Jan. 20, 2014 at 9:16 AM ET
Sports fans unable or unwilling to make the trip to New Jersey for Super Bowl weekend have another option: Las Vegas.
"It's a big tradition," said Mark Murrell, 41, a seafood company owner from Chicago. He'll be heading to Las Vegas to join a group of friends from around the country who have been flying in for the annual Big Game festivities for the past 16 years.
"Vegas is the mecca for Super Bowl shenanigans," he said. "You can do all the betting you want, but we also go for the parties and the experience."
Murrell and his buddies — all 40-somethings who work in finance or run their own businesses — share game-weekend advice and experiences on Twitter at @VegasBigGame. One pre-game travel tip: "Have a car pick you up at the airport, because the taxi lines that weekend are unreal."
While not its busiest weekend of the year, Las Vegas does get a spike in visitors the first weekend in February — no matter where the Super Bowl is played.
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"It's a gambler's weekend," said Rick Antol, a paramedic supervisor from Weirton, W.V., who also celebrates the Super Bowl in Las Vegas every year. "Each property has events during the game. Plus, it's always 60-plus degrees there — and it is snowing here."
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimated that the 2013 Super Bowl weekend attracted more than 311,000 visitors — up 3 percent from the event weekend in 2012 — for a hotel occupancy rate of 91.5 percent. (The city has 150,000 hotel rooms.) Those visitors also generated a nongaming economic impact of $106.8 million.
Of course, plenty of money was bet on a certain football game.
Last year, close to $99 million was wagered on the Super Bowl in Nevada's 183 sports books — the casino halls where fans can sit and watch multiple games on large monitors, keep an eye on the odds, drink and bet.
"In general, this is the biggest weekend for wagers for the sports books, and probably 85 percent of those wagers are made in Las Vegas," said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "I wouldn't be surprised to see higher numbers this year, but it depends on who the teams are."
While plenty of sports fans plan far ahead to be in Las Vegas for Super Bowl, no matter who's competing, others hedge.
CheapOair said bookings to Las Vegas that weekend jumped between 8 percent and 10 percent last Sunday once the playoff games concluded.
Brian Ek, Priceline's senior travel analyst, said this week's hotel bookings for Super Bowl weekend are running about 18 percent ahead of last weekend's advance bookings.
"That's a significant uptick, especially considering that we do a lot of our Las Vegas hotel bookings at the last minute," he said
For those on the fence about heading to Las Vegas for the Big Game weekend, Murrell from @VegasBigGame has some advice for first-timers:
"Watching from a sports book is going to be difficult because seats are taken up starting at 9 in the morning. If your intention is to experience Super Bowl weekend in Las Vegas, plan ahead, do some research and be sure you get into a party."
Finding an event shouldn't be a problem. Casinos throw private parties for thousands of their best customers and online sites such as Vegas Chatter and Vegas.com have running lists with links to parties in bars, lounges and restaurants.
If you've got 19 friends and $35,000, for example, you might consider booking the Hail Mary package at the Surrender Nightclub at the Wynn Las Vegas.
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That's several notches above The First Down package, which is $100 "and includes a place to stand and watch the game and access to a limited open bar," according to Surrender VIP host Leo Siguenza.
The Hail Mary, on the other hand, features table seating for up to 20 people, two dozen Coors Light beers, four bottles of liquor (with mixers) and a bottle of Armand de Brignac Champagne.
Taxes and gratuities? You can bet those are extra.