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February 21, 2018

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Super Bowl betting report: 10 observations from the sports books

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Matt Slocum / AP

A videographer shoots video of U.S. Bank Stadium as workers get it ready for Super Bowl 52 on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in Minneapolis.

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South Point hasn’t finished populating its Super Bowl 52 prop board yet and has enforced a strict $1,000 limit so far.

The property is still approaching a half-million dollars in handle on the props alone, and that’s with five days that traditionally account for 90 percent of the action to spare.

“That just shows the amount of interest already and the rush is still to come, so buckle up,” South Point’s Jimmy Vaccaro said. “We will blast past the $138 million. That’s easy for me to say.”

Vaccaro is referring to the total state handle on last year’s Super Bowl, which set a record with $138.48 million wagered throughout Nevada’s 196 sports books. It was the fourth time in the last five years that gamblers set a new high.

For perhaps the first time, it’s no longer a debate whether the record will fall. Sports betting continues to increase, and oddsmakers could tell from the moment that the Philadelphia Eagles secured their spot in Minneapolis alongside the New England Patriots 10 days ago that this year’s volume would reach new heights.

“This is a really great matchup, and we’re getting outstanding action already,” said Chuck Esposito, Sunset Station sports book director. “You’re going to see another record.”

The total handle is an annual conversation point at sports books heading into the Super Bowl, and leads our list of 10 midweek talking points. Find the other nine below.

The record will only account for a fraction of the overall money wagered

While $140 or $150 million might sound like a big number, it’s less than 5 percent of what bettors will risk nationwide on the Super Bowl, according to an estimate by the American Gaming Association.

The organization projects Americans will wager $4.6 billion illegally.

“Thanks to the failed federal ban on sports betting, Americans are sending billions of their hard-earned dollars to corner bookies, shady offshore operators and other criminal enterprises,” Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the gaming association, said in a statement.

The staggering totals are worth considering as the battle to legalize sports betting outside of Nevada rages on this year.

Bettors are counting on the Eagles to fly

Bookmakers might not be surprised by the number of bets they’ve taken so far; they’re only surprised by which side they’ve come on.

William Hill sports books, which operates the most shops in the state, reports nearly 60 percent of the tickets are on the underdog Eagles. Bet-tracking sites report identical splits offshore.

That’s sent the point spread spiraling downwards, as about half the books in town now sit at New England minus-4 after opening as high as minus-6.5.

“If there’s any Patriot money, I think it’s coming a little later,” said Vaccaro. “But the ticket count is going to be on the Eagles. People are liking the underdogs.”

The point spread might not be done swooping

All of the attention-grabbing, big-money wagers have reportedly come on the Eagles so far. That doesn’t mean there aren’t gamblers looking to do same with the Patriots.

They might just be waiting to see if the point spread gets down to 3.5, as many have suggested it could. South Point had an inquiry on the absolute maximum bet it would accept on Monday, and though the bettor didn’t reveal which side he wanted to play, Vaccaro has suspicions it was the Patriots.

“He kept querying me, “Do you think it’s going to 3.5? Do you think it’s going to 3.5?” Vaccaro said. “I told him we’re moving with the money, and that’s as far as I know. I don’t know where the hell it will end. I would suggest 4 or 4.5 would be where we’re at at kickoff. But would I bet your money? No, because I don’t want to break you.”

Another half-point would make for a historically large line move

A 2.5- to 3-point line move is significant on any NFL game. It’s nearly unprecedented on the Super Bowl.

In the last 10 years, only one other Super Bowl has seen a point spread swing by a field goal or more — and it was under much different circumstances. In 2014, the Denver Broncos went from a 1-point underdog to a 2.5-point favorite immediately after their matchup with the Seattle Seahawks was set.

The line solidified from there leading up to the Seahawks’ blowout 43-8 victory.

Underdogs have been the play in the Super Bowl recently

Historical betting trends shouldn’t inform handicapping decisions, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interesting to reflect on.

The last few years specifically might give Eagles’ backers some solace. Since the Patriots’ stretch of dominance began 16 years ago, underdogs are 11-5 against the spread and 8-8 straight-up in the Super Bowl.

The run has helped close the gap, but favorites are still ahead overall at 35-16 straight-up and 29-20-2 against the spread all-time.

And the Patriots’ history?

Despite their championship pedigree, the Patriots haven’t been profitable overall in the Super Bowl.

They’re 3-4 against the spread in their current incarnation featuring Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The underdog covered in their its five appearances with the duo before New England rallied to beat Seattle 28-24 in 2015 and Atlanta 34-28 last year.

The Patriots have only had the majority of the action against them in two of their previous seven appearances. The Giants were a popular pick — especially to win outright on the money line — ahead of their 17-14 win over the Patriots in 2008, which lead to one of only two losing results for sports books in the Super Bowl over the last 27 years.

The Patriots were also doubted ahead of their 20-17 upset win over the Rams as 14-point underdogs in 2001, though they commanded their share of money line action.

Action isn’t split on the total either

Sports books almost always root for the under in the Super Bowl, and this year will be no different.

Right around two-thirds of the over/under bets and tickets at William Hill are on the over 48 points. Although it hasn’t drawn anywhere near the volume of the point spread or money line, over bets are also piling up at South Point.

“The parlays and the public are on the over,” Vaccaro said.

Four of the past five Super Bowls have gone over.

The most bet-on props are the usual suspects

Out of the hundreds of props at South Point, three have already combined to draw $60,000 in handle. And they’re the three anyone who follows Super Bowl betting annually would guess — Bettors wagering “yes” on overtime, a safety and a two-point conversion.

Safety, at plus-500, and two-point conversion, at plus-190, are the two most popular plays at William Hill with overtime, at plus-550, in 10th. All those prices are highly inflated and nowhere near the true probability of any of the three occurring, but bettors keep taking them.

The overtime bets paid off last year, when the Patriots’ win over the Falcons became the first Super Bowl ever to extend past regulation.

Tracking the first score prop

Another prop that’s always subject to a lot of scrutiny is the first player to score a touchdown.

At William Hill, Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks is the trendy pick. He’s down to a 8-to-1 odds after opening at 12-to-1, tied for second behind only teammate Rob Gronkowski, a tight end.

The price on Gronkowski, who’s expected to play but currently still in the NFL’s concussion protocol, has risen from 6-to-1 to 13-to-2. The two other players joining Cooks at 8-to-1 are Patriots slot receiver Danny Amendola and Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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