Friday, Jan. 20, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
Las Vegas sports books only considered nine teams less likely to win the 2012 Super Bowl than the San Francisco 49ers at the beginning of the NFL season.
Four months later, San Francisco is the favorite to represent the NFC in the game. The 49ers are posted at 3-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl at the Las Vegas Hilton Superbook.
The same betting boards around town had them at 60-to-1 during the preseason.
“Whenever a team is in the bottom 10 of the league like they were, that has to be one of the longest shots to ever make it this far,” said Jay Kornegay, director of the Hilton's race and sports book.
San Francisco is a 2.5-point favorite at home against the New York Giants in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Local sports book operators will likely find themselves rooting for the 49ers, a team that hasn’t advanced this far in 15 years, against the Giants.
Kornegay predicted the game would close as a pick’em after the public finishes pounding the Giants with money at the betting window. New York is the flavor of the week in sports books after it soundly dispatched the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Action is fairly split on the point spread at MGM Resorts sports books, according to director Jay Rood, but bettors are wagering on the Giants to win the game straight-up at plus 120 (risking $1 to win $1.20) on the money line.
“I imagine we’ll go into kickoff needing the Niners,” Rood said. “But it’s not really bad. We aren’t getting annihilated on either side. In the future book, we are fine.”
Even if it meant a minor loss this weekend, the Giants beating the 49ers wouldn’t be a terrible result for Las Vegas. It could, in fact, benefit the books and increase the betting handle on the Super Bowl in two weeks.
Both Rood and Kornegay agreed that a potential Super Bowl between the Giants and New England Patriots is the best-case scenario for Las Vegas.
Lucky’s sports book boss Jimmy Vaccaro tweeted the opposite this week, predicting a record number of tickets for the state if the 49ers were to make it to the Super Bowl. But most of the San Francisco money would come from Northern Nevada, where the team has a large following.
In Las Vegas, the appeal of a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl can’t be topped.
“For us to have the highest possible handle and make sure the city is busy, I’d be a little in favor of Giants vs. Patriots,” Rood said. “I think it’s an ideal situation.”
Out of the four teams remaining, the Baltimore Ravens are the only team that would bring a below-average betting handle. Baltimore is a 7-point underdog at New England in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.
The last time the Ravens made the Super Bowl, in 2001 against the Giants, Las Vegas bettors wagered $67.6 million on the game, which is $14.6 million below average.
Rood called the Ravens “a tough sell.”
“You can go 500 miles and not find any Ravens fans,” Kornegay said. “Part of the equation we’ve got to have for the more appealing match-up is the Patriots.”
The betting public sees New England reaching the Super Bowl with ease. Kornegay said the Hilton expects to print four times as many tickets on the Patriots as it does on the Ravens.
But sharps have kept the money close to evenly split on both sides by taking Baltimore when the line gets higher than seven.
“We should get a lot of volume on this game,” Rood said. “From a public standpoint, it’s mostly Patriots. But from a professional standpoint, I think the sharps see value on the Ravens.”
The 49ers have certainly proven the sharps correct this season. To the benefit of professional bettors, according to Kornegay, the 49ers have gone 12-3-1 against the spread.
Although the public hesitated to wager on San Francisco for most of the season, the big bettors rode its success to multiple paydays.
“The sharps can see through the fog screens and see that the 49ers are a very good team,” Kornegay said. “They’ve supported them more than the general public, but I’m not sure they’re going to support them here. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sharps and the public wound up on the Giants.”