A drama-filled relationship is seldom a good thing, but the last 5½ months bettors and bookmakers spent with the NFL was as dramatic as it gets and definitely worth the time. In the last month, we said an emotional goodbye to Tom Brady and got to know Joe Burrow much better.
The season concluded with seven consecutive playoff games that went to the wire, with six of them decided by exactly three points and the other by six points in overtime. In the end, Super Bowl LVI was not an instant classic highlighted by coaching brilliance and quarterback excellence, but it was a title game worthy of the over-the-top hype.
Burrow did not seize his Brady moment Sunday night. The Bengals quarterback had the ball and enough time to write a Hollywood ending. After hundreds of prop bets had been scored, the last thing to be decided was the final score. The side and total decisions were up for grabs, and overtime was looming.
Aaron Donald put an end to the Bengals’ upset bid by swinging Burrow around and forcing a fourth-down incompletion that sealed a 23-20 win and a championship for the Rams. It also was a big win for sportsbooks across the country, especially in Las Vegas.
“The action was great,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “Every game during the playoffs was bigger than last year, and the Super Bowl was the all-time biggest handle for us at DraftKings.”
A record $179.8 million was wagered on the game in Nevada, where books held 8.6% of the action and won $15.4 million. The previous state record was $158.6 million in 2018.
“I’m not shocked that it broke the record,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director. “I’m surprised that it broke it by that much, and it’s a pleasant surprise.”
On the subject of pleasant surprises, Billy Walters sat down with Brent Musburger and South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro for a rare interview that aired Sunday morning on VSiN. Walters, regarded as the most respected and successful sports bettor in history, danced around Musburger’s attempts to get him to reveal which side of the game he was betting.
“I've never been accused of being a tout,” said Walters, who was on the Rams, according to three of my best sources.
It was not confirmed whether Walters played the Rams on the moneyline or laid the points — maybe he did both — but the point spread mattered. The line pinballed from -3.5 to -4.5 in the two weeks before the game.
MGM Resorts director of trading Jeff Stoneback said 18 of the 20 six-figure wagers placed at his book in Nevada were on the Rams. Circa owner Derek Stevens said nine of the 10 “most respected bettors” at his book were on the Rams.
The best result for the books, Magliulo said, was the Rams winning but not covering the spread, so that explains why the outcome was such a big win for the bookmakers.
The wagering circus started with a kickoff by the Bengals that resulted in a touchback. That was a losing prop for the betting public and about a $30,000 win for Circa Sports, according to Stevens.
The first big prop to cash for many bettors came with 6:22 remaining in the first quarter when Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. scored the game’s first touchdown. Beckham was my pick and a popular play at 8-1 odds.
A majority of the Burrow-related props stayed Under. Burrow completed 22 of 33 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown without an interception. He ran only twice for three yards and was sacked seven times.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for three touchdowns and was intercepted twice. It should be mentioned that Musburger called the prop on Stafford to throw a pick “easy money,” and he was on the money with that call.
The Rams were just the third team in 56 Super Bowls to lose the turnover margin by two or more and win the game. The tough-luck Bengals were on the wrong side of another historical note: Super Bowl teams that committed zero turnovers were 19-2 prior to Sunday.
Cooper Kupp of the Rams had two touchdown catches and was voted MVP, a slightly controversial decision. MVP votes were due prior to the two-minute warning, before Donald made two big plays to help clinch the game. Donald had two sacks of Burrow and a strong case for the award.
“I think Burrow did OK,” Avello said. “I like Burrow as a quarterback and I think he has many good years to come.”
It’s time to turn the page and look ahead to the 2022 season. At Circa Sports, the Bills and Chiefs are + 750 co-favorites to win Super Bowl LVII, followed by the Rams (10-1), Cowboys (12-1), 49ers (12-1), Packers (12-1), Broncos (15-1) and Bengals (17-1). The Super Bowl loser often deals with a hangover, so don’t jump to conclusions and bet on Cincinnati’s continued rise.
The dramatic uncertainty surrounding Aaron Rodgers has Green Bay and Denver in limbo. If Rodgers does not wind up with the Broncos, will they make a move for Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson?
“People are waiting to see where some of the quarterbacks end up,” Avello said, “and that will make an impact on the odds.”
Each of the past two years, a quarterback in his first season on a team won the Super Bowl in his team’s home stadium — Brady with Tampa Bay and Stafford with Los Angeles. The game is in Phoenix next year, but the Cardinals are a long shot.
In 2024 when the Super Bowl comes to Las Vegas, expect a record wagering handle in Nevada that could soar over $200 million.
“One of the things I said was many of the folks who were coming from the east and going to the Super Bowl in LA, they stopped here, and a lot of people from California crossed the border and made their bets,” Magliulo said. “In two years, it’s going to be phenomenal. Nobody puts on an event like Las Vegas.”
Record-setting Super Bowls will become a trend. The wagering handle on the big game is only going to get bigger.