The NFL and Las Vegas’ evolution on sports and betting

In late 2002, a marketing firm trying to reinvent Las Vegas believed it had captured the allure of the city in a commercial worthy of the Super Bowl.

The ad features a woman in a silky blue top and stiletto boots sliding into a Vegas limousine. She flirts with the driver, tussling his hair, before disappearing from view. When they arrive at the airport, he opens the door and, to his surprise, the woman hops out dressed in business attire, her hair up in a tidy bun, talking on her phone.

The ad never aired during the Super Bowl. Even though it had no ringing slot machines or roaring sportsbooks, the NFL refused to allow the commercial to run, citing a clause in its TV contracts prohibiting gambling-related ads. It was the best thing that could have happened, according to William “Billy” Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners, the marketing firm behind the ad.

“We sent it to the network, and the NFL said no, and sent us a fairly terse email on ‘what stays here,'” Vassiliadis recalls, “and somehow that miraculously, magically got out and became a pretty big issue and, frankly, a great launch for the campaign.

R&R Partners, according to a spokesperson, “went rogue” and ran the ad in local markets during the Super Bowl. The commercial the NFL wouldn’t air became a national story, with prominent news anchors, sitcoms such as “Frasier” and late-night talk shows joking about “What happens here, stays here.” Oscar Goodman, then the mayor of Las Vegas, says the publicity generated from the NFL’s refusal was worth tens of millions in advertising.


Gideon Canice

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