Think about the person you love most in the world. Now, can you list 400 things about them? I don't think I can think of 400 things to say about my wife, our two sons, my mom, dad, sister, her three kids, my best friend or his dog.
But hey, a lot of us know less about our families than we do our favorite teams. So let me put it differently: Think about the team you have dedicated your life to. Could you make a list of 400 different things about that team? I tried this game with the Chicago Bears for 15 minutes and got to about 100, including a fairly dirty limerick about 1970s-era QB Bob Avellini.
Keeping all of the above in mind, it puts what the fellas at the Las Vegas Hotel are doing for the Super Bowl into perspective.
For years Jay Kornegay, who runs the LVH book, has been known around Vegas as the King of the Props. It goes back to the Niners-Chargers Super Bowl two decades ago, when he was a young boss bookmaker at the Imperial Palace. Kids these days may not realize it, but back in those days the Super Bowl was Super Dull. During a stretch from the early 1980s to early 1990s, 10 of the title games had been certified blowouts, with an average score differential of nearly 17 points per game. That worried bookmakers, who were looking for ways to draw more people in. A few years earlier, for the Bears-Patriots Super Bowl, veteran bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro had captivated squares and the media when he posted a prop asking if The Fridge would score a touchdown.
That prompted the rest of Vegas to get creative and begin offering more public-friendly props. But before Super Bowl XXIX Kornegay took it to another level. He was so concerned the game would be a bore and that the Niners would cover the double-digit spread, which is what everybody was betting, he challenged his staff to come up with more props than any sportsbook in the history of the world. The total number reached well more than 100, and the results were clear. "That game nearly 50 percent of our handle was on the props," Kornegay told me the Friday before the conference championship games. "It's been that way ever since."
Which brings us to the present day. Or, actually, the future. Because over the next 48 hours, Kornegay and his LVH squad, which includes Ed Salmons, Jeff Sherman and Chris Bennett, will be holed up at one of their houses ("probably Ed's," Kornegay said). They're going to binge on pizza and lite beer, with a couple guys sitting on the couch, another in a recliner and others sprawled in chairs throughout the living room. Printouts and books and computers full of stats and names of Broncos and Seahawks will be spread out on a table nearby. And when it's over they will have come up with more than 400 prop bets for the Super Bowl. "That will be more than last year," Kornegay said. "It will easily be our most ever."
Four hundred bets created for one game. A new record. Let that settle in. And don't judge. Just appreciate.
Maybe 100 or so of those props will carry over from previous years. Those are generic bets such as "Will there be a safety?" or "Will there be overtime?" But more than 300 will be tailored to the specific teams and matchups. "We start prepping in the weeks ahead by working on teams we think are going to win. This year we picked the Broncos and the Seahawks. So, for example, we are thinking about what three defensive players on each team we will list as having the most tackles for their team," Kornegay said. "It will take a solid three straight days of putting our full attention to them to get it done. Twelve hours, non-stop. There is a lot of double-checking. We have three guys whose job it is just to look at the betting sheets and make sure there are no mistakes with the numbers. Then we have to input all of these bets into our computer so they can go up on the board for the public to see. We have eight boards and they will rotate every 20 seconds, since we can't fit every prop up there at once."
This year, though, Kornegay is turning his game up to 11, and dropping 30-35 props from his lineup. That includes some old standards such as a few of the head-to-head statistical matchups pitting one team's position player versus another. "The public hasn't warmed up to those," Kornegay said. "Those have really received mostly sharp action."
Props challenge bookmakers as much as anything they do during the regular season, as they search for that sweet spot between public action and wiseguy advantage. For starters, the public will usually hammer "about 50-70 of the more obvious props, completely throwing our lines out of whack," Kornegay said. "Then the wiseguys will come in and play those back into shape." Then, there is a byzantine code from the Nevada Gaming Commission involving what sports books can actually post bets on. Then there are house rules, which vary from prop to prop, depending on the play or the player involved (for example, on the prop "Will the first pass be complete or incomplete?" it needs to be explained that an interception counts as an incompletion). And finally, there is the language, which needs the clarity of the U.S. penal code since what's at stake is, you know, money. While Kornegay has three of his employees checking over the betting sheets to make sure numbers are accurate, he is doing his own review of disclaimers on more than 80 percent of those 400 props.
Again, to be clear, that's 400 bets on a single game. It makes sense, then, that the LVH and the dozens of other sports books throughout Nevada will essentially be publishing novel-length lists of props on legal-sized paper. Wiseguys are going to pore over these for days, penciling them up with the same attention to detail with which they were made. Casual bettors will highlight them in the hours leading up to the game and carry them to the sports book, little checklists to guide them through the game, like a massive Bingo contest. Chances are they will take them home as souvenirs, win or lose. And they will tell friends about how they came so close to winning the bet on whether Danny Trevathan would lead the Broncos in tackles.
Then those friends will know all about the time their buddy went to Vegas. And they'll be one detail closer to 400.