The Oddsmaker’s Guide To The Super Bowl

We spoke with a Vegas expert about the smart picks for the big game and the craziest bets he’s ever seen.

The Super Bowl is not only not just for fans ands advertisers. The biggest Sunday of the year is bigger still in Vegas, where the runaway success of prop bets has created a windfall for bookies and casinos. Prop bets, where bettors can put money down on everything from who uses all their time-outs to how many yards a running back will go for, allow bettors to keep the game interesting, even if it’s a blowout (see Super Bowl XLVIII). But to make those prop bets work, you need people to make the odds and the over/under. That’s where champion handicapper Kenny White comes in.

White, who consulted on the creation Maxim‘s new fantasy sports app, told us all about his favorite prop bets, who he thinks will win and the day that almost ruined Vegas. 

Right off the bat, what do you think of the line?

Two weeks ago, Seattle opened as a three-point favorite and instantly they were down to a one point favorite. The chat was, from a lot of talking heads, Vegas is going to get destroyed if the Patriots win. But in reality, it’s going to be a great Super Bowl for Vegas, especially because it’s so close to a pick ‘em. Vegas should hold four and a half percent of the overall handle on the side bets and they’ll probably hold up to ten percent on the Super Bowl itself since it’s such a competitive game. There’s no way the game ends in a tie, and Vegas absolutely love that. Every super bowl has a favorite, but this could go up pick ‘em because there’s enough money, I think, in play. There’s more people wagering on the Patriots, and it’s mostly the general public. But 80 percent of the professional money is on Seattle. That’s enough to add up with the other 35 to 40 percent of Seattle backers and even out the 60 percent of wagers coming in on the Patriots.

Going into last year’s game, everybody said that it was going to be a competitive gam, but of course it was a blowout. How does Vegas and all it’s odds makers react to such a lopsided super bowl when nobody really saw it coming?

The truth is this: 25 percent of all games have a fluke outcome. So one out of every four Super Bowl games is going to be a fluke. I can’t explain why. Basically, Seattle had a better game plan and was a step quicker that day, and that’s the way it was. I don’t think this game will be that way. If it is, it’s just one of those fluke situations where one team wasn’t quite as prepared or didn’t match the intensity level of the opponent when the game started. You don’t want to fall behind in the Super Bowl. I can only think of one team in the last so many years that really made a great comeback and that was San Francisco against Baltimore. They actually had the chance to overcome a big deficit. Most teams can’t do that in the Super Bowl.

So even last year, with a lopsided victory, we did have one interesting prop bet, and that’s the first score of the game was a safety. Did a lot of people make a lot of money off of that?

A lot of people made money off of that, and a lot of people lost money. Ninety percent of the professionals had no safety, including myself.

What’s your favorite prop bet?

My favorite ones are the ones I think I’m going to win. But the fun prop bets I like this year is whether Arsenal will score more goals on Sunday vs. Tom Brady touchdown passes. I may go with the Arsenal on that one. They’re minus ½ but I think that they’re going to get two goals in that game but hopefully they’ll get three and win the bet easy. I don’t think Brady will throw one touchdown, and if he goes two, I’ll be surprised. I think they’re going to have to use that running game to get the ball in. The Seattle defense is too tough inside the 20.

When it comes down to the fact that both of these teams defer, how does that change who’s going to score first?

At that point, it’s really the coin toss. It’s the flip of a coin. I think it’s going to be a very defensive game. We’ve got two of the best coaches to ever coach in the NFL. Fifty years from now, people will be saying, “Bill Belichick was the greatest coach in NFL history.” He’s won more games. He’s won more playoff games. He’s been to more Super Bowls. He’s won more Super Bowls than anybody. He’ll go down as the all time greatest coach ever. Pete Carroll could win too and he’ll be right in the shoes of Tom Landry with two Super Bowl wins.

What’s one kind of line that you’re keeping your eye on in terms of personal performances?

I’m watching the total passing yards in the game. It’s a monster difference from the Patriots last game, because that was against Indianapolis who really doesn’t tackle well and that’s why they lost the game. We can talk about deflategate all we want but the bottom line is they played the second half with a NFL regulation football and they still scored 28 in the second half with regular footballs.

What’s the over/under on Marshawn Lynch’s running yards?

Marshawn Lynch is currently at 82 and a half and they’re betting it over.

