It was just past 10 a.m. when I became part of an overflow crowd at the MGM Grand Sports Book.
After spending $25 for the MGM Grand breakfast/brunch buffet and helping myself to pancakes, scrambled eggs and prime rib, I was all set to watch Week 14 of the NFL from the sports book's 20, 42-inch plasma screen televisions, plus two projection screens.
There were Packers, Dolphins, Saints, Lions and a few Raiders fans mixed in with those there to bet on the various simulcast horse races from across the country.
Ponies and football and I was about ready to venture into the sports betting industry, one that saw $2.4 billion wagered at Las Vegas sports books in 2009, resulting in $136 million in casino revenue. Of that, $1 billion was bet on football, bringing in $48 million to the casinos. Basketball was second with $802 million in total bets, resulting in $38.2 million in casino revenue.
And so there I was, fresh meat and no clue how point spreads and money lines figure into winning big. I was like a fish out of water and the casino was there to scoop me up and put me on the dinner buffet that night.
My strategy was simple - bet on the underdog. So I took the Raiders, 11-point underdogs, to beat the Packers. My four-team parlay consisted of favorites 49ers and the Chargers, along with the underdog Giants. The last team was the Bears, a gut feeling or maybe God telling me to bet against the 3½ point favorite Tim Tebow and the Broncos.
So with my two $5 bets in hand, I found a seat and watched the action unfold.
Cigar and cigarette smoke filtered through the air as the voices of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman echo throughout the sports book as they call the Saints-Titans game. Meanwhile, the Lions lead 31-14 over the Minnesota Vikings and it seems the number of TVs showing the game dwindles with every Lions touchdown.
Over at the Bengals-Texans game, I see Ed Hochuli and wonder if the MGM Grand has odds of the referee giving a long, drawn-out explanation on why it wasn't pass interference.
Now watching football from the sports book is different than watching it at the bar. Here at the MGM Grand, you have people cheering loud for a defensive stop on second down, as if it might have saved the point spread. Meanwhile, with 7:01 left it seems the Saints game has attracted the attention of the entire place.
As the early games wind down, there is a mad rush of bettors putting money on the late games.
The Saints are holding on to a 22-17 lead, but backup quarterback Jake Locker has the Titans down to the Saints 10-yard line with 7 seconds left. After an incomplete pass, Locker has one last chance to pull off an upset over the 3½-point favorite Saints. Instead, Locker is sacked. The Saints win and bettors erupt in jubilation.
Meanwhile, as soon as the Saints game is over, the sound of Buck's voice is transformed into CBS's Jim Nantz, calling the Packers-Raiders game.
The Packers score again, and again, and again, and soon I realize that the MGM Grand has just made $5 off me for picking the Raiders.
The game is a blowout and Jim Nantz's voice is transformed into Fox's Kenny Albert and his partner Daryl Johnston, who is wearing a hideous brown-checked sports jacket. Hey Daryl, the '70s called and they want their jacket back.
The Broncos game is 0-0 and I realize that watching football at the MGM Grand Sports Book is the same as any other bar. You still get those people who think they know everything because they've watched football on TV for over 15 years, even though they have never played or coached, and have probably never been to a live game in their life.
It's 7-0 Bears and Tebow is sacked, which awakens the Tebow haters on this Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas.
The Bears' Robbie Gould nails a 54-yard field goal with 3:53 left in the fourth quarter, making it 10-0, and the Tebow haters are eating it up.
Meanwhile, the Chargers Phillip Rivers has just found Antonio Gates for a second touchdown pass and the few Chargers fans here seem to not notice. It seems the whole sports book is in the thralls of Tebowmania and that we are witnessing a miracle. The Denver quarterback has caused a Las Vegas casino to lose money as people leave the tables and slot machines and filter into the sports book to watch the Broncos win in overtime.
After watching 14 games and 840 minutes of football, I'm tired and ready to head back to Kingman. But I'm still here because I still have a horse in the race. I picked the Giants to win, and after going 1-2 in my four-team parlay, I was hoping a Giants win will at least give me some money. After the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Dan Bailey's 47-yard field goal attempt to give the Giants a 37-34 win over the Cowboys, I was ready to collect. Only then did I realize that the gut feeling I had telling me to bet against Tebow, must've been indigestion.
Las Vegas has been home to Elvis, the Rat Pack and Wayne Newton, but on that Sunday, Tebow's miracle stole the show in Sin City.