Tackling Sin City

Yesterday, you read about my adventures in “America’s Playground” — how I experienced Atlantic City, what worked and what didn’t. I was thrilled that I didn’t lose a ton of money, and it became clear that in order to get the full sports betting experience, I needed to venture to the one place in the United States synonymous with gambling: Las Vegas.

I’ve only been to Vegas once before: it was the first time I’d bet on sports and on I told you about it because it was the first time and only time I had bet on sports before this project. Back in 2015, I won $200 betting on UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping. I had a terrific experience then, so it isn’t too far-fetched to think I would enjoy myself on my second visit. Additionally, I was hoping to come away a bit richer. The reality, unfortunately, turned out to be far different.

As I said in the last article, most people don’t go to Vegas for the purpose of making money. More often than not, making money is secondary to enjoying the world-class entertainment that’s synonymous with the Nevada jewel.

I stayed at the Vdara, an MGM-owned hotel behind the Aria and next to the world-famous Bellagio. Once again, I set up shop at a hotel without a casino, just like I did in Atlantic City. It gave me the chance to have a base away from the hustle and bustle of casinos, something that’s even more important in Vegas, where there are thousands of people walking around the casinos at any given time.

Much like in Atlantic City, people who visit Las Vegas have to walk around a lot, something that isn’t too relaxing, considering Las Vegas experiences temperatures above 100°F for three months straight during the summer. Simply put, you will certainly lose weight by walking around Vegas during the day! But walking around Vegas, I could get an even deeper sense of who comes to Sin City.

Throughout my time in Vegas (I arrived Friday afternoon and left Monday evening), I was bombarded with flashing lights, the sounds of drunken partygoers and the constant stream of human bodies, no matter where I went. Even if I wandered off the Strip, I still had to wade through throngs of people. To say that this was an overwhelming experience might be a bit of an understatement, even though I’m from The City That Never Sleeps.

I heard a lot of crazy conversations and general chatter, most of it not kid-friendly. Besides the standard exclamations about winning and losing money, I overheard conversations about being drunk at 2pm, and others that included both soliciting and engaging in prostitution (perfectly legal in Vegas), and doing hardcore drugs (I was offered some and obviously declined).

All in all, the experience there was one of a kind. I could not count the number of bachelor parties that I saw, or the multitudes of women with a “Bride to Be” sash over their shoulders. Also, I saw no fewer than four people passed out drunk, either on an elevated sidewalk or inside a casino. However, just walking around the city, I realized I was getting a very interesting look into a cross-section of the nation. There’s something to be said about the unifying power of casinos. Simply put, gambling will attract people from all walks of life, all brought together by the allure of making money.

Spending a few days in Vegas also gave me the opportunity to go to some of the best restaurants in the country. I seized on the occasion to go to two of them: Beauty & Essex and Spago. Beauty & Essex has three locations, two of which I’ve now been to (the location in Lower Manhattan and now the location in The Cosmopolitan). The ambience of the restaurant is certainly not reflected in its storefront, which looks like a guitar shop. This actually makes the reveal of walking through the door of the shop more memorable, since the opulence of the restaurant’s décor is, amazingly, matched by the quality of the food.

As for Wolfgang Puck’s world-renowned Spago, I enjoyed myself immensely. Diners are presented with the option to sit outside, which I took. I’m glad I did, because, since the restaurant is situated on the northern border of the Bellagio’s famous pool, I was treated to two water shows, accompanied by “Time to Say Goodbye,” sung by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. And all this while eating a top-notch meal.

However, I did discover something about Vegas: it’s REALLY weird going there by yourself. Once I explained why I was in Vegas to people who asked, they understood, but I have to tell you that the next time I go, I’ll be bringing at least one person with me. While taking yourself out to dinner is something that everyone should do, it’s not always the most comfortable thing to do and you will get a few curious stares.

But enough about my Vegas experience. Let’s talk about the betting! I used the same strategies as I did in Atlantic City in order to make educated bets. So that meant lots of roster analysis, video-watching and stat-crunching, as well as consultation with UFC statistical analysis as I prepared myself to make bets on the first big UFC event of my sports betting life: UFC 241. In Vegas, I kept the same rules I had for myself in Atlantic City: No drinking and be disciplined (i.e., no parlays). Thankfully, I kept both rules this time.

