Chalk up Super Bowl XLIX as one for the little guys.
Yeah, it was the Patriots who carted away the Vince Lombardi Trophy. But it was the small-time, average sports bettors who got a measure of revenge against Nevada's bookmakers as a result of New England's 28-24 win against the Seattle Seahawks Feb. 1.
A year ago, the betting public got smoked, and Las Vegas bookmakers could have filled up armored trucks to haul away the cash following the Seahawks' thrashing of Denver.
This time, as a result of Seattle coach Pete Carroll's ill-advised decision to pass on second-and-goal from the New England 1-yard line with 26 seconds left in the game and Patriot defensive back Malcolm Butler's interception, the public's betting choice -- meaning New England -- carried the day on the wagering. The game went off as a pick ‘em throughout most of Las Vegas, and where there was a favorite, it was Seattle at minus-1.
But there was more that lifted the little bettors. By the time Seattle was making its late, ill-fated drive, the public betting favorite on the over-under wager already had come in. The public almost always favors the over -- fans just like scoring -- and the over-under line had settled in at about 47.5 points. The over-under in favor of the overs was decided with 2:06 left, when the Patriots scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown and game's final points, and set the total at 52 points.
"That was big because the public was betting the two-way parlay of the Patriots and the over," said handicapper Micah Roberts, a former Las Vegas sports book director who now reports on sports wagering for The Linemakers on the Sporting News website. "The money was even on both teams, but the books couldn't get away from that 13-5 [they had to pay] on the [two-way] parlay."
Soon after the game ended, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reported the state's sports book had taken in nearly $116 million in wagers, second most in history to the previous Super Bowl when Seattle hammered Denver and $119.4 million was bet on the NFL championship.
However, there was quite a difference in sports book revenues this time around. In February 2014, when the Seahawks won, Nevada sports books posted revenues of $19.7 million, a win percentage of 16.5 percent of the total money wagered. Because the Patriots held off the Seahawks' charge this year, the sports books' revenue was $3.3 million -- a 2.8 percent hold. It was the third-lowest hold percentage for Nevada bookmakers in 11 years.
From the betting trends, it appears the smaller bettors were the ones who made out the best. The so-called "sharps" -- typically professional sports gamblers who make heavy wagers -- favored both the Seahawks and the under. For a while, it seemed like the sharps had it figured right. The contest was a scoreless tie for the first 20 minutes. But two touchdowns in the final 31 seconds of the first half, one by each team, made the score 14-14 and changed the flow of the game.
"Yeah, that irritated me," Roberts said. "I had the under. When it goes scoreless that long, you think you've got that bet won."
Roberts also pointed out that another popular parlay, a "teaser," cost the books a pile of money. In a teaser, bettors get added points, but they have to lay odds to get those points, and they have to win all sides of the parlay. A popular teaser is six points. As an example, if bettors wanted the Seahawks and the under on a six-point, two-outcome tease, they'd have to lay at least 5-6 odds, meaning risking $12 to win $10. But, remember, bettors get six additional points on both Seattle and the under. So, in this Super Bowl, a Seattle-under six-point tease was a winner, because as a pick ‘em or one-point favorite, the Seahawks covered as a teaser, and the 47.5-point under also covered when you subtract six points from the final total of 52 points.
However, here's the remarkable thing -- in the case of Super Bowl XLIX, those six extra points made winners out of all four six-point teaser combinations -- Patriots/over, Patriots/under, Seahawks/over, Seahawks/under. That happened because the point spread was narrow, the game stayed close and the over-under wasn't a runaway in either direction.
Before anyone gets too infatuated with teasers, the odds that the bettor has to lay makes such wagers sucker bets in the long run. It just so happened that on this Super Bowl Sunday, the suckers went to the cashier's window.
"In Las Vegas, we don't notice the change in seasons by the weather," said Roberts, the bookmaker turned handicapper. "We can tell by how the bettors change their wagering interests."
And, so, the sports bettors' calendar has turned from football to basketball with March Madness on the horizon.
The first weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament has turned into one of Las Vegas' most popular stretches. Fans flock to town to throw down cash on games like Weber State-Arizona, while having no clue where Weber State is even located. It doesn't matter. The folks want action on all those games, and the chance to get a bet down on their best guess on the tournament champion.
The rounds of 64 teams and then 32 teams run March 19-22 at eight sites around the country in places such as Jacksonville, Fla., Omaha, Neb., and Columbus, Ohio. But the real action will be in Las Vegas. Just try booking a room that weekend. Modest casino hotels that typically go for $59 or $79 a night are more than $200. The swanky places -- the Wynn, the Cosmopolitan, the Aria -- are $350 and more. In March 2014, Las Vegas set an all-time monthly record for visitors, 3.7 million people. It wasn't all March Madness -- there was a NASCAR race and some major conventions -- but the college basketball tournament got a big share of the credit.
From a betting perspective, Kentucky has been the prohibitive favorite all season to win the men's NCAA basketball title. Earlier in February, you still had to lay odds to bet on the Wildcats to win the championship at 4-5 or even 5-7. Contenders behind Kentucky were the likes of Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona, Virginia and Gonzaga.
For a longshot, Roberts likes Ohio State (listed at 60-1 recently) with its freshman star D'Angelo Russell. The handicapper likened Russell to Golden State's Stephen Curry when he starred at Davidson College and that team went to the Elite Eight in 2008 before falling by two points to Kansas, the eventual national champion.
For an insiders social media look at March Madness in Las Vegas, there's a Facebook page that requires registration at facebook.com/groups/mmilv