Sunday, March 14, 2021 | 3 a.m.
Jay Kornegay, vice president of Westgate SuperBook, was unsure of what type of demand to expect when his property released viewing-party tickets and table reservations for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament starting on Friday.
Turns out he shouldn’t have been — certain dates and spaces sold out more than two weeks in advance. Basketball bettors and fans have shown a clear appetite to return to Las Vegas for the biggest sports gambling weekend of the year after they were denied the opportunity in 2020 with the tournament’s cancelation.
“The numbers are exceeding expectations despite some of the limitations we’re still dealing with,” Kornegay said. “These are positive signs that we’re inching back to normalcy.”
No, this year’s NCAA Tournament won’t be a vintage Las Vegas version where occupancy rates eclipse 98% and the first weekend competes for the busiest of the year as pandemic protocols continue to stay in place. But it might not be as far off as many expect either.
The Westgate isn’t the only resort throwing socially distanced watch parties; nearly every property along the Strip is doing the same. Reports indicate the response has been strong for all of them.
“From everything I’ve heard and seen, we are expecting to have a great weekend to start March Madness,” said Lisa Motley, director of sports marketing at Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Obviously, it’s all under capacity limits so it won’t be what we’re used to but it’s a shot in the arm for the destination to come out of the gate with something this exciting and celebrating what we think might be the start of a return to a little bit of normalcy.”
The LVCVA is not putting out its usual tourism forecast for the tournament’s first weekend, which traditionally estimated an economic impact in the hundreds of millions. There’s still too much uncertainty in place between the coronavirus mandates and no past-year averages, but anecdotally, it appears the city is going to get a long-awaited economic boost.
Across the street from the Westgate, Sahara Las Vegas is going all-on on basketball. To ensure it abides by all the required safety measures, the property is selling tickets to watch games in four different lounges in addition to a centerpiece theater-viewing option.