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Monday, January 28
LAS VEGAS – Super Bowl Week is here, and the public’s annual fascination with the proposition wagers coming out of Vegas has already begun.
If you’ve been betting sports for any length of time or have read past articles about Super Bowl prop betting, I’m sure you’ve heard that it really began in its present form in 1986 when the books here in Vegas offered odds on Chicago Bears defensive tackle William “the Refrigerator” Perry scoring a touchdown in Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots. Prior to that, props like “which team will score first?” had been offered, but nothing that drew much attention. But with the Bears and the “Super Bowl Shuffle” catching the public’s fancy that season, including Perry scoring on a Monday Night Football game against the Packers, the books felt they could create some publicity and some added handle on a game that was expected to be a blowout, and don’t forget that this was the era when Super Bowls were usually non-competitive.
The prop (without the books having the foresight to limit their liability by offering a “no” side) opened as high as 40-1 and the public ate it up and it got bet as low as 2-1 at Caesars Palace (where it had opened 20-1) and the books got burned when Perry indeed scored a TD late in the Bears’ 46-10 rout. But the books knew they were onto something and it’s grown ever since.
Jay Kornegay and his staff at the Imperial Palace in the 1990s were known for putting up the “most props on the planet” at the time sports betting on the internet exploded and into the new millennium, and they took that reputation with them to the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook (now LVH) in 2004 and are still recognized as the leader.
The LVH released their props last Thursday night and it’s no secret that a lot of competing books here and elsewhere wait for the LVH to be first to copy their odds, or at least look at them to tweak their own numbers. The LVH has over 300 props this year. One of the places you can see them is in the forums on my ViewFromVegas.com website.
They have every angle of the game starting with whether the opening coin toss will be heads or tails (you can lay -102 either way) and if the opening kickoff will be touchback (yes -170/no +150). You can bet on who will have the first penalty (Ravens are a slight -120 favorite), who will make the first coaches’ challenge (-110 on both) and on and on.
The most bet prop every year is usually on who will score the first touchdown. The LVH has 18 players listed (nine from each team) with Michael Crabtree of the 49ers as the 6-1 favorite along with the “field of all other players not listed” also at 6-1. Crabtree is also the 7-1 favorite to score the last TD of the game.
But challenging that prop this year is the ones involving San Fran quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He has emerged as a very popular player and even though he wasn’t a household name nationally until taking over for Alex Smith after Week 10 this season, bettors are cutting in line to bet props involving him. The William Hill book has a full separate sheet with just Kaepernick props, totaling 23 in all with over/under all his passing and rushing stats plus hybrid props like his total TD passes vs. Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby’s number of points against the Capitals earlier Sunday or Kaepernick’s longest completion against Kobe Bryant’s points+rebounds+assists vs. the Pistons.
As goofy as some of these props get, there are limits to what can be offered. Nevada gaming regulations require that sports books be able to verify the result of the wagers, so don’t expect to see over/under on the time of the national anthem, which is popular at offshore books.
And the books here are content with not offering the national anthem as it’s usually a controversy and a headache on their biggest day of business that they’re happy to avoid, such as two years ago when Christina Aguilera forgot the words and left out a line or two and went under, plus with military aircraft at outdoor games or fireworks it’s not always easy to tell when the singer actually finishes.
I just find it funny how many times I hear people say that they have an edge on that bet because they searched YouTube for all the times the singer sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” I always ask them the same thing: “Don’t you think the oddsmakers have done the same thing?”
And that leads me to my biggest piece of advice regarding prop bets: let the oddsmakers do all the research and math work. When I see that Joe Flacco is over/under 21 completions, I don’t have to go back and data-mine all his games to find his average, or think I’m going to out-smart the oddsmakers by seeing if he averages more passes in a dome or anything like that. I’m just going to assume that they’re already done that and it’s all factored into the line. Now, the question becomes, is he more likely to complete more or fewer passes in this particular game. If you think this game is going to be a shootout or that the Ravens are going to be playing from behind and forced to pass the ball more, then you would look over. If you feel the 49ers’ defense will shut down the Ravens or that the Ravens could be up and passing less in the second half, then you would be thinking under.
You can do that with all the player props, as well as the team props. The oddsmakers have to pretty much gravitate toward the averages to set their line and balance the action, but beating the props comes down to your handicapping of the game. And if you’re wrong, you’ll probably lose the majority of your prop bets, which is why I advise people not to bet more on your props than you’re betting on the game itself or more than you usually bet. These are supposed to be fun and can add excitement to the watching of the game, but don’t go overboard and have a small fortune riding on them unless you do this professionally.
Oh, yeah, we should probably discuss the actual spread on the game.
As we talked about in last Monday’s “Vegas Beat,” the consensus line was the 49ers -4 but there were some indications that it could continue to dip a little to 3.5 as it had already done so at the MGM and Stations books. Well, it did go to a consensus of 3.5 later in the week with some books holding the line at 4. As of this Monday morning, the majority of Las Vegas books are still sitting at 3.5 but it’s getting closer to a 50/50 split as the Wynn Las Vegas, Caesars and its other Strip books, William Hill and its statewide network, and he Boyd Gaming/Coast Casinos chain are all at 4 with the independent Treasure Island on the Strip at 4.5 though Baltimore backers have to lay -125 to get that price (readers from last week will remember that the TI opened the 49ers the highest in Vegas as 6-point favorites, though others in Reno, which is close to the 49ers’ fan base, doing the same).
So, we could be going back to seeing 4 be the most common number.
As also talking about last week, the over/under had been trending downward from its opening of 49 to 50 and it’s a consensus 48 as of this Monday morning, though some books are at 47.5 with a few offshores at 47. For most bettors, if you’re looking to bet the over, I think 47 will be the best you find (if it goes to 46.5, I’m guessing that won’t last more than a few minutes before the pros bet it back up). If you like the under, you should probably go under 48.
Whatever you do, enjoy the game!
Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper in Vegas and has written for Daily Racing Form since 2000. Tuley started his own website, ViewFromVegas.com, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including ESPN.com. In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 45, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas.