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Sports books avoid Super Bowl catastrophe

Steve Yingling

Football fans’ sympathy and adoration of Denver quarterback John Elway cost Nevada sports books substantial sums money in Super Bowl XXXII on Sunday. But locally, the hit wasn’t as serious.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying how glad they are that he won as they cash their tickets. Usually, it’s ‘give me my money, I’m glad I won,'” said Caesars Sports Book manager Mike Miller.

“As a whole, it wasn’t the smart guys who cost us. There was just this love for John Elway and people wanted to see him get there and he got there, and it cost the sports books,” said Harrah’s Sports Book Manager Steve Schorr.

Denver’s stunning 31-24 victory over defending champion Green Bay in San Diego was the Super Bowl’s third-biggest upset on record. Only the 18-point underdog Jets 16-7 shocker over the Colts in Super Bowl III and 12-point underdog Chiefs’ 23-7 trouncing over the Vikings in Super Bowl IV ranked higher.

Consequently, the betting public capitalized on the Broncos’ prohibitive underdog status.

Schorr estimated that Harrah’s properties combined lost in excess of $100,000 because of the public’s foresight to lay a dollar in order to win $3 on the Broncos.

“When it was all said and done, it was almost a perfect balance of bets for us. But the money line was really what hurt us. For the whole network we were within $10,000 for straight bets,” Schorr said.

“I would say nobody did good on the money line. You don’t have as many people willing to lay $3.50 to win $1 and you’ll have plenty that will take $1 to win $3,” Schorr said.

A $40,000 wager on the Packers helped keep Caesars’ money line losses minimal.

“The futures and the props made the day for us. It would have been real bad for us with the Broncos winning and the game going under,” Miller said.

At Harveys, the volume of betting and winnings were down from previous years, but the book felt no hardship from the upset.

“We were in a situation where we had an AFC vs. NFC (Super Bowl line) all year, so we had some room to play with. By the time kickoff arrived, we had enough action on both sides. The Green Bay money came in late but it came in,” said Barbara Vasquez, a 10-year sports book supervisor at Harveys.

Like Caesars, Harveys benefited from a large bet on the Packers. One local bettor had wagers totaling $25,000 on the Packers and the final score being under 49 points.

“We had a lot of good-sized bets, nothing huge,” Vasquez said. “A lot of people were on the fence. They didn’t know which way to go and then jumped late.”

When the Super Bowl line opened anywhere from 12 1/2 to 14 points, Schorr was surprised. He said that if the teams had met in the regular season, the line would have been no more than 10 points. Nevertheless, Harrah’s stood by its one-sided line provided by Las Vegas consultants. The line eventually dropped to 11 1/2 before the Sunday afternoon kickoff.

“You want to have the number the rest of the industry has. If you’re smart enough to have an opinion, you’re smart enough to be on the other side,” he said.

The books, however, feel the AFC got lucky and the NFC will reassert its prominence next season. Future odds list the Packers as a 2-1 favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl. The Niners are the second favorite at 7-2, and the Broncos, with Elway’s playing status uncertain, are 8-1 to repeat. Other contenders are the Steelers (10-1), the Jaguars (10-1) and Chiefs (12-1). Harveys’ futures are similar, but the Packers and Niners aren’t clear-cut favorites. The Packers are listed at 7-2, the Niners 4-1 and the Broncos and Steelers 8-1.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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