Super Bowl Gamblers to Ante Up $90 Million in Nevada

In the hours before Sunday night's kickoff, America will be obsessed with the Super Bowl. Whether you're rooting for the New Orleans Saints, the Indianapolis Colts, or just a good game, it's an opportunity to get together with friends, blow off some steam, and maybe wager a few casual bucks on the outcome.But in the back offices of Nevada's sports books, the vibe will be more reminiscent of a trading floor in the heat of double-witching day. The Super Bowl is by far the largest one-day sports betting event of the year -- gamblers last year wagered $85 million on the game in Nevada -- and if a casino gets things wrong, millions of dollars go out the door.

Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports book operations for Station Casinos, estimates that Super Bowl Sunday will amount to 5% of Station's sports wagers in 2010. He anticipates $90 million in Super Bowl bets to go down across the state before the fourth quarter ends.

"The Super Bowl is not just a game," says Manteris, author of Super Bookie. "Folks who don't bet on anything all year, they bet the Super Bowl."

The Super Bowl Shuffle

Odds makers and sports book managers will spend this weekend nursing and nudging point spreads -- to keep from taking excessive action on one side while remaining cognizant that creating too much of a favorite/underdog disparity will cause professional bettors to exploit the line. It's an endless balancing act, made even trickier by more than 100 "prop bets," in which casinos take action on everything from which team will win the coin toss to who will rush for the most yardage.

Props may sound goofy, and usually they're highly profitable for the house, but occasionally, they can be surprisingly costly. In 1985, when he worked at Caesars Palace, Manteris offered 20-to-1 odds on a bet that overweight Chicago Bears defensive lineman William "Refrigerator" Perry would score a touchdown. So many people took the bait that by the start of the game, odds had dropped to 2-to-1. When Perry did indeed score, it cost Caesars Palace $250,000.

"Coach Mike Ditka had stated that the Fridge would never carry the ball again," says Manteris in his own defense. "Let's just say I was shocked when he scored that touchdown. I've always questioned how and why it happened."

A Rock-Solid Spread

On this year's point spread, Manteris opened the game with Indianapolis as a 3-1/2 point favorite. "The Colts penciled out as a 1-1/2 point favorite" a week earlier, he says. But during the conference finals, "the public saw the Colts dominating in the second half and the Saints struggling. That took the power away, and my penciled number went out the window."

When an unbalanced number of bets came in for the Colts, Manteris hoped to induce wagering on the Saints. He moved the line to 4, then 4-1/2, then 5, but Colts boosters did not relent, and Manteris jacked the spread to 5-1/2. "But I was not comfortable there," he says, sounding like a trader teetering at the top of his buying range. "And I didn't keep it there long enough for the pros to take advantage." Manteris now has the Colts posted as a 5-point favorite, which he calls "rock solid": unexploitable from either side.

Because Nevada is the only U.S. state that permits all forms of sports betting, gamblers flock to the state's casinos for the big game and the relentless partying that surrounds it. Super Bowl weekend is Las Vegas's Mardi Gras, when the blackjack tables, restaurants, and nightclubs are far more bumping -- and more profitable -- than usual.

Wild Palms

George Maloof, co-owner of Palms Casino Resort, has spent months organizing Super Bowl bashes at his casino, and wooing choice customers into ritzy accommodations (the Hugh Hefner Sky Villa at the Palms is outfitted with a circular bed and rooftop pool). By kickoff, many of the casino's most elite gamblers will be watching the game in the gargantuan Hard Wood Suite (named for the basketball court that takes up much of the living room).

Maloof, of course, will have more money riding on the outcome than anyone else in the joint. Is he siding with the Saints or the Colts? "I pull for whichever team will help the Palms," he says. "Two minutes after the kickoff, my sports director tells me who to root for, and that's what I do."
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