There was an issue, however. In my research about the fights, I discovered that the data I was seeing, as well as the predictions that followed from it, went against my gut feelings. To put it simply, what I was seeing in the data didn’t match up with what I knew was smart decision-making. And that’s what this sports betting thing is all about: using data and decision-making to create positive expected value over the long term to make money.

So, this isn’t to say that you should feel bad because you have this internal struggle when it comes to smart decision-making. Every bettor, no matter how advanced, will regularly go through this debate. It’s a strange feeling, that internal tug-of-war, when you know your instinct is correct, but your research is saying otherwise. You want so badly to make an exception and go off to bet instinctively.

But I’m supposed to maintain discipline and follow the models and using the stats that I’m seeing, right? Besides, I already broke that rule in Atlantic City. To be fair, that happened because I played parlays. Still, it was a lapse in discipline. Regardless, my instinct told me to go against the data, and I’m glad I did.

The best way to combat this potential temptation was to remain focused on my strategies and understand that the odds are set the way they are for a reason. But I forgot the most important thing about Las Vegas: taking chances here is sometimes better than playing it safe. Betting on a hunch is sometimes better than being a slave to data because the volatility of sports constantly finds a way to usurp it. Keeping this in mind turned out to be key.

Out of the 15 bets that I placed over the course of my time in Vegas, I hit on seven of them: a $20 bets on an Arsenal win, ties between Chelsea and Leicester City, Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City and Tottenham, a $10 bet on Sheffield United and $50 bets on Stipe Miocic and Nate Diaz.

My instincts told me that, despite the reservations of various MMA experts, Nate Diaz would emerge victorious over Anthony Pettis, even though Diaz was coming off a three-year layoff. My gut feeling also told me that Stipe Miocic would reclaim his heavyweight title from Daniel Cormier, and I’m glad I listened to my instincts, because it was the underdogs who won those fights.

Based on the data, the favorites were supposed to win, but my gut obviously disagreed. From everything that I saw, the unpredictability of Anthony Pettis, with his strike accuracy rate of 46.4% and a takedown accuracy of 44.4%, would do him in against Nate Diaz, who was three years removed from his last fight and as a result could match that unpredictability. As for the power of Daniel Cormier, his strike accuracy rate of 51.3% should have overwhelmed Stipe Miocic, but I knew that the large disparity in height and arm length would do him in.

So, I walked away from UFC 241 with a cool $250 and a good feeling about the fact that I trusted myself. This was risky, though. I had bet $170 on four fights at UFC 241, and considering I had a total bankroll of $300, betting nearly 57% of it in one night on four fights was not a safe decision. In retrospect, $10 or $15 bets would have been much more appropriate.

So, feeling good about my luck, I decided to have an undisciplined night. One thing I’ve now learned is that if you go to Vegas with a stated purpose, stick to that stated purpose. I decided to go do touristy things and play some card games on Fremont Street, namely Texas Hold ‘Em and a new game to me, Let It Slide.

For those who don’t know, Fremont Street is to Las Vegas of the mid-20th Century as the Strip is to Las Vegas of the 21st Century. There’s tangible history there, as it’s really the place where the debauchery that has become synonymous with Vegas was born. There, the lights are even brighter, though much of that is because the street is covered with buildings tightly packed in, as opposed to the wide expanses seen of the Strip. However, my time at the Fremont Casino wasn’t all that successful. In short, I went, won $200, and quickly lost it all because I went to bet on a game I hadn’t prepared for at all.

In the end, I went to Vegas and made $157, thanks to a decent success rate of 46.7% on sports bets, but my gains could’ve been greater had I had discipline and walked away from the gaming tables when I was already up.

Thankfully, my story will not be filed away with the thousands of horror stories of people who go to Vegas, gamble with reckless abandon, and end up losing their cars, homes and other valuables. Being successful in Vegas means that novice bettors like myself will be able to make money as long as they put in the work to ensure that success. I’ll undoubtedly be back to Vegas in the future to bet on more sports, and I’ll use the strategies that worked well to win more money!

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