By Matt Youmans
VSiN Senior Editor
If Las Vegas oddsmakers are on the money, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will win their fifth Super Bowl on Sunday in the biggest-bet game in United States history.
Early reports from several major bookmakers indicate Super Bowl LI will surpass last year’s record wagering handle of $132.5 million in Nevada.
The Patriots are 3-point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons, and the total of 59 is the highest in Super Bowl history. The side is attracting strong two-way action. When tourists arrive in Las Vegas for the weekend, most are expected to bet on a high-scoring game that goes over the total.
“I do believe we’ll get to last year’s handle and it will probably break the record,” South Point oddsmaker and VSiN special contributor Jimmy Vaccaro said. “It’s been steady and I have a feeling it will get crazy busy. We could hit $140 million this year.”
Increased action on prop bets is a driver for the bigger numbers.
"For the first time, the prop bets might exceed bets on the game because the number never moved off the spread," said Chris Andrews, director of South Point's sports book and a VSiN special contributor.
The presence of the Patriots, who have a 4-2 record in Super Bowls with Brady as their quarterback, is a draw for gamblers for different reasons.
“Brady and the Patriots are like Floyd Mayweather. You either like them or you hate them, and you make a bet for them or against them,” Vaccaro said. "We’re taking bets on both sides and never have to move the number."
The point spread might move to 3½ before kickoff, but Vaccaro said that’s a guessing game and he expects most books to stick with a 3-point line. What bookmakers hope to avoid is a New England win by a field goal that would force a refund of wagers.
“I have a feeling three out of four bets we take this weekend might be on the Patriots,” Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “But I know there’s a lot of anti-Patriots sentiment and some people just want to root for the Falcons.”
Kornegay said the biggest bet at his book so far is a $100,000 wager on the Patriots minus-3.
The Falcons were a long shot to get this far. In mid-September, Atlanta was at 100-1 odds to win the Super Bowl at the Westgate, where one bettor played those odds for $1,000.
At MGM Resorts, there have been multiple wagers placed on the game for more than $200,000.
William Hill sports books reported a $200,000 money-line wager on New England at minus-150, a bet that would net more than $133,000.
Matthew Holt, an analyst for CG Technology sports books, said his company expects to handle more than $20 million on Sunday’s game, including the largest bet reported so far for $1 million on Atlanta.
Vaccaro, a Las Vegas bookmaker since the mid-1970s, said more women are betting on the Super Bowl than ever before, and he and Kornegay credited the popularity of propositions and more mobile phone apps for a spike in the football wagering handle.
The surge in Super Bowl betting is not just a love for Brady or hatred of the Patriots. The sports wagering handle in general is increasing each year.
According to the American Gaming Association, American football fans will wager an estimated $4.7 billion on Sunday’s game, a record high and an 11 percent jump from last year. A small percentage of that is bet legally in Las Vegas.
Four years ago, the Super Bowl handle in Nevada reached $98.9 million. The handle swelled to $119.4 million in 2014 before dipping slightly to $116 million in 2015.
“That surprised everybody last year when it hit $132 million. That was a gigantic leap,” Kornegay said. “We’re going to handle more than we did last year, and I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
Vaccaro was hesitant to guarantee a record wagering handle, but he knows he can count on Disney World-like lines forming at betting windows at the South Point and all other Las Vegas sports books throughout the weekend.
“This is a party and a social event. It isn’t a game anymore,” Vaccaro said. “When you’re a bookmaker, just keep writing tickets and something good usually happens.”