In 1980, early in my tenure at the Stardust, my friends from Steubenville and Pittsburgh came to town and we all headed to Los Angeles for the Super Bowl between the Steelers and the Rams at the Rose Bowl.
We all pooled our money and laid -10.5 with the Steelers, betting $1,650/1,500 for a four-way split. The game opened up with the Steelers as a 10-point favorite and closed in some spots at -12.
Final score: 31-19 Steelers. A win and cover for us. What a game and what an experience! We had seats on the 50-yard line along with 103,985 of our closest friends. But even with those seats, the fans going nuts, and winning the game and our wager, have you ever tried to get out of the Rose Bowl with a crowd of more than a hundred thousand? Not fun.
Believe me when I tell you, watch the game at home or at your favorite sports book on the huge, high-definition screens. I’m not sure that anything about the Super Bowl has changed more than the wagering experience.
Betting on the Super Bowl back then was strictly vanilla compared to the buffet that it is now. There were no props, and all you could bet were the sides and totals for the game, and the second half. Imagine that! No first half bets, let alone quarters, except on the ties lose parlay cards at the time.
Talk about evolving…
Now we will move on to 1985 and Super Bowl XX, a game this bettor (and at that point working behind the counter at the Stardust) remembers well. Mike Ditka and his Chicago Bears were a 10-point favorite over the Patriots and the total on the game was a low 37.5 due to the great Bears defense.
The final score was 46-10 Bears and the parlays of Bears and over took its toll on the books. But the big news all week was the wager that legendary bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro posted at the Mirage.
This was the start of something bigger than anyone at the time could have imagined: Prop betting!
Jimmy posted a prop, one of the first this bettor ever remembers seeing, would William “The Refrigerator” Perry score a TD? The ‘yes’ was listed at 20-1 and some spots even had it higher. This one simple prop started the whole Super Bowl prop ball rolling as it went national.
The word in Las Vegas was Mike Ditka read about it, and if the situation arose he was going to give his big 325- pound defensive lineman the ball.
Lo and behold, he did. “The Fridge” got his TD and the bettors got their cash, including a crisp double sawbuck bet by yours truly. And with that, the prop dam was broken. By the way, the prop took so much action that it closed at 2-1 on the ‘yes’.
As I’m sure you know, prop bets have changed the entire betting structure of the Super Bowl, especially when Hall of Fame prop maker Jay Kornegay started putting up a book of props at the Imperial Palace Sports book in the last 1990s. Jay, who now is in charge of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, has taken it to an even higher level in the 21st century with over 600 props. William Hill trumped that, offering 1,000 ways to bet this year’s Super Bowl.
What was once just a big game has now become a wagering bonanza. I know casual fans who have Super Bowl parties and purchase hundreds of props as door prizes. That way, they are involved on every play of the game and it keeps the party lively..
The Super Bowl has become much bigger than just a game, it is a must-see event. It is now part of our culture, and known all over the world. It’s so big, in fact, that there is just as much buzz (and sometimes more) over who is singing the national anthem and performing the halftime show as there is for the game itself.
The bottom line is that the Super Bowl crosses all the boundaries and has become an all-encompassing event, not only for gamblers, but for all of us here in the states and hundreds of millions of people around the world. And this is especially so for our troops who are away from home keeping us safe so that we can have a few distractions like a Super Bowl.
They will be watching, as will all of us. Have a great game, and may the best door prize win!