Saddle up for National Finals Rodeo in Vegas

Dec 4, 2019 3:03 AM

There’s a ton of people who’ve showed up in Las Vegas wearing cowboy hats, boots and other western attire. They’ll be here for a couple of weeks having a good ol’ time, spending money in the casinos, the restaurants, the bars … certainly the bars … and perhaps taking in a show.

You guessed it. The National Finals Rodeo has returned and you don’t have to be Jim Shoulders to know how cool these next 11 days, beginning Thursday, are going to be.

People like to call it the Super Bowl of Rodeo. They’re dead wrong because the two best NFL teams don’t always play in the Super Bowl. Don’t believe me? Just ask the guys in New Orleans.

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At the NFR, you earn your way in. There’s hundreds of rodeos, big and small, throughout America every year. And only the top 15 producers get to participate at the Thomas & Mack Center. Same for the stock. If you think just any ol’ bull gets to toss cowboys off his back in less than eight seconds, well, that’s just a bunch of bull.

They’ve been holding the NFR in Vegas at the Mack since 1985. There have been 320 consecutive sold-out performances with total attendance at 5.79 million, and more than $190 million in purse money has been awarded. This year, $10 million is up for grabs. That’s a pretty good sized jump from the $1.8 million the NFR paid out back in ’85.

Before Vegas had the Golden Knights, before the Raiders decided to move here from Oakland, before NASCAR started running out at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the NFR was the city’s major league event. It was the best of the best going head to head then and it’s the same today.

“We have the same formula today that we had back in ’85,” said Las Vegas Events president Pat Christenson. “What’s different is it’s not a typical Vegas experience. The hotels have created their own experience. It’s more like a festival for the hotels. Every year, it’s something else. The hotels are very creative.”

And if you really want to see creativity with a Vegas touch, the South Point is offering a nightly NFR parlay card. That’s right, a parlay card.

For 10 bucks, you can win $5,000 or more, depending on the jackpot. All you have to do is pick the winner in each of that evening performance’s seven disciplines (bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, tie-down roping and, of course, bull riding). 

The South Point’s Chris Andrews, who’s a pretty tough guy himself for not being a cowboy as he tries to win his battle with cancer, said the request for a rodeo parlay card came from down high, namely Michael Gaughan.

“This was his idea,” said Andrews, the South Point’s sportsbook director. “It was up to us to figure out how to make it work.”

Tom Blazek of Andrews’ staff worked out all the technical details, like figuring out how to get the computer to read the card. Once they got that handled, they did some research, no different than trying to hang a number on a football or basketball game, and came up with the list of names to bet on.

“We get a lot of folks here that attend the NFR,” Andrews said. “I think this parlay card will cater to them. We want to make it fun and enhance their experience.”

Makes sense. If you’re watching on CBS Sports Network, what’s wrong with having a little action on the side?

But even if you don’t need a bet to enjoy watching the rodeo, it’s something worth checking out. Yes, it’s sold out, but not everyone decides to go to the Thomas & Mack and for the past few years, they’ve created an opportunity where you can buy a ticket and if a seat goes unoccupied, it’s yours. The only catch is if someone claims his or her seat, you have to move and find another empty spot.

But the rodeo in Las Vegas is more than just competition. It’s music and entertainment, its shopping at Cowboy Christmas, another long-standing tradition, it’s meet-and-greet photo and autograph sessions with the cowboys. It’s one heck of a good time.

And it’s here until 2024. Some other city will no doubt try and take it from Vegas, but I kinda doubt it. This has become the city’s event and no one does it better.

Sorry if I sound like a homer. But that’s just the gospel truth. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even own a cowboy hat.

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