and a range of prize fights of various kinds.

There is a special kind of adrenalin intimacy and awe unique to each. There truly is something intense about the live experience. A Seahawks’ game in Seattle is something worth doing at least once, if you can.

But I’d say the same about sports betting in Las Vegas. It’s more than just a spectator extravaganza. You’re surrounded (and I mean surrounded) by people who aren’t only fan-passionate about the games, they’re putting their money where their mouths are—and their mouths seem to be everywhere.

Something in that noise is worth hearing and understanding. CL