Super Bowl Betting Brings in Big Bucks for Vegas

With seconds remaining in the BCS National Championship game, Auburn Tigers’ fan Mark Skiba saw his potential $50,000 payout go up in flames. During the pre-season, Skiba bet $100 on Auburn’s 500/1 odds to win the BCS National Championship and posted his Vegas wager online.

The Tigers made it all the way to the big game, entering as underdogs versus the No. 1-ranked Florida States Seminoles. And they’d had Florida States’ number the entire game, until the final minutes when FSU managed to pull ahead 34-31. We felt for Skiba; what a heartbreaker!

In Vegas, this is just one of many bets made in their sportsbooks every day. Major sports events like the BCS National Championship, the World Series or even the NBA Finals draw in plenty of big bets. But there’s no bigger single event when it comes to overall handle in Vegas than the Super Bowl.

When you combine the words "money" and "Super Bowl", most people think of the million-dollar ads that air during the game. (NBC collected $245 million off the advertisements last year alone.) But more and more, the media is shedding light on the big bucks that roll into Vegas from Super Bowl betting.

Thanks to an assortment of Super Bowl betting options from point spreads to futures, over the past three years Vegas sportsbooks have raked in well over $275 million in Super Bowl betting handle. For Super Bowl XLVII alone, they had close to $99 million in handle, with a hold of 7.3%, meaning they cashed in on a respectable $7.2 million. It was the biggest Super Bowl handle yet for Vegas’ 184 books, nearly doubling that of 20 years ago.

Sixty-five percent of the bettors backed San Francisco last year, which worked out well for the books, since the Ravens managed to sneak by the 49ers, 34-31. There have been losing years for Vegas sportsbooks, though, including most recently in 2008. When the New York Giants bested the favored New England Patriots, it cost Vegas about $2.5 million. Their only other loss came in 1995, a meager $396,000 in comparison, on Super Bowl XXIX.

Bettors would’ve been able to cash in last year on Chris Culliver’s safety for the 49ers at 50/1. It was only the sixth time in Super Bowl history, but second in back-to-back years. That means that for a $100 wager, bettors would’ve earned $5,000.

In the past decade, bettors have done pretty well for themselves, but so has Vegas. In 2005, New England versus Philadelphia brought Vegas sportsbooks their biggest return – a 17% hold that saw them make $15 million. They also kept $11 million – a 16.3% hold – when the Ravens won versus the Giants in 2001.

Online books outside of Sin City take in millions of dollars in handle too, even surpassing Vegas. The reason is pretty simple: Vegas only offers odds on what happens on the field. So if you were hoping to bet on another blackout, you won’t find that kind of thing in Vegas. Online books post odds on everything, right down to the length of the national anthem. In this year’s first-ever outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl, you are sure to find a fun prop or two about the weather as well.

Online sportsbooks drew tons of attention last year for one entertainment prop bet (short for propositional bet) in particular: Would Beyonce style her hair straight or curly/crimped? It was curly/crimped as Beyonce took the stage at halftime in a black leather outfit, belting out some of her classics and fan-favorites that included her former girl-band, Destiny’s Child.  That paid bettors out $500 for every $1,000 wagered at -200.

Speaking of celebrities, you’re sure to find the rich and famous getting in on the Super Bowl action, too. Charles Barkley dropped $550,000 on the Patriots to win before New England had emerged a perennial contender in Super Bowl XXXVI. They were 14-point underdogs, but managed to win (and help Barkley win too) 20-17 versus St. Louis. Phil Mickelson also laid $20,000 on a Super Bowl. He cashed in on the Ravens at 28/1, pocketing a cool $560,000. 50 Cent, Birdman and Ashton Kutcher – just to name a few – are among other celebs who bet on football.

Then you've also got the pros. No, not professional athletes like Tom Brady, but professional sports bettors; these are guys who make a living wagering on football. Super Bowl Sunday is one of their biggest days of the year for them. Take professional gambler Billy Walters. He put $3.5 million on the underdog Saints in Super Bowl XLIV despite the Colts having a 5-point advantage. It paid off: the New Orleans creamed Peyton Manning and Indy 31-17.

This year, Manning’s Denver Broncos sat at the top of Vegas’ futures nearly all season, until being bumped off by the NFC contender Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are 5/2 to win the Super Bowl while the Broncos are 13/5. Before being eliminated by the Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts were the longest shot out of the final eight teams. Behind QB Andrew Luck they had 16/1 odds that could have potentially paid out $16,000 for a $1,000 bet.

As Super Bowl XLVIII nears, sportsbooks will be flooded with even more bets for the Super Bowl, happening Sunday, February 2 at Metlife Stadium. Bettors can make a solid chunk of change by betting on who’ll win the AFC and the NFC Conferences, which conference will win the big game, exact Super Bowl matchups (Denver versus Seattle pays out at 9/4) and if the Super Bowl total will be over or under a listed number of total points, just to name a few.

If you’re looking for a betting tip for the big game to bring in some cold hard cash, consider this: the Super Bowl favorite has been victorious in 33 of their last 47 games, but only won two of the last five.

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