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It was around 4 p.m. last Thursday when I ventured over to Red Rock Resort to make a deposit in my horse racing phone account.

It was busy and surprisingly loud inside the sportsbook. One look at the big screens explained why. The Jazz were playing the Pelicans in the NBA’s resumption of its season and the familiar cheering and chirping that had been missing for 4 1/2 months had returned.

Bettors who had action on the Jazz-Pels contest had plenty to yell about. By the sounds, I think everyone seemed to be on Utah.

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I stuck around for a while and as the game was winding down and the Jazz would hold on for the straight-up win as 2.5-point underdogs, more people started filtering into the Red Rock book for the Lakers-Clippers game.

A couple days later, a return to the book saw more folks, long lines at the betting windows and an energy we had forgotten existed in this age of the coronavirus. With basketball, baseball, the NHL playoffs, golf, soccer all on the screens and people cheering, it felt, dare I say, normal?

When sports shut down on March 12, none of us knew what life would be like without hoops and pucks and baseball. We all figured by the time football season rolled around, this would probably be over and all would be well in the world.

Instead, we have our fingers and toes crossed that the NFL will be able to pull off its season and we could have some form of a college football season. Given the issues baseball has had with its attempt to start its season, I am a bit skeptical that the NFL will manage to pull it off. I don’t know that you can put 32 teams in bubbles and keep everyone safe.

But the NBA, NHL, WNBA and Major League Soccer have managed to do it.

Yes, the protocols are strict in the bubble environments. You can’t bail out and hit a strip club without consequences. The leagues have managed to make life tolerable with other activities outside their sport and I haven’t seen anyone die of malnutrition.

As for the competition, the return of hockey and hoops has been more than we could have hoped for. Lots of high-scoring, entertaining NBA games as the final playoff sports get sorted out. Plenty of hard-hitting, competitive NHL contests as the Stanley Cup Playoffs are officially underway. The stars are shining in both leagues and we’re seeing unsung heroes emerge in the hockey playoffs.

The setups for both the NBA and NHL are visually and aesthetically pleasing. I’m not a fan of fake crowd noise but I’ll take it over the ridiculous cardboard cutouts in the various MLB ballparks. I was kinda hoping Mary Hart’s cutout would leave Dodger Stadium in the top of the seventh inning, you know, just to add a bit of realism to the proceedings.

Best of all, we have our favorite sports to watch and wager on. There’s a vibe that has returned inside the books that hadn’t been felt since early March. There’s a renewed energy. The cheers. The groans. The snarky chirps. We’re hearing it again.

When the Las Vegas casinos were allowed to reopen back on June 4, the books were still virtual ghost towns. A golf tournament here, a NASCAR race there, maybe a UFC card, that’s what was on the TV screens and the betting boards. There was plenty of room to sit, though the properties that had race books found themselves with more clientele.

Now, sportsbook directors are seeing much more traffic and they’re having to get creative to make room for everyone while still satisfying the mandates from the Nevada Gaming Control Board as it pertains to occupancy.

We still have to social distance. We still have to go through temperature checks just to get into the joints. And yes, we still have to wear a face covering. We don’t like it, but we do it because it beats the alternative, which is a dark race and sportsbook.

And as I found out last weekend, wearing a mask doesn’t dampen one’s enthusiasm. I could still hear the bitching and moaning when some NBA player threw up a brick or a hockey player airmailed a shot over the crossbar with a wide open net to shoot at.

The coronavirus has changed a lot of the way we live our lives. But one thing it hasn’t done is alter our passion to watch our favorite games. A buzzer-beater shot in an NBA game or a big hit in an NHL game elicits the same response today as it did back in early March. To me, that’s a victory for the human experience.

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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