Super Bowl more than
a game in Vegas

Feb 1, 2005 2:03 PM

How big is the Super Bowl? Well, this one game is roughly 10 percent of the handle for the entire year in sports betting.

That’s gargantuan, even if some Las Vegas casino resorts avoid using those SB words.

"The Big Game should pass $85 million in action, with a shot at 100," said Chuck Esposito, assistant vice president of race and sports book operations at Caesars Palace. "That’s not bad for a game we can’t even mention by name."

The Patriots-Eagles matchup has fallen in a similar betting pattern that haunted the books all season. The betting public likes the favored Patriots, which caused the opening line of 6 to move up immediately to 6½ and then 7 within hours of hitting the board.

That was more than a week ago and the line, Terrell Owens or not, hasn’t budged. Nor is it likely to.

"It’s a good line," said Jay Kornegay, race and sports book manager at the Las Vegas Hilton. "The public side says the Patriots are a dynasty. The wiseguys believe there is more value with Philadelphia. We’re waiting to see how far it goes, but the line doesn’t figure to change."

In betting psychology, only boxing falls into a similar pattern to the Super Bowl. Meaning the high rollers hit town a day or two before the event and throw big bucks on a line hoping to play the middle and win both ways.

"About 80 percent of the action in boxing and the pro football championship comes in during the last two days," Esposito said. "What stands out is that these two teams were at the top of our futures board when the season started," Esposito said. "That’s highly unusual in the NFL."

In fact, a month ago you could have had the AFC at —3½ against the NFC. No doubt some smarties saw that short line and jumped on it. And why not, the AFC has dominated NFC teams all year led by New England, which is 4-0 versus NFC teams both straight up and against the number.

"The line was short because of Philadelphia and Owens," Esposito said. "We had the Patriots, Steelers and Colts all favored over the Eagles, and I believe San Diego would also have been favored."

This year, however, the public has not bought into the underdog role as in the past. The books were surprised and, as a result, took several big hits during the regular season. So far there has been good two-way play with the line, but as the kickoff grows near it will be interesting if the wiseguys can affect The Big Game.

"I’ve heard all the talk about the sports books around town losing big in general, but we had a terrific season here," said Rich Dressler, sports book director at the Imperial Palace. "And, the playoffs have been even better. Hey, I’m a fresh mind. At the IP, they have allowed me to do what I wanted to and it’s worked."

Everyone has an opinion about SB 40 or wants one. They also want to bet, party and just have fun.

"This has become more than just about the game," Kornegay said. "It is an event — complete with Friday and Saturday night VIP parties, beautiful women and proposition bets that keep fans entertained and involved from the opening kickoff to the final whistle."

It’s the props that turn sports book managers into national TV celebrities. Esposito was interviewed on the Dan Patrick afternoon radio show on ESPN, while Kornegay was featured on the late night ESPN broadcast.

Hank Goldberg, ESPN’s pro football handicapper, spent nearly 10 minutes Saturday on ESPN News discussing the various prop bets.

"We were over 250 props this year, which was our goal," said Kornegay, who helped popularized this craft in his days at the Imperial Palace. "We are always trying to come up with ideas that would interest the public."

Esposito claims that props were born the day William "The Refrigerator" Perry scored a touchdown for the Chicago Bears against the Patriots in SB 20.

"We were one of the first properties to target Shaq and Kobe in the props," Esposito said. "This year, we took it to the next level with throwback props involving ex-Eagles Ron Jaworski and Wilbert Montgomery. We even did one with the Cowboys and there’s a Tom Brady one against himself."

Customers can shop around for a variety of interesting and offbeat props involving everything from Maine basketball to Brazilian soccer to the opening coin flip.

"We’re just glad to see the handle go up every year," Kornegay said. "We have 19 windows open for action and they’re all going at once."