Las Vegas hopes to hit the jackpot with the Super Bowl

LAS VEGAS (CNN) — When Super Bowl Sunday rolls around each year — whether it’s in Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles or Minneapolis — Las Vegas still draws the crowds.

Football fans make a long weekend out of the event, they see some shows, eat some food, place some bets, lose some bets, and settle in front of one of countless TV screens to watch the game.

Come this Sunday, for the first time ever, that Big Game will be in Sin City itself.

With one of the biggest shows on Earth now in its backyard, the city of spectacle and excess is hoping to hit it big.

Las Vegas says it expects a “conservative” economic impact of around $600 million, and is looking to cement itself in the rotation for future Super Bowls and other major sports events.

Scores of local businesses say the added foot traffic and attention they’ve been getting this week and weekend could ultimately spill over well beyond game day.

“What really matters to us is that when the spotlight’s on us, we perform,” Steve Hill, chief executive officer and president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told CNN. “And there’s no bigger spotlight than the Super Bowl.”

Las Vegas hopes to hit the jackpot with the Super Bowl

Celebrities, parties, Swifties and dollars

Las Vegas joining the shortlist of cities to have hosted the Super Bowl represents the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of efforts and billions of dollars to become a destination for sports in addition to gambling, food and entertainment.

“It certainly is a pinnacle,” Hill said. “You only get one chance to do the first Super Bowl in your city.”

And it could be a big boon for Vegas, Hill said, noting that the $600 million estimate could likely end up being closer to $700 million or $800 million.

It took years — and a Supreme Court ruling legalizing sports betting — for the National Football League to view Las Vegas in a different light. And Super Bowl LVIII and all the athletes, celebrities, fans, Swifties and dollars that come with it, are coming during a nice boom time for Las Vegas.

The leisure-and-hospitality-centric city that was devastated by the onset of the Covid pandemic (its unemployment rate rocketed to 34%), has rebounded and in recent months notched record gaming and visitor levels.

“We’re sold out, have been for the last month,” said Paul Hobson, general manager of the Sahara Las Vegas hotel-casino. “The Super Bowl is typically a very nice weekend for us. It’s really turned into a premier weekend for us … and it’s bigger than just the weekend.”

In addition to higher room rates, the Sahara is hosting a slew of private shows, including an FHM magazine event on Thursday with hall-of-famer Michael Irvin, several other NFL stars and 200 social media influencers and models.

“That’s not typical for a Thursday night in Vegas,” Hobson said.

The Super Bowl also is serving as a palate cleanser for those who felt the Formula One race in November didn’t live up to expectations (and instead rankled many locals).

“The NFL has 100% spread the love at several different casinos and businesses,” said Noel Bowman, who owns bars such as Minus5° Icebar and 1923 Prohibition Bar. “Formula One just kind of put a big fence up and said, if you don’t have enough money, you’re not coming in.”

It’s not even Super Bowl weekend yet, and Bowman’s already seen a noticeable boost to his businesses.

“We’ve always done well on Super Bowl Sunday, our business is right next to the sportsbook, which fills up and then we kind of become overflow seating,” he said of the 1923 Prohibition Bar in Mandalay Bay. “But rarely has it been where it’s right at kickoff and no one can find a seat. This year, all signs are indicating that it will 100% be more robust than years past.”

An estimated 330,000 people are expected to descend on the desert valley this weekend, filling the 156,000 or so hotel rooms that sit within an eight-mile stretch of the city, according to the LVCVA.

Those hotel rooms that typically run a little high this time of year are running even hotter this time around.

Las Vegas hotel rooms are being booked on average for $392 per night, up 159% from Super Bowl weekend last year, according to data provided to CNN by Priceline.

Las Vegas hopes to hit the jackpot with the Super Bowl

Visitors pose in front of a Super Bowl LVIII logo and an oversized replica of the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the Las Vegas Strip in front of Caesars Palace on February 3, 2024. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A higher level of spending

Otherworldly numbers like $600 million are often met with skepticism from economists, Frank Stephenson included.

“I think you’ll get more money flowing in this weekend than you would, say, a weekend ago or a weekend from now or the same weekend last year,” he said. “But the dramatic numbers that folks like to throw out are, I think, somewhat exaggerated.”

Stephenson is a professor of economics at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia, and specializes in sports economics and public policy. In 2021, he published a research paper in the Journal of Sports Economics on how Super Bowls affect tourism in their host city.

Stephenson’s bread-and-butter is analyzing hotel occupancy data to get a sense as to whether the events put more heads in beds than what’s typically seen.

This time of year, Las Vegas is typically one of the highest occupancy cities in the country. Last February, the city averaged a 78.1% occupancy rate, which trailed just a few other cities, he said, citing STR data. And for the week that ended on January 27 of this year, Las Vegas’ occupancy rate was 83.4%, STR data showed.

“Las Vegas has a lot of people going there for Super Bowl weekend anyway,” Stephenson said. “My sense, and this is what I’ve seen in some of the work I’ve done, is that a lot of the visitors that go will simply displace other people who would have been there.”

Las Vegas hopes to hit the jackpot with the Super Bowl

Allegiant Stadium, the site of Super Bowl 58. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

LVCVA Hill agrees.

“We’re basically full when the Super Bowl is in a different city, so it’s not added visitation at any real level,” Hill said. “That’s not where the increment comes from.”

When the Super Bowl is in town, it’s much more than a weekend event, it starts the Monday before, he said. Additionally, the visitors it attracts spend a whole lot more than the ones who would show up on your typical Super Bowl weekend, Hill said.

“That can be room spend, restaurant spend, the activity of setting up the Super Bowl and tearing it down, the hundreds of parties, the sanctioned NFL events, the corporations coming to town to put events on for their customers,” he said. “Some of these things would have happened without a Super Bowl physically being here, but you get a bump because it’s more of them, and it is a higher level at each of them.”

The concerts and parties at Area 15, a massive art and event venue, are already sold out, CEO Winston Fisher said.

Over at Planet 13, which dubs itself as the world’s largest cannabis dispensary, the sales are already building to what could be a “holiday-type weekend,” said David Farris, vice president of sales and marketing.

Las Vegas hopes to hit the jackpot with the Super Bowl

Super Bowl projects from the company, Any Occasion Baskets. Courtesy Felicia Parker

5,000 doughnuts and 4-foot flower arrangements

The team at Café Lola has seen an influx of private events and catering requests, including from the families of superstar tight ends George Kittle and Travis Kelce. And it was all hands on deck Friday and Saturday as the owners, employees, family and friends gather to make 5,000 doughnuts for the official Super Bowl tailgate party.

Café Lola is a member of the Super Bowl LVIII Business Connect program, which helps partner diverse and minority-owned businesses with NFL vendors and event producers.

“The companies that we’re working with are using us for future orders when they’re in town,” said Lin Jerome, who co-founded Café Lola with her friend Alexandra Lourdes. “It’s definitely given us a whole new demographic of people who are excited for our products.”

And for Felicia Parker, whose Any Occasion Baskets is another member of the Business Connect program, she’s already starting to see some of the potential payout.

This time last year, Parker was busy putting together Valentine’s Day flower arrangements. But on Friday morning, Parker and her staff were surrounding a mini football with grass and succulents.

“For this week, it’s been so fun, because it’s had me have to think outside of the box,” she said.

For one event, she had to put together five 4-foot arrangements filled with hundreds of flowers. For another, it required 130 smaller arrangements.

“We’ve had a boost in our business by thousands of dollars, and being a small business, that’s a big deal,” she said. “It’s just the beginning of what the potential is for the business moving forward.”

In the coming weeks, Parker has a sit-down with officials at Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas’ main airport.

“I’m like, ‘Whoa, that wasn’t even on my wildest dreams list,” she said. “All because of this program and the Super Bowl coming to Vegas, it’s far past the dollars, it’s the opportunities, and the doors that are opening, and the connections that have been made that are priceless.”

By ALICIA WALLACE/CNN