PBR rides into Vegas with thrills, spills, $1 million prize

When Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson made the song “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” famous they didn’t know that one day cowboys would be headlining events in Vegas and making more money than they could ever dream of.

Courtesy Professional Bull Riders

Courtesy Professional Bull Riders

But since 1994 when the Professional Bull Riders tour made Las Vegas its home for the World Finals, the prize money and popularity of the sport has risen faster than the ticker on the Megabucks machines.

“At its core, PBR is something that when we do get someone to come out and give it a try where they either watch it on TV or come and experience it live at an event, it’s an addictive product,” said Sean Gleason, PBR president and chief operating officer. “It’s got all the elements necessary for people to get passionate about the sport, the riders and bulls.”

The PBR World Finals return to Las Vegas on Oct. 20-24 at the Thomas & Mack Center with tickets starting at $25.75.

If you’ve never experienced a bull riding event, it is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

In football you’re lucky to see a 210-pound running back take on 300-pound lineman. But at a PBR event it’s a wiry 170-pound man strapped onto the back of a 2,000-pound bull with a name like Code Blue, Voodoo Child or Uncle Buck.

So why would a man, with nothing more than a helmet (maybe) and chest protector, willingly hop on the back of an agitated beast?

 “I’m not sure,” Gleason said. “I’ve been involved with this sport for 11 years and I still don’t fully understand the motivations. As we’ve grown, it’s become a professional sport; riders make their living that way. But I think they would be riding bulls in the pasture if it wasn’t available as a profession. I’m not sure what’s wired in their brains that makes them want to tackle these beasts, but they do.”

Some of the motivation, no doubt, is the millions of dollars up for grabs. When the PBR Finals started in 1994 the annual prize money was just a tad more than $100,000, now the world champion walks away with more than $1 million.

“Vegas has been just a phenomenal partner,” Gleason said. “If it wasn’t for Vegas, I don’t think PBR would be where it is today.”

Find your Western roots in Las Vegas 

If you’re looking to break out of your normal wardrobe and slap on a pair of cowboy boots for the PBR World Finals,

here is a list of the best places to get fitted for a pair and even take in some cowboystyle fun.


If all you brought along were a trusty pair of Chuck Taylors, you can get a serious cowboy upgrade at The Boot Barn, 7265 S. Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 260-1888; Sheplers, 4700 W. Sahara Ave., (702) 258-2000; and Cowtown Boots, 1080 E. Flamingo Rd., (702) 737-8469.


When in town for the PBR World Finals, there is no other place to go but PBR Rock Bar, 3667 S. Las Vegas Blvd., (702) 737-8464. The bar takes its name from the event and even features a lifelike hydraulic mechanical bull, where you can see if you can hang on for eight seconds like the pros.


Gilley’s is back in Vegas, this time at TI. The barbecue house that was made famous at the former New Frontier features the best Texas-style sausage in town that comes straight from Texas.

BRAND Restaurant and Lounge at the Monte Carlo features succulent bone-in Nebraska steaks and the eye-popping tomahawk, which is nearly as big as the bulls at the PBR.


Toby Keith loves this bar and you should too. Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill inside Harrah’s features red, white and blue decor, sexy cowgirl-attired bartenders and, of course, live country music from bands hand-picked by Keith.

Stoney’s Rockin’ Country at 9151 S. Las Vegas Blvd. is another place for cowboys to grab a drink, take a spin on a mechanical bull and hit the massive dance floor for some two stepping.