News & Opinion

PGA Tour finally lands top billing in Las Vegas

2013 Las Vegas skyline
Las Vegas has been home to many big-name acts over the years, and the PGA Tour is about to take its place among the headliners.

COVID-19 has stripped much of the action from The Strip, elevating the PGA Tour, which begins a 2-week run in Sin City, onto the marquee for another Las Vegas pastime: sports gambling

Your mission, gents, should you choose to accept it: Settle in place for the next two weeks. Remain in “The Bubble.” Play two golf tournaments for $16.75 million in prize money. Face off against golf’s biggest names (but maybe not Tiger Woods; we’ll know Friday afternoon at the commitment deadline). Compete on one of golf’s most exclusive modern courses while you play back-to-back tournaments … in Las Vegas.

Well, you were warned that this was a dangerous mission. Good luck, gents. This message will self-destruct in – oww, not yet! – six seconds.

Welcome to the PGA Tour’s new Las Vegas Swing. What could go wrong with being in Vegas for two weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic? Not much (note sarcasm), as long as Carrot Top wears a mask and keeps the appropriate social distance.

This week is the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin. Next week is the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek, relocated from South Korea because of the pandemic.

Normally, it’s not a big deal when the PGA Tour comes to Vegas. It’s just one more little attraction in a city full of major attractions (and action) on The Strip.

It will be different this time. Vegas casinos are not fully up-and-running with some of their biggest shows because of COVID restrictions.

The PGA Tour usually brings a field lacking star power to TPC Summerlin. The Shriners Hospitals gets an upgrade this week with nine of the world’s top-30-ranked players, including U.S. Open champ Bryson DeChambeau, PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson and Patrick Cantlay, plus former PGA champ Jason Day. (Tony Finau tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw Tuesday.)

The CJ Cup’s 78-man field isn’t official, but the tournament website features the starry likenesses of DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. So, it will be loaded.

For once, the PGA Tour might be the biggest show in town. And since Vegas is the home of legalized gambling, you may assume that wagering will take place.

“We’re getting some huge names with the CJ Cup next week in front of the Masters,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for oddsmaker William Hill U.S. “When the Shriners were here, it was a fall-playout thing. I wouldn’t compare the betting handle we’ll have to years past. This will dwarf it, probably 10 times more. It’ll be apples and oranges.”

Sports betting is the latest wave hitting America, riding the crest of fantasy sports’ popularity but now wading directly into hard-core betting. Eighteen states covering 30 percent of America’s population have regulated sports-betting markets, according to ESPN.com. Since sports-betting became legal in 2018, more than $20 billion is estimated to have been wagered.

As a Pennsylvania resident, I have legal accounts with FanDuel and DraftKings sports books and can bet any sporting events for which they provide odds – provided I am making the wagers from one of several approved states. I can’t bet from, say, Florida. My phone knows my location.

The only sport in which I’m significantly ahead is golf, thanks to Morikawa at the PGA and a decision to bet Johnson during the week when he shot 30 under par, at TPC Boston in the Northern Trust. However, I am still in a minority when it comes to wagering on golf.

“Golf betting is a drop in the bucket compared to other sports,” Bogdanovich said. “I believe it got a kick in the pants during COVID. Golf betting has increased with it being the only game in town at first [when the PGA Tour restarted its season in June]. We definitely saw a spike, which I hope jump-started some new bettors.”

Hockey was another underperforming sport with wagering, Bogdanovich said, until the Las Vegas Knights joined the National Hockey League. Then it boomed.

He’s not expecting anything similar during these next two weeks. Golf rates 10th or 11th in wagering among major sports, he said, which he finds disappointing because he’s a big fan.

“It’s the perfect sport for betting and watching on TV,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s my favorite sport. Golf betting has potential, and we’ve seen a good burst. Golf is in as good a place as it’s ever been. The fields are so deep with studs, it’s incredible. These guys hit it 20 miles. And you’re getting pretty juicy odds on Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau and those guys, because it’s so hard to win.”

The most popular wager remains betting on a player to win, but William Hill, like other betting sites, also offers assorted proposition bets: Low score in a group; head-to-head; in-round betting for low score on a specific hole; odds on anyone making a hole-in-one, and others.

Those types of bets haven’t caught on yet in the U.S. but as technology improves, and perhaps as more viewers consume golf from a mobile platform instead of cable TV, it will expand.

William Hill also offers odds for the LPGA, Champions and Korn Ferry tours. “There’s very little interest,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s just the PGA Tour. We got a ton of action in Major League Baseball, so we tried offering AAA games. People just were not interested. They have only so many dollars to invest.”

Gambling probably is coming to your area soon because the major sports organizations, including the PGA Tour, have gotten in on the action. “The leagues used to fight us; now they’re for us,” Bogdanovich said. “They embraced it.”

The PGA Tour has partnerships with FanDuel, DraftKings, PointsBet and BetMGM.

In case you were wondering, the betting co-favorites for the Masters at FanDuel.com are DeChambeau, McIlroy, Johnson and Rahm, at 10-1 odds. Tiger Woods, the defending champion, is 20-1.

“Golf is tailormade for betting,” Bogdanvoch said. “I wish more would bet it.”

During the next two weeks in Las Vegas, they will. You can book it.

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