Las Vegas Sportsbooks are Getting Demolished in the NFL Playoffs
The Super Bowl (or Superb Owl, as Stephen Colbert would say it in order to avoid legal issues) is the largest single sporting event in the United States when it comes to sports betting. Last year, more than $132.5 million was wagered on the Super Bowl at Las Vegas sportsbooks. When “illegal” wagers are added up – including online bets – it was estimated that Americans bet $4.2 BILLION on the 2015 Super Bowl. Yes, betting can be fun and it is also generally quite lucrative for the sportsbooks, but not so far in the 2017 NFL playoffs. According to ESPN.com’s David Purdum, the Vegas books are taking it on the chin, especially this past weekend.
Through Saturday, January 14th, there were six playoff games: four in the Wild Card round and two in the Divisional round. They were largely boring affairs (but not for me as a Packers fan!), with the favorites winning easily and in betting terms, going 6-0 both straight-up and against the spread. Things changed on Sunday, though.
This past Sunday, there were two more Divisional round games: Packers at Cowboys and Steelers at Chiefs. Both road teams were underdogs. Even though the home favorites had dominated to that point, most bettors put their money on the road teams, bets that ended up paying off big time.
The Packers won a thriller at the top seeded Cowboys, kicking two 50+ yard field goals in the final minute and a half to win, 34-31. In the nightcap, the Steelers prevented a last-minute two-point conversion by the Chiefs to hold on for an 18-16 victory (the Steelers’ kicker, Chris Boswell, accounted for all the points, setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals). Those scores meant that the underdogs not only beat the spread, but also won straight-up.
And because of that, the sportsbooks got crushed.
“Awful. Can’t be worse,” Westgate SuperBook assistant manager Ed Salmons told ESPN.
MGM race and sports vice president Jay Rood called his sportsbook’s losses “colossal.”
Purdum reports that William Hill, best known for its UK betting shops, but also with 108 wagering locations in Nevada, had its worst day in the five years since it opened in the state.
It appears that the ass-kicking the sportsbooks took on Sunday had a lot to do with the specific teams that were involved, as opposed to just mass-enlightenment on the part of bettors.
“Seemed like a blue-collar betting day with public parlaying, teasing and pounding money lines on Packers and Steelers,” said Bill Sattler, the director of specialty games for Caesars Entertainment, when speaking with Purdum. “We salvaged the under in [the] late game, but another solid week for the public.”
Let’s try to interpret what Sattler said, especially the “blue-collar” part. The Packers and Steelers are two of the top three most popular teams in the NFL, along with the Cowboys. Their fan bases have deep-rooted loyalty to their teams, usually spanning multiple generations. Both are in “blue-collar” cities with fans that identify more readily with the lunch pail crowd than with the glitz of the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and his billion dollar stadium.
While sharps engage in deep analysis in determined were to place their bets and have no team loyalties in that regard, most of the money bet doesn’t come from them, but rather from the general public. The public tends to want to bet on the teams they like, the teams they know. So when you have the Packers and Steelers playing and both riding two-month winning streaks, it is not surprising that most of the money was bet on them.
Since both the Packers and Steelers won, everyone who bet their money lines cashed in. On top of that, since they were underdogs, they also beat the spread by default. The Packers/Cowboys game also went over the 52.5 point total and fans tend to bet the over, since it is much more fun to root for points to be scored than for a defensive battle. As Sattler said, the sportsbooks were able to salvage the under in the Steelers/Chiefs game.
But Wait, There’s More
As bad as Sunday was, that wasn’t even all the damage that has been done to the sportsbooks the last couple weekends. Bettors sided with the favorites – the Falcons and Patriots – on Saturday, and that’s even with the Patriots being more than two-touchdown favorites, one of the biggest lines in NFL playoff history.
William Hill also had its worst college football loss ever when the Clemson Tigers beat the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama was about a touchdown favorite, but Clemson ended up winning the game, 35-31, after scoring a touchdown with one second remaining. Bettors actually sided with Clemson more than with Alabama and ended up winning both straight-up and against the spread.
The Green and Gold Can Make Two Guys Some Green and Gold
And then there is the Aria Resort and Casino, which is probably rooting heavily against the Packers this weekend. According to an ESPN.com report, buddies Brian Yankelevitz and Russ Axelrod stand to win tens of thousands should the Packers win this coming weekend and much more if they go on to win the Super Bowl.
In the middle of the season, to my great dismay as a born-and-bred Wisconsinite, the Packers languished through a four-game losing streak, seeing their record fall to 4-6. At that point, they had a single-digit percentage chance to make the playoffs. GOAT quarterback Aaron Rodgers, though, expressed confidence in his team, saying that he thought they could run the table.
It was at that point that Yankelevitz and Axelrod pooled their money and put a $300 bet on the Packers to win their next game. The Packers did, so the two friends let their winnings ride on the next game. And the next game and the next game, all the way through to the end of the regular season. The Packers did, in fact, run the table.
Yankelevitz and Axelrod have continued to let their bet ride through the Packers’ first two playoff games, so now that $300 ticket is worth $28,213.60. And they aren’t stopping now. No hedging. That entire amount is going on the Packers to beat the Falcons in Atlanta (money line bet). If the Packers win, the ticket’s value will soar to $76,176.70. The two gamblers plan to let it go all the way through the Super Bowl if the Packers emerge victorious on Sunday; should the Packers take the Lombardi Trophy, the winnings will be somewhere from $150,000 to $200,000.
I will also be quite happy. Hell, I’d be willing to PAY $300 to guarantee a Packers victory.
Should the Packers win, Axelrod plans to give something back to the team, indirectly. He will donate a portion of his winnings to the favorite charities of Aaron Rodgers and kicker Mason Crosby.