02/06/2014 4:29PM

Dave Tuley: Super Bowl handle reaches record $119.4 million


LAS VEGAS – The Seahawks surprisingly dominated the Broncos 43-8 in the Super Bowl last Sunday. Denver went off as a 2.5-point favorite after Seattle opened as a 2-point favorite at the LVH, a smaller favorite at most other Las Vegas sports books, and pick ’em at most offshore books.

More than 70 percent of the point-spread wagers came in on the Broncos during the fortnight of betting after the conference championship games, and some books went to –3 on Denver on Super Bowl Sunday to help balance their books.

I watched the game in the Lafite Ballroom at the Wynn Las Vegas, and it was clear that the majority of the crowd was on the favorite. Even with the Seahawks leading 29-0 early in the third quarter, the loudest cheers were whenever the Broncos got a first down, as those backing the chalk were holding out hope that Peyton Manning had a miracle comeback in him.

But by the time Manning got the Broncos into the end zone on the final play of the third quarter and the subsequent two-point conversion cut the Seahawks’ lead to 36-8, the only boisterous cheers were from those tracking their prop bets (Demaryius Thomas was +125 to score a touchdown, the two-point conversion paid +400, and Manning was alive for his over/under of two touchdown passes).

It was clear from the line movement and from talking with bookmakers around town that the sports books needed the Seahawks to win, so it was pretty clear after the game that the sports books were going to celebrate a profit for the 22nd time in the 24 years that the state has compiled betting results specifically on the Super Bowl. The other question on the industry’s collective mind was if the books would top last year’s record $98.9 million handle.

Well, it only took until Monday afternoon to know those answers, as the Gaming Control Board released its figures, showing that the total handle was a whopping $119.4 million, and the overall win by the sports books was a record $19.7 million, besting the $15.4 million the books won in 2005 on the Patriots’ 24-21 win over the Eagles, in which New England failed to cover the 7-point spread (Note: The books often do very well in those cases since they don’t have to pay out the majority of bets on the favorite covering while also not paying plus-money on the dog winning outright).

The handle total came as a shocker to a lot of people, but, in retrospect, it really shouldn’t have. In talking with several bookmakers and seeing others quoted in the media, most said their handle was 20 percent ahead of last year. The Broncos and Seahawks were the No. 1 seeds in their conferences and seen as the two best teams all year, so the marquee matchup generated high betting interest, especially when you add in Manning’s popularity and the ever-increasing prop bets that drew lots of attention.

Still, when bookmakers were asked to guess at the total handle, they mostly fell in the range of $103 million to $105 million. I guess they thought the 20 percent increase was just for their own properties and not necessarily statewide, but that turned out to be the case.

The books did lose some bets along the way, the most notable being the safety that came on the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage, when Manning was trying to change the play at the line of scrimmage and the ball was snapped over his head and covered in the end zone by Knowshon Moreno, with Cliff Avril of the Seahawks credited for the safety. Betting on a safety to occur is considered a sucker bet at 50-1, but it has now happened in three straight Super Bowls, and the suckers have cleaned up.

It’s even worse for the books when it happens as the first score of the game (which it also did in the Giants-Patirots game two years ago), as some people take a shot. The first score being a Seahawks safety paid between 50-1 and 60-1 at several Vegas books.

But all in all, the books did fine on most of the props (especially with Manning and most of his teammates staying under their projected totals) in addition to the point-spread bets and the over/under, which had mostly attracted under money due to the game being held outdoors in cold weather. The total went over on the Seahawks’ final score.

Now it’s time to look to next year. Before Sunday’s game, the Broncos were the 9-2 favorite to win next year’s title, but after the game, the LVH made the Seahawks and Broncos the 5-1 co-favorites, with the 49ers at 6-1. In the days following the game, the Seahawks had been bet to slight favoritism at most books, with the 49ers the second choice and the Broncos dropping to third.

Let the offseason (which gets shorter and shorter every year, with Week 1 lines coming out in April, when the schedule is released, and over/under win totals shortly thereafter) begin.