LAS VEGAS — For the past six years, a small group of friends in Minnesota has traveled to the Nevada desert in mid-January with one thing on their mind: football.
The NFL divisional playoff weekend might be the best-kept secret in Vegas. It features the eight best teams facing each other in a binge-friendly format: back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday. Throw in a full slate of meaningful college basketball games to wager and casino workers still in a daze from getting overrun by tens of thousands of CES Show attendees the week prior and you’ve got the recipe for a great gambling weekend.
The Minnesota contingent, which includes a college friend of mine, has invited me along a few times to enjoy the fun firsthand. This year, I went with another group of California buddies for wild-card weekend, which obviously is the same format but with lesser-quality games. With the memories fresh, and with the NFL and Vegas on a crash course to unite in the very near future, here’s a rundown on how to watch playoff football right in Vegas:
*One note: I realize releasing a guide like this the week after divisional round is akin to writing on July 11 a guide to the best places to watch fireworks. But I was stricken with the flu last week and it derailed my plans to publish this before divisional weekend. So clip and save. And get a flu shot.
* * *
THE BEST STRATEGY FOR WHERE TO WATCH
What you need to know: “It’s all about seating, beverage service, viewing, and atmosphere,” one of my friends advises. “It will take some effort, or significant cash, to find all four. This includes comfortable seating, complimentary/speedy beverage service, quality video/audio/wagering info, and an energetic atmosphere.”
Consider this: “Sports books are great as they allow you to make quick bets if the situation presents itself during the game,” another friend says. “Sports bar will also do just fine—and if your focus is table games, you can always find a pit that has TVs nicely placed.”
The Recommendation: My Minnesota buddies are staunchly in the corner of the Westgate, the unrivaled king of Vegas sports books. They arrive a couple hours early, stake out comfortable seats and then never leave. It’s a sound strategy. Another excellent option is Lagasse’s Stadium at the Palazzo. You’ll need to pony up for seats (pro tip: everything is negotiable in Vegas) but it’s a more elevated experience. It’s the perfect combination of a sports book and sports bar, with excellent food, drinks, service and sightlines.
* * *
BEFORE THE GAMES START
What you need to know: “By mid-January, there’s always some decent Top 25 college basketball matchups that start before noon Vegas time on Saturday,” a friend advises, “and that’s a great way to kick off the day.”
Consider this: “Breakfast is critical,” another friend says. “Done right, it provides a good base for beverages during the game, and most sports books aren’t going to be featuring food that you will want to write home about.”
The Recommendation:Hash House a Go Go at The Linq has been the Minnesota crew’s go-to morning spot due to the menu variety and portion size. It does get crowded but it’s a large space, so your time on the wait list moves pretty quickly. Especially with bloody mary in hand.
* * *
THE SCENE DURING BIG GAMES
What you need to know: “Almost every play of significance gets a BIG response no matter the score due to the range of wagers out there,” a friend notes. “Everyone is cheering for something, whether their favorite team is playing that weekend or they hate both teams but have some action on the second half over/under. You don’t have to wait long for the next thing the crowd can get excited about.”
Consider this: One friend describes the sports book setup like this: “It’s like the best basement setup to watch football with your buddies, except it’s with about 100 groups all with their own action on the game.”
* * *
AFTER THE GAMES END
What you need to know: The temptation is always to leave the book and go straight to the tables. But from my experience, there needs to be a buffer. My friend agrees, saying, “After the game ends, head to a nice dinner to decompress a bit, discuss why the ‘sure bets’ weren’t taken, and refuel for late-night gambling.”
Consider this: Most casinos on the strip will raise the table-game minimums on weekend nights, so if you’re looking to play low-limit blackjack or craps, get off the strip. Bill Simmons wasn’t wrong a few years ago when he wrote about the Palms being the perfect destination and don’t overlook a quick cab ride downtown to gamble at older Vegas haunts.
The Recommendation: If steaks and cocktails are your thing, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Delmonico at The Venetian. You’ll lose 15 minutes perusing the whiskey list and expertly cooked red meat is the perfect indulgence if the games went your way earlier. (Pro tip: if Chef Ronnie does a table visit, ask him about his previous job and be prepared for a story.)
* * *
FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE
Gleaned from readers who wrote in and from friends…
• “It doesn’t matter where you stay. Assume your hotel room is unavailable between 10 a.m. and midnight. No need to be there otherwise.”
• “Saturday tends to be the all-in day. Get to your game-watch spot early and don’t leave until your last winning wager is decided or cashed. Sunday starts much earlier and is a tougher day to be on top of your game after a Vegas weekend.”
• “Make your wagers for the games well before kickoff. At some sports books, the betting window lines get long leading up to kickoff and you can miss out.”
• “Go with a group of people who are comfortable not having every detail planned out in advance, and who can entertain themselves if need be. Our group works well because we make a general plan of attack, but everyone can roll with the changes and have fun in every scenario.”
The MMQB Football Lifestyle column is a look at what’s catching Dom’s eye off the field. The MMQB has affiliate deals with some of the brands featured and receives commission on certain purchases. Have an item for consideration? Share it.