Scenes from Super Bowl LVIII: Two wise guys, two weddings and a walk

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It's been two weeks since the underdog Kansas City Chiefs rallied past the San Francisco 49ers in an overtime thriller that would become the watched television program ever and likely the most bet-on game in American sports betting history. And it happened in Las Vegas.

Super Bowl LVIII averaged a record 123.7 million viewers across television and streaming platforms, according to Nielsen and Adobe Analytics. It's a safe a bet that a lot of them had a financial stake in the game, most of it on the champion Chiefs, by the way. DraftKings and FanDuel, the two biggest sportsbooks in the U.S., combined to take 26.4 million bets on the Super Bowl, totaling $612 million in wagers in the states in which they operate.

New Jersey sportsbooks took $141.6 million in bets on the Super Bowl, according to preliminary numbers released by the state's division of gaming enforcement. The New York State Gaming Commission reported $162.2 million in Super Bowl bets. But Nevada bested them all, handling a $185.6 million in bets on the Super Bowl, the most ever for the godfather of betting states. The record action is a reminder that, while sports betting may be available in 37 states now, when it comes to big betting events, Las Vegas very much remains the place to be.

It's a city full of wise guys and weddings, a place where you can go from being offered $1,000 bottles of tequila at one stop and a block down the road get all-you-can-eat barbeque and sushi for $19.99.

Wise Guy No. 1

Radio row is a zoo of personalities, and on Thursday morning, a few days before the first Super Bowl in Las Vegas, America's most successful sports bettor, the once-reclusive Billy Walters, is in the thick of it.

For decades, Walters was the most influential player in the sports betting market, capable of moving point spreads instantly with his network of bettors and bookmakers. He mostly stayed away from the media back then, and his elusiveness created a mystique that was almost as powerful as his bankroll. "Who's Billy on?" routinely circulated in the betting community, because everyone, including those he employed, wanted to know.

Now 77 years old and having spent time in federal prison after an insider trading conviction, Walters is still betting and much more openly. He tells reporters on radio row that he's placing a "small bet," $500,000 to $1 million on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, something he'd never do in the past.

Walters is publicizing his book "Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk," which made the New York Times' best seller list after its release last summer. He'll likely do more interviews today than he's done over the previous 30 years. And, as he walks past to the NFL-branded slot machines stationed at the entrance to radio row for his 10:30 a.m. interview with ESPN, he has something on his mind.

"I'm really happy that we have legalized sports betting in the majority of the country," Walters says. "It's something that was a dream of mine come true. You can make a bet on a ball game and not be unfairly viewed, you know, as some sort of criminal. You can do it in a legal, lawful manner. You get paid. There's all kinds of positives about it, and there's so much fun to be had, as long as you do it in moderation. But I am concerned about a huge potential with addiction with younger people.

"I shared in my book that I got addicted to gambling myself as a younger man. If I was exposed to the environment we have today, where there's an app and they're sending me six or eight offers a day to bet on this or that, I mean, I could only imagine just how much more addicted I would have been."

Walters says change is needed, including increased transparency from sportsbook operators and constraints on advertising and promotions sent to bettors.

"I see this, frankly, not the degree by any means, but a little bit like the tobacco industry. I think we undoubtedly need some regulation. I'm not talking about over-regulation, I'm the least regulated guy in the world. I think business needs to be able to do what business needs to do. But I think business has a responsibility to its customers, to the public and the people who gave them a privileged license to conduct their business in a certain way. Right now, I don't think there's enough disclosure and, right now, do think there's some things that need to be addressed."

Wise Guy No. 2

The advantage player -- or AP -- at the bar at Barry's, the downstairs steakhouse at downtown casino Circa, has been in the betting racket since arriving in Las Vegas from Boston in 2004. I call him Cowboy Erik, because he used to disguise himself as out-of-town cowboy when the rodeo was in town in an attempt to trick sportsbooks to letting him bet more than they should. Cowboy Erik has good Super Bowl stories, like this one.

In 2006, Caesars Sportsbook offered a prop bet on when the first touchdown of Super Bowl XL between the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers would be scored. The odds of the first touchdown being scored 28 minutes or later into the game opened at 100-1.

Cowboy Erik, using an alias, bet $1,000 at 80-1 with a Caesars Sportsbook in Reno, before heading to another Caesars property in Las Vegas ahead of the game. He noticed that the price had moved to 60-1. He bet it again, under a different alias than the one he used in Reno.

The game plays out perfectly with the Steelers scoring the first touchdown just after the two-minute warning in the second quarter. Cowboy Erik was a winner.

Days later, when he went into the Caesars' book in Las Vegas to collect, the counter attendant congratulates him and says, "I don't want to rain on your parade, but there was a guy up in Reno that got it at little better price, 80-1."

"I just smiled, and said good for him," Cowboy Erik recalls.

