On Thursday, while bookmakers and bettors were focused on college basketball tournaments, big wagers on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl showed up at multiple Las Vegas sportsbooks.
Tampa Bay was around a 50-1 long shot when bets upward of $10,000 came in Thursday at the SuperBook, South Point and Circa Sports. Bookmakers drastically adjusted their odds, while trying to determine what was behind the flurry of interest in the Buccaneers. They'd find out three days later, right in the middle of the madness.
At 7:13 p.m. ET, Sunday, just minutes after the bracket for the NCAA tournament was released, Tom Brady announced he was unretiring and would be returning to play for Tampa Bay. The Brady news hit during one of the busiest stretches of the year for oddsmakers: the hours after the NCAA tournament bracket is unveiled, when sportsbooks were racing to post point spreads on the 32 opening games and update their odds to win the national championship.
"It was very hectic, intense," Ed Salmons, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker with the SuperBook, said.
Bookmakers for the SuperBook first thought something was up early Thursday morning. That's when a new customer in New Jersey who had never made a bet with the company asked to make a pair of $10,000 bets on the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl at 60-1 and to win the NFC at 30-1. The SuperBook allowed the customer to bet $1,000, an amount in line with house limits on futures wagers, but still moved Tampa Bay's Super Bowl odds to 25-1 and its NFC odds to 12-1. Later in the day, a bettor in Nevada whom the SuperBook considers savvy, placed two big bets on the Buccaneers at the shortened odds.
"We thought Deshaun Watson was going [to Tampa Bay]," Randy Blum, sportsbook manager for the SuperBook, said. "We didn't think it was about Brady at the time."
Chris Andrews, sportsbook director for the South Point in Las Vegas, said he took three bets over the counter from the same customer on the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl just before 3 p.m. Thursday. Andrews said the customer, whom he described as a "stranger," bet on the Bucs at odds of 50-1, 30-1 and 25-1. He declined to offer additional details about the size of the bets but did acknowledge that he had a multi-six-figure liability on Tampa Bay. On Sunday, after Brady's announcement, Andrews moved the Bucs to 4-1 to win the Super Bowl, making Tampa Bay the Super Bowl favorite at the South Point.
"I have a feeling that he had good information," Andrews said.
Circa Sports also took what sportsbook manager Chris Bennett called a "significant" bet on the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl at 30-1 on Thursday.
"I would say confidently that this person knew that [Brady] was coming back," Bennett said.
Other sportsbooks that were offering shorter Super Bowl odds on the Bucs didn't see any signs that Brady was returning. Jay Croucher, head of trading for PointsBet, said they had the Bucs at 19-1 to win the Super Bowl before Brady's announcement and moved them to 7-1 after the news.
"With something like that, you find out pretty quickly, when the odds screen starts lighting up with bets on the Bucs," Croucher said. "Fortunately, the news spread so quickly that we were adjusting the prices seconds after it broke about Brady."
Caesars Sportsbook, one of the only books to have offered odds on Brady winning next season's MVP, said a few bets did sneak in as the news was breaking. Brady's MVP odds went from 45-1 to 9-1.
"A few bets got through right as the news was breaking, right when we were focused on the NCAA tournament," Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading at Caesars Sportsbook, told ESPN on Sunday night. "I don't think [Brady] had us oddsmakers in mind and what we're doing for the NCAA tournament. It'd been nice if he would have, but I don't expect him to sympathize with us."