Sports books foresee better Super Bowl

Jan 20, 2009 5:10 PM
by David Stratton |

Nevada’s bookmakers are hopeful that this year’s Super Bowl will produce better results for the state’s sports books than last year’s debacle.

Last year, the New York Giants’ upset of New England contributed to a net loss of $2.5 million for Nevada sports books, the first losing Super Bowl in over a decade and only the second in 18 years.

The amount bet on the game, $92 million, was also lower than the two previous Super Bowls (see chart).

"With the Arizona Cardinals playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, we may not have a ‘dream’ match-up, but we’re certainly hoping for equal betting action, something we didn’t have last year," said the sports book director at a Las Vegas Strip casino.

On Monday, Pittsburgh was made a 7 point favorite over the upstart Arizona Cardinals in most Las Vegas sports books; a few shops made the line 6½ points.

The sports book director, who asked that his name not be used, said the 7-point line was justified because the Steelers were more of a "public" team. "If we made the line lower, most of the betting action would be on Pittsburgh and we’d have to raise it up to get Arizona money," he said.

Some astute handicappers, including those who pen columns for GamingToday, noted that Arizona is beginning to show the form that the Giants had last year in surprising everyone – including the state’s sports books – in the Super Bowl.

Arizona has already beaten three quality opponents in the playoffs; and they were the betting underdog in each game.

"As a 7-point underdog to the Steelers, it looks like the Vegas sports books didn’t learn anything from last year’s Super Bowl," said one writer, a former handicapping champion and in-the-money finisher in this year’s Station Challenge.

The problem last year was that all the serious money, including heavy money-line wagering, fell on the underdog Giants.

And even though New England was a perfect 18-0 going into the Super Bowl, the 14-point line was simply too high.

Although odds-makers and most bookies have defended the point spread, bettors and handicappers point out the game should have opened around 7 points.

"New England had shown they weren’t the same team at the end of the season as they were at the start," said one handicapper. "They were perfect in the first half of the season, winning and covering all eight games.

"But in the second half of the season, the Patriots covered only one of eight games in which they were double digit favorites."

With a 7-point spread, some handicappers believe this year’s Super Bowl could be a mine field for sports books. While the Arizona Cardinals aren’t considered a "marquee" team, they are a compelling contender with an interesting story line, including the re-emergence of aging quarterback Kurt Warner.

Warner nine years ago led the upstart St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl victory over the Tennessee Titans. He’s struggled since then, but this year caught the fancy of football fans with his stellar play, which should have landed him a third Most Valuable Player (MVP) award (Peyton Manning of Indianapolis won the honor this year).

Nonetheless, the casino handle on Super Bowl bets is expected to decline for the third straight year. It reached its peak of $94.5 million in 2006, but has dropped off every year since then.

"We may not get as much betting action as we would have with more popular teams, such as the Colts, Eagles or New York Giants, but Super Bowl is always big on the Strip and we’re hopeful for a good game and lots of happy customers," the sports book director said.

Unfortunately, too many "happy customers" might mean everybody cashed a winning Arizona money line bet.