Of all the pop culture to come out of Las Vegas, very little of it has been flattering. From Nicky Santoro killing a guy with a ballpoint pen to Clark gambling away the Griswald family savings, and the Sin City graphic novels in between, it’s very difficult to overlook the city’s unsavory history — unless you’re a professional sports league.
In the never-ending conquest by corporations to take over the world, the marriage between sports and legalized gambling might be the most formidable challenger since Pinky and the Brain. There’s expected to be $23.1 billion, with a B, wagered on Super Bowl LVIII. That sum of money would make Spectre blush. It’s more than the GDP of 66 countries. All in one day, all for a football game.
Marc Davis, hellspawn of late Raiders owner Al, dubbed the team’s Vegas home the Death Star, and while it’s technically called Allegiant Stadium, the Death Star moniker is vastly more appropriate seeing as it was a weapon created by an evil empire to literally destroy planets. I’m not saying sports gambling will be the downfall of civilization, but this weekend could be the impetus for Christopher Nolan’s next apocalyptic movie.
Step 1: Normalize a vice. Step 2: Indoctrinate the public. Step 3: Reap the profits of an addiction designed to keep marginalized segments of the population marginalized and further widen the out-of-control wealth gap. The vilest aspects of drugs, alcohol and sex are done behind the closed doors of Vegas hotel rooms, but gambling on sports? That is now out in the open, and you can be winners, too, like Kevin Garnett, Jamie Foxx, the Manning family, Kevin Hart and the NFL.
Vegas’ most notorious catchphrase, “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas,” actually got its start from the NFL vetoing a Super Bowl ad for the city in 2002, according to an ESPN story. It was leaked that the NFL denied the spot over a clause in its TV contract that prohibits gambling-related ads, the public deemed the NFL a bunch of prudes, The Hangover made the saying the crux of its plot, and voila, every idiot in America wants to go to the middle of the desert, black out and live to tell about it.
Fast forward 20 years, and the league has partnered with the same marketing firm that created the indelible slogan, R&R Partners, for this year’s Super Bowl campaign: “Excessive celebration encouraged.” Wow. That is diametrically opposed to everything the public was taught about gambling and other dangerously addictive behaviors.
Putting “excessive” and “encouraged” in any kind of marketing material for Las Vegas feeds into this notion that you can be your worst self in Sin City and return to civilian life unscathed. Recovering addicts, or even people still wallowing in addiction, know that line of thinking is extremely flawed.
I’ve written about the potential damage that a match-fixing scandal could have on America’s major sports industries — the integrity of the game, the loss of trust, the impact on impressionable young people. Even though that’s still 100 percent possible, if not unavoidable, average, everyday folks are way more at risk than the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL.
Of the projected $23.1 billion wagered on Sunday’s Super Bowl, how much of it will be paid out? Half? A third? Less?
There’s another saying about Vegas that’s ringing louder in my ears, and it’s “Las Vegas wasn’t built on winners.” The house always comes out on top, and due to the Shield’s power, predatory business practices and unapologetic lust for growth, the NFL is now part of the house.