Big Weekend in Las Vegas, Too ; Last Year in Nevada, a Record $99 Million Was Wagered on Super Bowl

By Drape, Joe | International New York Times, January 29, 2014 | Go to article overview

Big Weekend in Las Vegas, Too ; Last Year in Nevada, a Record $99 Million Was Wagered on Super Bowl


Drape, Joe, International New York Times


In Nevada, more bets are placed on the Super Bowl than on any other sporting event.

Johnny Avello has a big title, executive director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas -- but in a town that talks about point spreads with the same intensity that farmers discuss the weather, he has an even bigger reputation. He is considered a Don in one of this town's most respected fraternities, the brotherhood of bookies. Call him a wizard -- a Wizard of Odds.

It is a title bestowed on those who put out point spreads, or lines, on scores of sporting contests all year round, but have a turn in the mainstream spotlight only once a year when the Super Bowl transforms America into a coast-to-coast sports book. They are the men -- and they are almost all men -- who decide the numbers and proposition bets for football's biggest game, affecting everything from office pools to bets made with neighborhood bookies and organized crime syndicates.

In Nevada, more bets are placed on the Super Bowl than any other sporting event. Last year, for example, a record of nearly $99 million was bet in Nevada's sports books. Of that, the books kept $7,206,460.

While even the best quarterbacks fumble and the seemingly invincible teams find ways to lose, the sports books nearly always wind up ahead. In Las Vegas they have a $5.5-million average win margin over the last 10 Super Bowls and they have won 21 of the last 23 outright.

The Wizards know things. They know there are two kinds of money: the sharp dough of professional gamblers and the square dollars of the public. They know that betting lines are meant to be moved.

They know fact -- that the legendary gambler Billy Walters, widely considered the most successful sports bettor in the country, always finds a way to lay his money down despite their best efforts not to take it.

They know fiction -- that for every photograph of a six-figure winning ticket that Floyd Mayweather tweets out, the champ also has a half-dozen losers that never see the light of day.

Avello and his colleagues make the market in a sports betting industry considered to be worth more than $400 billion globally. On paper, it seems straightforward enough: Set a line, or number, that attracts an equal amount of betting money on the favorite and on the underdog and then pocket the "vig" or "juice," or 10 percent fee for handling the bet. It rarely works out that cleanly, but over the course of a year, the ledger consistently favors the side of the sports books.

In 2012, $3.45 billion was wagered in Nevada, and the books kept more than $170 million.

In a world where algorithms rule and quants are celebrated, putting out a number remains an old-school endeavor. Each oddsmaker creates his own power rankings, and some confer with math-based consultants. Mostly, though, they read the sports pages of local newspapers, surf the Internet, watch games and trust their instinct as keen observers of the human condition.

"I can't tell you who the winner's going to be, but I can put a number out there for you, that might draw some two-way action and is somewhere in the ballpark." said Nick Bogdanovich, the director of trading at William Hill U.S. "It's what we do. We do it year in and year out, and you develop a feel for it."

They know that square money is enthralled by favorites and falls hard for teams that have done a lot for them lately. …

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