The weekend before Super Bowl 49, the sportsbook at Caesars Palace seemed like a mellow place.
A wall of TVs — 19 of them — surrounds a huge screen displaying betting information in red, green and orange text. Other than four men in comfy chairs puffing cigars and hollering at a monitor showing a college basketball game, the sportsbook seems like a refuge from the constant noise on the casino floor.
That won’t be the case during the Super Bowl, said David Pemberton, director of specialty games for Caesars Entertainment. During Sunday’s game between New England and Seattle, the sportsbooks will be standing room only with bettors groaning and cheering on almost every play.
“It’s as big as it gets. It’s just like the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament,” Pemberton said, of another gambling holiday in which bettors can wager on 48 college basketball games over four days.
Caesars’ Super Bowl party draws more people than it does on New Year’s Eve, Pemberton said.
And everybody in the room believes they’ll be leaving with a smile whether or not their team wins the game. And whether or not their team is even in the game.
Tim Espinoza of Fresno, California, is a Green Bay fan but is pretty sure he knows how to make Super Bowl Sunday a memorable experience. He plans to place a bet on the Seahawks to win even though New England is favored by a point.
“Marshawn Lynch is too good,” Espinoza said.
Outside on the streets, Moses Tablit of Seattle and Tony Vilonza of Renton posed for pictures with a 12th Man flag and pondered what wager they might place on the game. They’ll be watching the game at home, but if they win they can mail in their tickets to collect the money.
They’re pretty sure the Seahawks are going to win, and they arrived in Vegas at the perfect time to place their bet.
Before the Patriots finished dispatching Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game, the Seahawks were installed as 2½-point favorites to win Super Bowl 49, Pemberton said. That means the Seahawks would have to win by three or more points to collect on that wager.
By the fourth quarter, the line had changed to 1 point, and by the end of game the line was even, Pemberton said. Now the Patriots are favored by a point.
The line is influenced more by how people are wagering than who is the better team. Casinos want to set a line that will encourage people to bet on both sides. And since the conference championship games, the public has been betting as if the Patriots are going to win.
“I think they see the Seahawks barely win and the Patriots dominate and they see the Patriots as more stable,” Pemberton said. “I think they see the Seahawks as being lucky to be there.”
But picking the winner is not the only way to wager on the Super Bowl.
Not even close.
Through wagers called “prop bets,” bettors can wager on just about anything happening during the game.
Who will score first? Who win the coin toss? What will be the jersey number of the first player to score? Which team will be first to use the coach’s challenge?
On Saturday, Caesars Palace had eight pages, printed front and back, of prop bets for the game, and that number was expected to stretch to up to 15 pages by kickoff.
“The props get bigger and bigger every year,” Pemberton said. “It’s almost bigger than the game itself.”
And this action doesn’t stop when the game starts. New prep bets are posted during the game.
Pemberton said there is typically a long line at the betting window at halftime with people looking to make up for what they lost in the first half.
Pemberton said prop betting started becoming popular in 1986, when Chicago faced New England in Super Bowl 20.
Chicago had legendary running back Walter Payton, but the Bears’ running back arguably generating the most buzz was actually a defensive lineman. William “The Refrigerator” Perry weighed more than 330 pounds and would occasionally play running back in short-yardage situations.
“People wanted to bet on whether or not ‘The Fridge’ was going to score a touchdown,” Pemberton said.
He did, and that type of wagering has grown in popularity each year.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board must approve each idea for a prop bet before it can be offered to the public.
And not all prop bets are approved. Pemberton said Caesars had a few rejected for Sunday’s game, including “What will be higher, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s passing yardage or the average price of gas printed in Monday’s USA Today?”
The gaming board rejected it because both sides of the bet weren’t directly related to game action. Pemberton said it even took several years for board to approve the “Who will win the coin toss?”
Each year even more colorful prop bets are widely reported by the media.
Some offered this year: How long will it take Idina Menzel to sing the National Anthem? Will she forget a word? How many times will “deflated balls” be mentioned during the game? Will Marshawn Lynch grab his crotch after a touchdown? What will be the color of the Gatorade dumped on the winning coach? Will Patriots coach Bill Belichick smile during the game? How many times will model Gisele Bundchen (Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s wife) be shown on TV during the game?
Pemberton said these aren’t the type of wagers you can place at a Vegas casino. They’re offered through offshore gaming companiesbut those services aren’t regulated. “So what do you do if you have a problem?” he said.
Pemberton offered a little advice for making sure you don’t have issues in Vegas, too. Check your tickets before leaving the betting window to make sure your bet is accurate. And make sure the current odds aren’t different from those printed on the information sheets available in the sportsbook.
Otherwise, he said, watching the game in Vegas can be even more exciting than attending the Super Bowl. And, if you’re lucky, maybe even less expensive.