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October 16, 2019

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Patriots could again limit Las Vegas sports books’ winnings in Super Bowl

Majority of the money on New England, which has flummoxed casinos before

AFC Championship Football

Matt Slocum / AP

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady holds the championship trophy after the AFC title game Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass.

Wes Welker's Super Bowl 46 drop

The Red Rock sports book likely erupted in a mountain of cheers when Wes Welker infamously dropped a pass in the final minutes of the New England Patriots’ most recent Super Bowl appearance.

Super Bowl 49

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Jason McCormick can’t remember. The sports book director’s lasting memory of one of Super Bowl 46’s biggest plays comes from behind the betting counter where he watched with his staff.

“A hush just fell over us,” McCormick recounted. “It was like, ‘What just happened?’ We don’t see Wes Welker dropping passes. All of our hearts stopped at that moment.”

The uncharacteristic blooper paved the way to the exact result Station Casinos and others sought to avoid — the 2.5-point underdog New York Giants came back to win outright 21-17 over New England while the game stayed below the 53-point total. The Giants and “under” were popularly bet for the two weeks leading up to the game.

Hearing bookmakers recount past Super Bowls involving the Patriots can sound like an archive of battle wounds at times. The only year Nevada casinos lost money on the Super Bowl in the last two decades came when the Patriots fell to the Giants 17-14 as 12-point favorites in 2008.

Additionally, the state has tallied a hold of less than 6 percent of the overall Super Bowl handle on just three occasions since the turn of the century. Two of them were in games with the Patriots — the 2012 Giants loss and the shocking 20-17 upset of the Rams as 14-point underdogs in 2002.

New England could threaten sports books again in Super Bowl 49, which kicks off at 3:30 Sunday afternoon at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Although 80 percent of the action won’t surface until the weekend, gamblers have taken the Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks at a lopsided clip so far to potentially create liability for the house.

“We’re not as heavy on New England as we were the last few days after taking some money on Seattle today,” South Point bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro reported Wednesday night. “But I’m just guessing, like everyone else at this point, that we’ll come out a little top heavy on New England.”

South Point took $30,000 to $40,000 of bets on New England — “what we would consider a minimal total,” Vaccaro said — within the first hour of opening Seattle minus-2.5 last Sunday. It quickly adjusted the line to New England minus-1, which is where the number has stayed for more than a week now.

The point spread’s trajectory was similar all around town.

“We’re about one big wager on Seattle away from evening out the action right now,” McCormick said of Station properties. “But the general public — the $100, $200 and $300 wagers — are going to keep coming on the Patriots.”

Line moves failed to save sports books in the aforementioned three Patriots’ Super Bowls. The Giants opened plus-4 before getting bet down to 2.5 in 2012. They were plus-14 in 2008 before trimming two points.

The spread stuck at 14 in the Patriots’ upset of the Rams more than a decade ago, but the moneyline on them to win outright fell all the way from 5-to-1 to 4-to-1 with gamblers loading up on a shot at a big payout.

“Those weren’t some of the better ones (for the books),” Vaccaro reminisced. “But, in the last 25 years, I think we’re 22-3 so I’ll take those odds every time.”

The Patriots were perfect for Las Vegas in their second and third Super Bowls of the coach Bill Belichick/quarterback Tom Brady era. They beat the Panthers and Eagles by a field goal in 2004 and 2005, respectively, failing to cover the touchdown spread but also canceling out lucrative moneyline bets on their underdog opponents.

No such sweet spot of getting the favorite to win but not cover exists for sports books this year because there’s no moneyline with the game a virtual pick’em.

“We’re losing 10 to 15 percent of our handle without a moneyline,” McCormick said.

That’s part of the reason why there’s a consensus that Super Bowl 49 won’t top last year’s state record of $119. 4 gambled on the game. Sports books also set a high with $19.6 million won on the Seahawks’ 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos.

By comparison, the five recent Super Bowls featuring the Patriots have netted an average win of $6.5 million.

All five have come down to the final minute, being decided by four points or less and creating tension for sports book directors monitoring the millions at risk in moments like Welker’s drop. That doesn’t mean the bookmakers prefer a blowout that’s never in doubt.

It’s Las Vegas during the Super Bowl after all. They’ll gamble and welcome the suspense.

“At the end of the day, we’ll be rooting for a great game and just see how it all shakes out,” McCormick said. “We’ll probably be needing the Seahawks but we’ll have the props to help us out and you never really know until Sunday.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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