Props rule the day for Super Bowl at Vegas sports books
Jay Kornegay still finds it painful to talk about the last time the Denver Broncos were in the Super Bowl and the first snap of the game went over Peyton Manning's head for a Seattle safety.
For some reason, a lot of bettors at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook had put money on a 60-1 longshot that the first score of the games for the Seahawks would be that safety.
"It cost us a healthy six figures in the first six seconds of the game," Kornegay said. "Luckily we ended up making it up."
Such is the way with so-called "prop" bets, which tantalize bettors with promises of big payoffs. Unlike point spreads and money lines they can vary wildly from sports book to sports book, and sometimes bookies can take a bath.
At the Westgate there are nearly 400 such bets on the board this year, with wagers available on everything from if Manning will throw a touchdown or interception first to whether Panthers receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has a rushing attempt.
Kornegay says at least half of what he expects could be a record-setting handle on the Super Bowl will be on the props, with the average fan betting four or five of them along with money on the traditional point spread.
Since casual fans like to bet on things to happen - the "yes" on many of the props - Kornegay and other bookies say a Super Bowl game without much action could be a big winner for them.
"In most cases the books need a boring Super Bowl, with limited scoring and limited crazy things like safeties and overtimes," he said. "I'm not saying I'm rooting for a 10-7 game, but if that happens we will do well."
Oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro is credited with helping start the trend toward prop bets, thanks to one big loss he took while running the MGM Grand sports book in 1985. It came when William "Refrigerator" Perry, the bruising 325-pound lineman for the Bears who had rushed the ball a few times during the year, scored from the 1-yard-line in the third quarter of a blowout win over New England.
At 40-1 odds against Perry scoring, the book took a beating.
"We lost almost $50,000, but it turned out to be the best money we ever spent," Vaccaro said. "Just the publicity was worth that much, and that was the catalyst to where we are now."
Vaccaro doesn't expect to lose that kind of money on any of the 270 props he has up at the South Point hotel-casino, a sports book not afraid of a little action. He is, however, getting a lot of action on a prop on whether Manning will take the last snap of the game for the Broncos.
Bettors who think Manning won't finish the game for any number of reasons can get a 4-1 payoff if he doesn't.
"A lot of people will be rooting for an injury," Vaccaro said. "It's just a guess because who knows? But there are other reasons he might not be in the game, like being replaced by the backup if he is not effective."
Manning is a popular bet for a range of props, including whether his first touchdown pass will be at least 10 1/2 yards. Those who think he might scramble like he did on one play in the conference final against New England can also get 12-1 for their money if he scores a touchdown himself.
At the South Point on Friday, bettors were lined up 5-6 deep as the betting started to heat up for the weekend. So far, most books have had far more money bet on the Carolina Panthers than the Broncos, who are a 5.5-point underdog.
Bettors also think Cam Newton will do well. At the William Hill chain, they've made Newton the odds on favorite to be named MVP of the big game.
Proving that bettors have memories, too, the second most favorite bet prop at William Hill is that there will be a safety in the game.