For all of us, some days are better than others. For the sports books in Las Vegas some days are way better than others.
Not surprisingly, many of the days that sports book veterans can remember as being either way good or way bad were Super Bowl Sundays, when the football gods smiled on either the bettors or the books. "That’s the day that can make you or break you," says John Avello, who has been the race and sports director at Bally’s for nine years.
If the game ends with the wrong result for the sports book, it can take months for the book to climb back into the black. "If everything goes wrong, then you spend even longer to dig yourself out" and sometimes the book’s ledger isn’t showing a profit again until the beginning of the next football season, he said.
Avello added that in almost every Super Bowl, either the bettor or the books come out ahead. The game "very rarely balances out — on that type of game you usually have a decision" with the book either winning or losing money, often in large amounts.
A number of veteran sports book directors remember the last Super Bowl, the one that featured the Patriots, the Panthers and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe adviser, as a day when the gods were especially kind to the casinos. Sports books tend to be shown that kind of love by the gods of football when the favorite wins but doesn’t cover, according to Rob Akers, assistant race and sports manager at The Venetian.
After the last note was sung in the Superdome in New Orleans, The Venetian was holding about 16 percent, which made it one of the best days any sports book has had in his memory.
However, Akers remembers another event — the first Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson fight in 1996 — when sports books all over the city were singing the kind of blues that helped make New Orleans famous. Akers was working at The Mirage at the time and he remembers that book’s loss reaching seven figures as the public kept betting on underdog Holyfield even after the line, which had opened at something like 20-1, was bet down to about 4-1 by fight time.
Shawn Claridy, who has been a sports book writer for seven years at Sam’s Town, says his employer did "very, very well" on the Ravens-Giants Super Bowl game of a few years ago "when everybody bet the Giants."
One of his book’s worst nights came a couple of months ago when Connecticut won the college basketball championship in a game the Huskies played against Georgia Tech. "Everybody was on Connecticut," Claridy recalls, and the book took a beating as the Huskies won and covered.
Another nightmarish experience for the sports book was the Patriots-Rams Super Bowl game, a contest that Claridy describes as "one of the worst" for the book as it "took a big hit" when New England, a 14 point underdog, won the game outright.
The same game is mentioned by Patrick Rethore who has run the sports book at Arizona Charlie’s East for four years. He says the Patriots-Rams game was "a black Sunday" for his book while the last Super Bowl, in which New England beat Carolina, was the best.
Bert Cirincione at Sunset Station says "NFL Sundays are the best and worst" days for his book and while Bill Walkowski at Texas Station says the Patriots-Rams game was the worst day for his book, he leaves football to mention the 2003 Kentucky Derby, won by Funny Cide, as being one of his book’s most profitable since he took over as manager 15 months ago. Walkowski said his book’s handle was up 35% for that race, a development he credited to promotional efforts he started for Derby Day that included T-shirts and glasses. "You’ve got to take care of your players," he said.
At Caesars Palace, Lou D’Amico remembers the Triple Crown races in 1978 as being very bad news for his book. All three races featured a match up between Affirmed and Alydar at a time when pari-mutuel betting had not yet been introduced. "The public was all over that one," said D’Amico, who remembers bettors confining themselves to those two horses as they placed their bets.
D’Amico also recalls a Marvin Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard fight that was staged on the property at Caesars and became what he calls "a win-win all the way around" for the casino as the large crowd attending the fight spent heavily at the hotel’s shops and restaurants.
On the other hand he recalls a Dallas-Pittsburgh Super Bowl game in the 1970s that ended with a wrong final margin for the Caesars sports book and resulted in a painful moment for the hotel’s accountants.
In the mid 1990s, Pittsburgh again played Dallas in the Super Bowl. The game turned out as well for the Stardust’s sports book as the first Steeler-Cowboy game had turned out disastrously for Caesars. Bob Scucci, who has been the sports book director for two years and an employee at the Stardust for 12 years, remembers books getting "middled" in the first Dallas-Pittsburgh game. A middle occurs when the score lands where players on both the favorite and underdog can cash tickets.
The second time those two teams met in football’s headline event, Dallas won but didn’t cover so that even if people won on the money line, they lost their wager on the basic bet.
Like other sports book managers, Scucci has fewer fond memories of Holyfield —Tyson I. He agrees with his peers that Tyson, who "had an air of invisibility" about him, started out as a huge favorite and was bet down by gamblers who steadily put their money on the underdog.
In another Tyson fight, against Buster Douglas in Japan, Scucci recalls Tyson being listed as about a 30-1 favorite but in Scucci’s recollection, only The Mirage put the fight up on its board so that when Douglas pulled the upset, the damage was confined.