What would you bet?

I have him at 87 and a half yards.

What are the kinds of funny off-the-field bets that you’ve seen people taking?

We don’t have a lot of those in Vegas because it’s against the law to not be betting on things on the field of play. You can’t bet how long it takes Idina Menzel to sing the National Anthem. The one sort of funny bet is if the coin toss is heads or tails. People are also betting which coach will throw the red flag up first. 

How did prop bets even get started in Vegas?

Caesar’s Palace started it when they let people bet whether Refrigerator Perry would score a touchdown, when the Bears played the Super Bowl way back in the 80’s. They opened it at 75 to 1 and it went all the way down to 5 to 1 and they ended up taking a huge loss on that Super Bowl because of that one prop bet. They really didn’t have many prop bets, that was one of the few or maybe the only one that they had. But there was so much interest in that prop bet, that’s how prop bets got started in Vegas. The next year they started making 10-15 of then all of a sudden. It’s grown to the point where the Westgate hotel in Las Vegas puts over 400 prop bets on the board. It’s 60% of the overall action now. There’s more money bet on prop bets than are bet on the games at Westgate.

What’s the most obscure prop bet you’ve seen?

There’s all types you could talk about. Prop bets that go from the game to NASCAR to Daytona. You have Rory Mcilroy’s birdies in the 4th round at Dubai vs. Rob Gronkowski’s receptions. Tiger Wood’s birdies in the 4th round compared to Tom Brady and Russell Wilson’s touchdown passes combined.

In terms of the game itself, who’s your pick?

I like Seattle in the game. I thought they should have been a three point favorite. That’s what it started out as. I was not swayed by The Pats big win over Indianapolis. Everyone remembers what they saw last, and the general public watched that Patriots second and they saw a 45-7 win. They believe in Belichick and Brady; I don’t blame them, but I believe Seattle is the better football team. They have a far better defense. I thought they should’ve been a favorite.

I think it’s going to be a very conservative game plan by both coaches early. It’ll be a heavyweight title fight. I think first quarter goes under. I don’t think there’ll be a score in the first 6 and a half minutes of the game and I think the first half also goes under. If there’s any scoring, I think it’s going to be second half when both coaches make adjustments – they’re both great at making adjustments. The scoring will mostly come in the second half of this football game.

On paper they seem well matched, but as we saw last year it all comes down to game plan.

There’s no doubt about it. We’ve seen a lot of those scenarios. You want to stay focused the entire time. We’ve seen a couple of things happen. Eugene Robinson from Atlanta got in trouble the night before, his team gets destroyed the next day. The center for the Raiders goes AWOL and he’s the captain of the line, and his team gets blown out. Neither one of those were projected. It’s football. Anything can happen. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. That’s why it’s a great sport. Jacksonville could beat either one of those teams on any given day.

What in your experience has been the biggest Super Bowl surprise in terms of shifting betting lines?

Probably have to go back to the 49ers in their dynasty, in their heyday. The lines really moved drastically, especially against San Diego. I believe that line opened up somewhere like 17 and it went all the way to 24. It was not a good day for the casinos. There were a couple of other instances. Back in the 80’s where the Steelers beat the Rams by four points and that was the line. Casinos in that day and age were actually offering Pittsburg minus 3 and a half for the Rams plus four and a half. They lost every bet they took. My friend tells a great story of calling his boss after that game. He told his boss, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is we lost $350,000. The good news is we only lost $350,000.’ It could’ve been a lot more. Everybody lost. Whenever the number falls, they lose because they move that number just a half of a point. The one number they worry the most about is three. At least 16% of NFL games the winner wins by three points. The record handle was set last year at $119.8 million wagered. I think this year’s handle in Nevada will go over $125 million.

That’s wild.

That’s because the teams are so closely matched. All flights are sold out on Southwest on Monday to come from Phoenix to Vegas. It seems like people are going to fly to Vegas first, make their bets, fly to the Super Bowl, fly back to Vegas, cash their tickets and go home.

So it’s good that it’s in great proximity to Vegas.

It’s four and a half hours away and that definitely helps.  But what helps is the quality of the teams, the coaching, the quarterbacks, the star players, you know? Gronkowski and Marshawn Lynch are such huge icons in the NFL. With all the star power and all the coaching power, it’s going to be a great game. I think it’ll be 24-20 for Seattle.

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