Las Vegas Bookies Had a Very Profitable Super Bowl

Sports books in Nevada handled a record $119.4 million in Super Bowl bets this year, up more than 17 percent from last year’s $98.9 million in wagers. More important, the 183 bookmakers in the state collected $19.6 million on this year’s bets, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, good for a 16.5 percent take. Nevada has not seen a better margin since 2005, when bookies collected $15.4 million on $90.8 million in bets, for a 17 percent take.

Johnny Avello, director of race and sports operations at the Wynn Las Vegas, says he can’t fully explain the big haul for bookmakers. “We did well on the game,” he says of Wynn’s sports book, “but the state number surprised even me, to be honest.” The basic explanation is that lots of bettors were on the losing side of the ledger. The Denver Broncos were 2.5 point favorites for most of the week preceding the game and apparently had more, or bigger, backers than the underdog Seattle Seahawks. The underdog, for what it’s worth, has beaten the point spread in seven of the last 10 Super Bowls.

The narrow margin may hay have helped spur action, with few people anticipating the Seahawks overwhelming the Broncos. Before the game, Avello says, “you could make an argument for either side.” Las Vegas was lucky to avoid Bloomberg Businessweek’s resident sharp, Cam Simpson, who did his betting in London and beat the house.

The main driver, Avello suspects, was a strong season for football bettors. “Players had a good college [football] season early,” he says, “and that had a churn effect into the NFL playoffs and right through the Super Bowl.” Nevada bettors seem to have ignored Kenny Rogers’s Third Law of Gambling: You gotta know when to walk away.

UPDATE: The folks at the gambling Wager Minds, who advertise themselves as an analytic alternative to “the tout culture that has permeated sports handicapping for far too long,” have taken to Twitter to question Avello’s suggestion that early season success for football bettors drove the high volume on this year’s super bowl.

Wager Minds is pulling this data from the Nevada Gaming Controls Board’s monthly summaries. It’s true they don’t show a particularly strong fall for football bettors statewide. For a brief comparison, Nevada bookmakers take on all football betting in the fall of 2011 looked like this: September: 4.73 percent, October: 8.32 percent, November: 3.79 percent. And in 2012: September: 13.91 percent, October: -1.98 percent, November: -1.57 percent.

Then again, Avello was speaking from what he saw on his books at the Wynn for college football only in the first couple months of the season. And he was also being asked to speculate on what drove the massive and lopsided Super Bowl action, which, he freely admitted, he can’t really explain. Asked, via Twitter, to do some speculating of their own, Wager Minds came up with this:

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