4 Super Bowl Bets That Would Have Crushed Sportsbooks
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Talk to any professional handicapper or sportsbook manager in the days leading up to a big game and they’ll tell you where the liability is. The Kansas City Chiefs opened as -3 favorites over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55, but a cover from either team won’t break the bank in Las Vegas.
The scary liability in NFL betting is generally found in obscure prop bets and low-risk, high-reward wagers. Those are the types of bets that consistently lose over time and they’re a big reason books have cleaned up on Super Bowl betting year in and year out.
Nevada sportsbooks have earned a profit in all but two Super Bowls since 1991, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The books took a $18.8 million profit last year when the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20. The only losses over the past three decades were a $2.5 million hit when the New York Giants beat the Patriots in 2008 and a loss on San Francisco’s 49-26 win over San Diego in 1995.
Underdogs covering in nine of the last 13 Super Bowls definitely helps, but the increasing popularity with exotic wagers and props has a lot to do with it too. These are usually easy winners for the books, but the prospect of losing a longshot prop bet is where the liability comes in. Props with odds of up to +5000 that never hit but still generate action every year could become a problem for books on gameday.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the biggest Super Bowl betting near-disasters and close calls for sportsbooks over the years.
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Super Bowl 53: No touchdowns (+5000)
Look, this is a ridiculous bet to make. Indianapolis’ 15-6 win over the Ravens in the 2007 Divisional Round is the last time this hit in any postseason game. It’s never happened in a Super Bowl. It’s just a fun bet to talk about and maybe throw a few dollars on in case things get weird.
The unthinkable nearly occurred last year in Atlanta, where the Patriots and Rams were tied 3-3 entering the fourth quarter. Books had already paid out anyone who bet on no touchdowns in the first half to the tune of +1000. A 6-3 finish was completely in play and the prospect of paying out +5000 on one of the books’ surest moneymakers was very real.
Then Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for 29 yards to set up a two-yard Sony Michel rushing score, the first touchdown of the game and a huge relief for many in Vegas as the Patriots would emerge to win 13-3 and wipe all no-touchdown prop bets off the board.
Rest assured this will be bet again in Super Bowl 54, despite the 49ers potent rushing attack and Patrick Mahomes’ explosive playmaking ability.
Super Bowl 51: James White MVP (+6600)
The chalk play here is going with a quarterback. Tom Brady took home MVP honors in four of his six Super Bowl wins. But there is value in finding under-the-radar plays that hit more frequently than other longshot prop bets. Super Bowl 53 MVP Julian Edelman was roughly +2000, for example, while Denver Broncos linebacker and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller opened around +1200.
Patrick Mahomes is the favorite this year at +110 at DraftKings. Other candidates like Tyreek Hill (+1600), George Kittle (+2000) and Nick Bosa (+3300) are sure to generate plenty of action as darkhorse contenders.
This can be a tougher bet to gauge considering it goes to a vote, and the results aren’t always clear-cut. One recent snub helped the sportsbooks in a big way as Tom Brady took home MVP honors in Super Bowl 51 while throwing for 466 yards and two touchdowns.
Many considered Patriots running back James White the bigger key to New England’s 34-28 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons. White was listed at +6600 to take MVP honors and controlled the game with three total touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. Brady getting the nod saved sportsbooks from the huge payout and denied White bettors a chance to cash in on a savvy play that easily could have hit.
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Super Bowl 48: Broncos-Seahawks Safety
This near-disaster turned into one of the best Super Bowls ever for sportsbooks, but it looked to be going the other way right out of the gate.
Safety props are always readily available. Wagering on things like a safety at any point in the game (+800), whether the first score of any kind will be a safety (+6000), etc. Bookmakers don’t like safeties on Super Bowl Sunday.
This was especially true in the first moments of Super Bowl 48, as the Broncos’ opening snap sailed past Peyton Manning and into the end zone for a safety on the very first play. That alone resulted in significant six-figure losses for books on the very first offensive snap of the game.
The final 59 minutes were much kinder. Denver was a -2.5 favorite and got crushed, 43-8. Public money was so heavy on Manning and the Broncos that Vegas ended up with its most profitable Super Bowl in years. Nevada bookmakers brought in $19.7 million for a 16.5% profit, by far the most significant win of the decade for books. Just imagine if they hadn’t paid out all those safety props.
Super Bowl 26: Redskins -6.5 and Bills +7.5
Vegas had a consensus line of Redskins -7 entering their Super Bowl 26 matchup against the Buffalo Bills in 1992. Casino owner Michael Gaughan had other plans. Trying to attract business for his Barbary Coast and Gold Coast casinos, Gaughan ran a promotion offering bettors a chance to take two different betting lines while daring them to try and middle.
Gaughan offered lines at Redskins -6.5 and Bills +7.5, allowing the best lines in town for either team as well as the chance to bet both sides and hit the middle if the Redskins won by seven. It worked so well that Gaughan ended up taking 25% of all the bets in Las Vegas, according to the Washington Post.
Gaughan’s idea generated a ton of business. It also left him on the hook for $10 million if the Redskins won by exactly seven points. Washington controlled the game but gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make it Redskins 37, Bills 24 with five minutes left.
Washington ultimately pulled off the 14-point win and saved Gaughan from a potentially crushing loss. The promotion brought in tons of money and paid off big time. It also went down as an all-time close call that nearly resulted in an eight-figure loss.