LAS VEGAS — Sunday afternoon, as John Elway went down hard in his own end zone under the weight of a New York Giant, more than a little bit of Lou D'Amico went down with him.
"Safety," he said, bolting upright behind his desk in a back room at Caesars Palace.
"I don't believe it."
D'Amico ran his hands through his dark hair. His 39-year-old face registered real pain. This safety would mean nothing in the final analysis of the lopsided game, but it was easily the worst thing that would happen to D'Amico all day, an object lesson in the vagaries of gambling on the Super Bowl, Las Vegas style.
D'Amico manages the casino's Sports Book. It occupies a large corner of Caesar's, and is a cavernous place equipped with enough scoreboards and television screens to allow interested gamblers to watch and wager on seemingly every sports contest of significance in the nation.
One of the ways the operation and others around town like it make life more interesting for their customers is by allowing them to make side bets on the Super Bowl. In casino parlance, these side bets are called propositions, and they can be fairly exotic. One sports book this year offered bettors the opportunity to gamble on whether television analyst Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder would pick the game wrong. It also was possible to place bets on who would win the opening coin flip, and football purists were at a loss to explain why Denver was the favorite for this proposition.
One of the several propositions that D'Amico had placed before bettors was that there would be no safety recorded in the Super Bowl this year. Significant numbers of gamblers had chosen to differ, and had been given odds ranging from 7-1 to 2-1. The odds were decreased as more and more people took the bet.
"I thought that was a real sucker bet," D'Amico was saying as Denver prepared to kick from its own 20-yard-line.
An aide stuck his head in D'Amico's office and told him what he already knew.
"Louie," the aide said, "that safety just cost us thirty-four grand."
"I can't believe it," D'Amico said again. "A safety. Who would take a bet like that?"
Now the telephone buzzed. D'Amico knew who was calling. "They don't waste any time, do they?" he said. He pushed aside a heap of computer printouts and picked up the phone.
They in this instance meant D'Amico's employers. The safety apparently had aroused their curiosity as to how much the proposition had cost the house. D'Amico did not beat around the bush.
"Thirty-four thousand dollars," was the first thing he said into the telephone.
What was said back could not be heard, but it took a little while to get out.
"Yes sir," was the next thing D'Amico said, then he listened a while more.
"Oh well," he ventured finally. "It doesn't hurt us that much. It hurts, but it doesn't hurt us that much. We can get it back."
It is hard to imagine a more fitting place to watch a Super Bowl than Las Vegas. The Super Bowl is an "event," and Las Vegas loves events. Super Bowls, designated by Roman numerals and advanced by media with a fondness for combat metaphors, is all about hyperbole, and so is Las Vegas. The Super Bowl, with its build-up often mocked by blow outs, can leave spectators feeling a bit cheated. And certainly so can Las Vegas.
In the past decade, the Super Bowl has come to rival New Year's as the most active weekend in Las Vegas. Officials at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimated last week that the Super Bowl would bring about 100,000 visitors into the city, filling hotels to 90% capacity and leaving behind about $41 million in additional income.
"The phenomenon rises to a real peak when the game is played in the west," said one casino marketing expert. "It's a natural stopover. People come in here, place their bets and then fly on to the game.
"Lots of times," he added, "when they get here they get so swept up in the momentum of Las Vegas that they don't even get to the game."
The reason for the love affair between Las Vegas and the Super Bowl is obvious. Nevada is the only place in the nation where it is legal to place sports bets. Not even Atlantic City allows it.
There are dozens of the so-called sports books at casinos around town. They range in grandeur from plastique opulent to extreme funky. Bets can be placed almost anything having to do with sport, from horse races to college basketball to the Super Bowl.
"I don't think there is an industry around today proliferating as fast," said Sonny Reisner, one of the deans of the sports book field. "We've gone from 70 million a year 10 years ago to $1 billion today. It's like the patriotic thing to do in America these days--bet sports."
Las Vegas and smaller Nevada gambling cities allows professional sports bettors an opportunity to come out of the closet and, in some cases, be treated like high rollers.