Bookmakers avoided a historic, multimillion-dollar loss on Sunday night's regular-season finale, when Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson broke a tie with a 47-yard field goal on the final play of overtime in a 35-32 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
For sportsbooks, it would've been the most expensive tie in NFL betting history.
Bookmakers acknowledged that they were on the hook for millions if the Chargers and Raiders had ended in a tie. The books endured an overtime sweat for the ages but escaped mostly unscathed.
Upsets by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon created a scenario in which the Chargers and Raiders would each earn playoff berths with a tie, while a loss would end either team's postseason hopes. The incentive to play for a tie had increased.
Since overtime was implemented in 1974, 27 regular-season games -- less than 1% -- have ended in a tie. Sportsbooks typically offer anywhere from 60-1 odds or higher on a tie. This week, at The Borgata in Atlantic City, the odds of the Chargers-Raiders game ending in a tie were bet down from 50-1 to 11-1.
The most popular two-team parlay Sunday afternoon at sportsbook PointsBet was Jaguars on the money line and a Chargers-Raiders tie. Before the Sunday night game kicked off, PointsBet's liability on a tie had reached seven figures, according to a spokesman for the book. DraftKings was in a similar situation.
"It could get worse and probably will," Johnny Avello, sportsbook director for DraftKings, said.
Bettors posted pictures of betting slips with long odds and big payouts, all built around the game ending in a tie.
Some bettors kept it simple, parlaying the underdog Jaguars and underdog Steelers on the money-line along with Chargers-Raiders ending in a tie. With Jacksonville a 14.5-point underdog to the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh a 3.5-point underdog to the Baltimore Ravens, odds on such parlays were longer than 600-1 at some shops.
Other bettors got more creative, building same-game parlays correlated to a tie. A bettor in New Jersey, for example, placed a $1,000 four-teamer with 100-1 odds featuring:
• Raiders +4.5
• Chargers +4.5
• Yes on overtime
• Even total points scored
All four legs were guaranteed if the game ended in a tie. Some bettors bought into the conspiracy theory that the teams could exchange kneel downs and the game would end 0-0.
"I saw someone propose the idea that theoretically they could just kneel for 70 minutes and end in a tie and both go to the playoffs," said Sam Hoppen, a 28-year-old sports bettor from Chicago, who had placed a $5 two-leg parlay with FanDuel on an outright win by the Jaguars and Chargers-Raiders ending in a tie at around 713-1 odds.
Hoppen admitted Sunday afternoon that a game full of kneel-downs was far-fetched, but hadn't given up on his bet that would've paid $3,565.
"If the Chargers or the Raiders have it, fourth-and-10 at the 50-yard line and there's two minutes left in overtime ... what's the risk/reward of going for it, when you could potentially lose and be out of it?" Hoppen said.
Hoppen was right. Instead of kicking the winning field goal in overtime, Raiders coach Rich Bisaccia could've elected to let the clock run out, sending both the Chargers and Raiders into the playoffs with a tie.
Bookmakers were glad Bisaccia chose otherwise.
"I know it was unintentional," Avello of the overtime drama, "but Steven Spielberg couldn't have written and directed a better script."
While the majority of those backing the tie ended up disappointed, it was a storybook ending for a bettor in New Jersey. According to sportsbook WynnBET, the unidentified bettor placed a $1,000 parlay bet on the Jaguars upsetting the Colts and the Chargers-Raiders being tied at the end of regulation. The bettor won a net $115,000.