The Super Bowl summons rich gambling memories for veteran sportsbook operators, who recall their progression through several betting eras.
That vantage point gains renewed focus, with betting already launched for Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 11. (View Super Bowl odds)
Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, has enjoyed a multi-faceted journey since the early 1980’s. He sports brick-and-mortar tenures at Bally and Wynn in Las Vegas, followed by the role in piloting DraftKings through the last five mobile wagering-enhanced Super Bowls.
Avello bridges the age of the wise guys to Mattress Mack, brick-and-mortar Las Vegas books with the national, mobile-enhanced, legal betting world. He met the gamblers face-to-face when they entered his establishments.
That camaraderie led to some of the Super Bowl wagering stories he shared this week with Gaming Today. Here’s Avello’s “Super Bowl Fab Five.”
Wide Right: New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19
Super Bowl 25, January 27, 1991
Avello’s book already had the Giants +6 in its pocket but as the game’s final play arrived, the Poughkeepsie, N.Y. native had a massive rooting interest. His beloved Giants would win or lose the actual game on the ensuing play.
The Bills lined up for a field goal, and Avello sought a standing-room-only view of the dramatic boot.
“I was nervous about the final play, so I stood on top of my desk to watch it,” he recalls. “In those days, we had an office that was maybe seven feet high. It looked like the Bills were going to kick that final field goal to win, but I was hoping not.
“When Scott Norwood missed that just to the right, the Giants won the game, and I jumped up for joy. But as soon as I jumped, I hit my head pretty hard on the ceiling,” he laughed.
His headache would go away, but it lingers for the Bills. That kick is still the closest they have ever come to winning the big one.
No Safety Net: Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8
Super Bowl 48, Feb. 2, 2014
This time, the drama occurred on play number one. It wasn’t a good verdict for the books.
Remember the fastest score in Super Bowl history? Just 12 seconds in. It was the safety recorded by the Seahawks on the first scrimmage play on an errant snap by the Broncos. Seahawks 2, Broncos 0, Wynn Sportsbook, -$100,000 and more.
“We got dinged real badly on that one,” Avello recalls. “We had to pay the safety as the first score at 100-1. And then we had to pay for the safety in the game itself. It was a really bad break for us. We were down well into six figures, and we were just 12 seconds into the game. It happens sometimes. That put a damper on the game for us.”
That’s especially true because a gut punch like that could not be amortized over several books in many states as it would now.
The Dream Pick: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24
Super Bowl 49, Feb. 1, 2015
You remember this one, the following year. The ‘Hawks were about to make it two in a row. But they passed into the end zone rather than run the winning score in from the one. Interception. The Pats steal it.
“We had a gambler make a million-dollar bet on the Patriots,” Avello remembers. “I just happened to spot him later that night after he got paid off. What looked like a $1 million loss had suddenly become a $1 million win.
“I asked him what he liked about the game, why he put so much money on the Patriots. The guy told me he had a dream about the game.”
No handicapping. No stats. No data. It was just a dream played out in a $2 million swing.
Patriots Rescue the Book: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcon 28 (OT)
Super Bowl 51, Feb. 5, 2017
The NFL’s only overtime game became a savior for Avello just before the age of legalized gambling.
The Falcons had a 28-3 lead with 17 minutes left, and there wasn’t enough antacid in the world for Avello’s stomach.
“We had put these props up called ‘pick your own spreads,’” he said. “You could take Atlanta +3, +4, +5, etc., up to +20,” he added about a bet that was the forerunner of today’s alternate spread.
“Well, we had also had some big money on bets like Atlanta -10, Atlanta -15, and some of these were up over +240, which was for the biggest money. We also had some New England bets that would pay, so we were in this rare predicament in which we could lose all the bets.
“You know you get the feeling when there is no chance at all that you are going to win this game. I felt that way with this one, but somehow, the Patriots rallied. Because they won by six in overtime, we didn’t pay any of those big Falcons bets. That was a big break for us.”
Sacked by Mattress Mack: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Kansas City Chiefs 9
Super Bowl 55, Feb. 7, 2021
DraftKings got popped on this, as Mattress Mack placed $3.75 million on Tampa Bay at +3.5. He didn’t need any of the points as this game was over by halftime for Tampa.
But with the book being in so many states, it could shake off the effect of a significant bet like this.
It’s a forerunner to the current age, in which sheer volume will absorb the shock of an occasional big-wager loss. A presence in multiple states is an insurance policy.
Avello’s big-money memories remain a link to a time when one bad bounce on one big bet could crush a book in a big game. It was a time when one book could be on the hook.