January 27

Football betting more popular than ever in Vegas

Fans bet an unprecedented $99 million on the Super Bowl last year, and expects to break the record again Sunday, barring a snowstorm.

By Hannah Dreier
The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — With the Super Bowl approaching, fans are talking trash, buying snacks, and, more than ever, placing bets.

click image to enlarge

A stage structure with the logos of the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos comes together Monday in New York’s Times Square. Up to 13 blocks in the heart of Manhattan will close to traffic for four days so the NFL can host a Super Bowl festival called Super Bowl Boulevard.

The Associated Press

Fans bet an unprecedented $99 million on the Super Bowl last year, and the Nevada gambling industry expects to break the record again Sunday, barring a snowstorm. Nevada sports books collected record amounts of football wagers during the tail end of 2013.

All of this is changing the role of the humble sports book, which casinos used to see as a low-profit perk that kept customers from going next door.

“It’s not just an amenity anymore; it’s not just icing on the cake, it’s part of the meal,” said Jay Kornegay, who runs the LVH sports book.

“We’ve seen crowds like we’ve never seen before.”

Professional gamblers and odds makers alike attribute the rise in wagering to the increase in televised games, and the increasing ubiquity of sports analysis.

Amateur gamblers are more likely to bet on a game they can watch, because the emotional journey is part of the fun.

The proliferation of sports podcasts, blogs and websites, as well as the debates that rage on social media, have all made fans feel more educated and confident in their opinions, according to Kornegay, who spent last week furiously working with four staffers to figure out hyper-specific data points, like the number of receptions Denver running back Knowshon Moreno is likely to have.

Proposition wagers, in which gamblers bet on elements of the game aside from the final score, account for as much as 60 percent of Super Bowl bets in Nevada.

sTIGMA FALLING AWAY

Johnny Avello, who runs the luxurious sports book at Wynn, where the chairs are made of fine leather and the carpet is thick enough to pass out on, believes the stigma is also falling away from the pastime.

Avello, who speaks with a Goodfellas-type Brooklyn accent even though he grew up in upstate New York, says this is the biggest change he’s seen in the past decades.

“Even Al Michaels on (Sunday) Night Football will say, ‘Wow, they covered the spread,”’ he said, grinning in disbelief.

When casinos figure out how to attract fantasy sports players to the Strip, profits may soar even further.

Some of this growth was hidden by the recession. People scale back on gambling before other discretionary spending, and the handle – the total amount of money wagered – plummeted in 2009. It was the only fiscal year of the past 10 that saw a decline in sports betting.

Oddsmakers believe the previous Super Bowl record, set in 2006, would have been upended years before 2013 if not for the hard times.

Last fall, gamblers set records in September, October and November. In November, the last month for which statistics have been released, sports books handled $490 million in wagers.

On Sunday, the Super Bowl will be played outdoors at a site with cold weather for the first time, and the industry is worried that snow could throw off the handle when the Seahawks meet the Broncos, favored to win by 2.5 points, in New Jersey. Casual gamblers might be spooked, unable to predict how the weather would affect their favored team.

The surge in betting means that sports books are now expected to contribute to the bottom line.

So while casinos are throwing elaborate parties for Super Bowl weekend, selling table service and luxurious suites, don’t expect to get so much as a free bottle of water at the sports book. At Wynn, a customer has to bet $150 before the book will think about giving out a drink ticket.

(Continued on page 2)

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