Wedding No. 1

The Little Vegas Chapel sits on 3rd and E. Imperial, far from the glitz and the glam of the Strip. It's casual and "silly," according to one of the brides who were married there on the Saturday before the first Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

It's the kind of place where the best man may walk in with a can of White Claw at 10 in the morning or where an entire wedding party may don inflatable dinosaur costumes for the ceremony. It's the kind of place where no one takes themselves too seriously. It's the kind of place where you can get married by Elvis.

"It's fun and silly," says bride Chi Hoang, before heading into the chapel to marry Brian Wong in front of Elvis.

The young couple from Seattle didn't realize the Super Bowl would be in town when they began looking for Vegas wedding options on Feb. 10. It was more about Lunar New Year, they said.

Bob McArthur, the self-proclaimed busiest celebrity impersonator in Las Vegas, oversaw Brian and Chi's nuptials in a black leisure suit with green sequins, sunglasses and jet black pompadour. He closed the ceremony with a rendition of, obviously, "Viva Las Vegas."

Asked who he liked in the Super Bowl, McArthur said he liked the 49ers, adding that Taylor Swift was "over-exposed."

I noted the irony of someone impersonating Elvis saying that Swift was overexposed. He shrugged.

Wedding No. 2

The second wedding Saturday at the Little Vegas Chapel was very much about the Super Bowl. Brooke and Calvin Hicks from Springfield, Missouri met around Thanksgiving in November 2022 on an online dating platform, in some part, because they noticed each other's Chiefs allegiance in their profile pictures. They got engaged last August and considered a ceremony at Arrowhead Stadium but couldn't figure out what to do until the Chiefs began their playoff run.

Ahead of the AFC Championship Game between the Chiefs and Ravens, Brooke looked into options for chapels, hotels and flights.

"We were ready at the two-minute warning to purchase everything," she says. "We kind of just decided, 'Heck, why not?' It's Vegas, it's the Super Bowl let's do it."

Brooke and Calvin got married in custom "Mrs. and Mr. Hicks" Chiefs jerseys. They chose Saturday instead of Sunday in case the Chiefs lost.

"Now, [the Chiefs] need to get a ring," Brooke said of the Chiefs in the hours after her wedding.

The Walk

I decided to take a Sunday morning walk ahead of the first Super Bowl in Las Vegas, beginning at the Westgate Resort & Casino, formerly the Las Vegas Hilton, where Elvis performed here during the last years of his life.

It's home to the iconic SuperBook, one of the first Las Vegas sportsbooks to transform in a theater-style venue for horse racing fans and bettors to revel. The SuperBook isn't packed yet, but a small line has formed in front of the betting counter. The SuperBook remains one of the most popular sportsbooks in Vegas and by kickoff will be overflowing with bettors.

Outside of Vegas, though, the SuperBook is trying to figure out its place in the evolving betting market in the U.S., where it's up against deep-pocketed companies like FanDuel and DraftKings. Neither FanDuel nor DraftKings, the two largest sportsbook companies in the nation, operates in Nevada.

DraftKings does have a corporate office in the suburb of Henderson, where a team of traders manages point spreads and odds on events across the nation. But, for the most part, Las Vegas sports betting is still owned by the old guard, the Caesars, MGM's and local operations like Station Casinos, the South Point and the SuperBook. I hope that doesn't change too much, but fear that it will as I head out of the Westgate.

My next stop is the Guardian Angel Cathedral, which sits right outside the Wynn. I wanted to see what mass looked like on Super Bowl Sunday, a day when millions of dollars will be risked on a football game. In Catholicism, gambling only becomes a sin if the amount risked exceeds one's disposable income.

The 11 a.m. mass is mostly full. There are two people in Chiefs jerseys. I don't see any 49ers jerseys. I wonder if it's an omen. I received a text from Cowboy Eric encouraging me to bet that the opening coin toss would be called tails. I thought that was a sign to exit the cathedral and head to the Wynn to see an NFL-branded slot machine with a progressive jackpot that's reached $1.4 million.

The NFL slot machines allow players to pick their favorite team then shows highlight on a video screen above the game. A couple in 49ers jackets is on the bench seat, hitting the buttons and feeding the machine money.

Mark Wadley, the chief marketing officer for Aristocrat Gaming, makers of the NFL slot machines, says the communication with the league began before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's a surreal moment for anyone who's followed the NFL's recent pivot on sports betting and Las Vegas. Just nine years ago, the league forced Tony Romo to cancel a fantasy football conference that was to be held at the convention center attached to the Venetian. Now, the Super Bowl is here, and NFL-branded slot machines are in play.

"We came together on the spirit and intent, creating something that was really fan-friendly and can engage fans who are already in a casino," Wadley says. "If you look at some of the demographic data, there's about 30 million NFL fans who are in casinos today playing slot machines. Fifty million fans of the NFL are inside casinos on annual basis, and we thought the opportunity to share this game and experience with them, with the NFL logos, the teams, the videos and the entertainment value was something really interesting."