Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Pro Sports

January 27, 2014

Football betting is booming in Las Vegas

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

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 iin televised games, and 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.

Kornegay 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.

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.

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.

Books remain less profitable per square foot than table games, where the house always wins. An oddsmaker’s goal is to neither win nor lose on the games, but to get equal money coming in on both sides — and clean up in commissions.

This commission, also known as the vigorish or juice, amounts to about 4.5 percent of the handle — the total amount of money wagered — at most Strip sports books.

Don’t start wringing your hands for the sports books, though. They’ve only lost twice on the Super Bowl in the past 20 years.

In days past, horse racing aficionados would hang around the books and watch contests from morning till night, with new ones starting every four minutes.

For the past decade, football has represented nearly half of the sports book handle, with most gamblers buying their tickets well ahead of the games.

“If you walk in to any sports book, 99 percent of the time the place is mostly empty,” said RJ Bell of Las Vegas-based Pregame.com.

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