Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Westgate SuperBook offers best viewing experience in Las Vegas

Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook video display is incredible.

Last week I was so pumped for the start of the 2016 baseball season and wanted to make it a special occasion, but couldn't find anyone that was able to fit a trip into their schedule to either San Diego or Anaheim for the opening series, so I decided to stay home by myself in Las Vegas and watch them all. The big question was where should I stay to make it the ultimate baseball stay-cation.

I've always enjoyed my past stay-cations at Red Rock or Green Valley Ranch and the South Point has always been my go-to move, but I wanted something a little different, a change of pace. Basically, I just wanted a new experience with baseball being the focal point. So the main component as I whittled down the possible candidates of hotels came down completely to the sports book video presentation. I wanted to be able to watch every baseball game for four straight days with the clearest of screens, loud enough sound on a featured game and being able to do it in pure comfort.

Finally, it hit me. "What about the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook?" They just built this amazing new book that cost almost $12 million and I had seen it in different phases over the past eight months being built, but had never spent a full three hours to watch a game in the finished product, let alone stay multiple days for baseball-only purposes -- I had stayed there several times for the Elvis-fests.

The thing I liked best right off the bat in the renovated room as I started to get myself comfortable for opening day on Monday was how SuperBook VP Jay Kornegay shifted the race side and sports side from the old layout with each other. The sports side is now the larger of the two sides. There's also no-smoking throughout the book, a first for Las Vegas where smokey rooms have become synonymous with a race and sports book image.

When I sat down for the opening game in these huge comfortable seats with a table top to rest my coffee and sheets, it really felt like I was heaven. The room was full, but it felt like I had lots of space for myself -- no one crammed on top of me. "Yes, this is exactly what I was hoping for -- damn good choice going with the Westgate" is what I was thinking to myself and a game hadn't even started yet.

I had these massive screens in front of me and I felt like I was Captain of the Starship Enterprise. It was a video display that was out of this world and a testimony to the evolution of the modern sports book which first wowed us with the SuperBook in 1986 and then three years later with the Mirage until the ultimate video display was born at Red Rock in 2006, which was kind of the birth of the technology the SuperBook has expanded upon.

The SuperBook video wall has the ability to post odds on every section of it or use video on the entire 20 x 240 feet of screen that curves around the room. They can have seven monster movie screen pictures in HD on display or break it down to smaller screens to accommodate a busy MLB, NBA or NHL schedule.

On this Monday afternoon, it was all baseball, but I had to wait an hour longer than usual because of poor weather cancelling the first game on the schedule with the Astros at Yankee Stadium. Poor weather would later cancel the Red Sox and Indians. Both games would be made up Tuesday morning -- an added bonus for me on Tuesday. I had to wait for the 11 am game with the Giants at Milwaukee for my opening day to begin, but then slowly over the next two hours, four other games would pop up on the screens. I won a couple and lost a couple, but it didn't matter. I was in video heaven for opening day.

I wanted to know more about it, so I asked to see assistant manager Jeff Sherman. I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone. I knew he was busy prepping his six pages of Masters props and I was doing a story on it, so I'd ask him some questions that I'd use for quotes while also getting to visit the control room. When I walked into the room, where there were three other administrators working the boards, making sheets and controlling race sound. It looked like a NASA control room. Manager Ed Salmons was seated in one spot booking the games, Sherman was in the midst of finalizing his props and they had a mini-version of the entire screen out front located in the back. It was an awesome operation.

Jay Kornegay walked in to the back room and I couldn't throw out enough descriptive words to him about how impressed I was with the entire operation, and that was just for back-of-the-house, not even the front.

Meanwhile, there was another big game on the day that was a bonus for me -- the National Championship basketball game with North Carolina being a 2-point favorite over Villanova. Salmons said the kids (smaller public money) were all over Carolina. I had bet Villanova a day earlier, but almost forgot about the game on Monday because of the baseball rush my mind was enjoying.

The room started filling up for the basketball game at about 5:30 and once it started, you could tell it was a pro-Tar Heels crowd. The flow of the game was actually like a classic Hagler-Hearns boxing match from the 80's where it just back and forth with each team doing what it does best. UNC's size had the edge on the boards 33-23 and shot 11-17 from three-point range, but Villanova kept after it with efficiency that defined their entire tournament run by shooting 58 percent from the field.

The biggest roar of the night with 5 seconds left in the game was when UNC guard Marcus Paige hit a circus double-pump three to tie the game 70-70. Most bettors wanted overtime so they could cash their tickets while others -- Villanova bettors -- wanted a foul or anything in the final seconds just to avoid OT. They got their wish, except it came on a 3-pointer at the top of the key from Kris Jenkins to win the game, 76-73, as time expired.

As the ball was chucked up in the air, you could hear several bettors yelling in unison "No, no, nooooo" followed by some expletives when the ball splashed for three. The 25 percent of the crowd that had Villanova were jumping around in unison, high-fiving and some even hugging. The UNC bettors either sat dejected or put their hands on their heads in disbelief.

But one thing all will agree on is that it might have been the greatest championship game ever played and I felt lucky to be part of it in a such a great environment. I'm like "really, I came for a baseball week of fun and I ended up watching perhaps the best basketball game ever?"

The rest of the week played out well with day baseball -- my favorite -- as opening days were happening for several teams. I even got a taste of some great Champions League soccer play on Wednesday and Thursday. I have never watched matches indoors on such a big screen -- because it doesn't exist -- and they had the sound on for it too with dozens of people oohing and awing every kick. And then on Thursday they had multiple feeds from the Masters opening round action and the color green never looked so brilliant on television.

So to the entire staff at the SuperBook, the maids that kept my beautiful room up daily (60-inch HD flat screens a nice amenity) and the overall vibe I got from everywhere at the Westgate, let me just say thank you. It was one of my favorite opening day baseball experiences ever, and I didn't even go to a game. You brought the games to me in manner I had never known and seen before.

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