Bettors get Super win over books

Feb 13, 2008 4:48 AM

By GT Staff | In the wake of the $2.6 million loss and mediocre handle – $92 million – generated in Super Bowl XLII, Nevada sports book operators and industry experts alike were scratching their heads and moaning over what went wrong.

After all, the Patriots were heralded as possibly the best team in NFL history, and the game turned out to be the most widely watched Super Bowl in history.

So, why didn’t the public come out and support its team at the betting windows? Some suggest the slumping economy and high gas prices deterred bettors.

"Simply, the line was way too high," says a Las Vegas sports book director, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "To balance your books, you need two-way betting action, and we never got it because the point spread was just too high."

After the NFC and AFC conference championships, the Patriots were installed a 14-point favorite over the Giants at most Nevada books.

However, the number was quickly bet down as wagers flooded in on the Giants, with the line settling at –12 after just a few days.

And that’s where the line stayed, right up to kick-off as late Patriots money never materialized.

"When you have mostly one-way action – and the Giants got somewhere from 60 percent to 75 percent of the action – it puts the books in the precarious position of being on one side: in this case, the Patriots," the sports director said. "Compounding the problem, with the high spread deterring Patriots fans, you had less handle that you should have had."

In order to generate the two-way action that would have balanced the books and increased the overall handle, the initial point spread should have been in the 7- to 10-point range.

"If we opened the betting at New England -6½ or -7, it’s possible the early action would have been on the Patriots, even driving the line up to 9 or 10," the director said. "Then, you would have seen the Giants bettors come out to take the higher number."

Most astute gamblers agree with that assessment, and expressed bewilderment at why the line was set so high at the start.

"The Patriots are a good team, but they’re not that good," says Jerry "Poochy" Poochigian, a regular player at one of the Station sports books. "There were enough tell-tale signs going into the game to indicate the Giants had a real shot."

Indeed, those signs were delineated in a GamingToday article, "Giants Set to Spoil Pats Coronation," that ran the week before Super Bowl XLII. Among the reasons for backing the Giants:

• New England built its reputation in the first half of the season, when it beat mostly losing teams by an average, 41-15. But against winning squads, their average score was only 29-20.

• The Patriots had some narrow escapes, games they could have easily lost, against Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the Giants in Week 17.

• The aging Patriots defense was pushed around at times in the regular season, and the Giants are among the most physical teams in the NFL.

• The Giants showed tremendous heart, winning 10 straight road contests, including three straight in the post season.

• In the Patriots three previous Super Bowl victories, the winning margin was only 3 points in each.

"I guess the books underestimated the ability of the public to handicap the teams," Poochigian said. "Even if you liked New England to win the game, you had to feel the Giants would keep it close."

As it turned out, most sports book directors – in a poll before the game – overwhelmingly said they thought New England would win the game.

The problem with betting the Patriots to win outright was a "money line" bet of about 1-4, meaning a $1 bet resulted in a 25¢ win.

"Who among us is going to bet odds of 1-4?" Poochigian said. "You have to pretty certain you’re going to win, or have tons of money to throw away."

Apparently neither showed up on Super Bowl Sunday.