Behind the Bets

A symbol that can make a Vegas bookie vomit. Getty Images

With all the hype about this prop and that prop leading up to the game, I decided to check in with the bookmakers to see how everyone made out after such an epic Super Bowl. Like the game itself, some of the results in Vegas were historic.

First, let's start with the swings, which began on the opening drive. When Ben Roethlisberger scored that first touchdown, bookmakers rejoiced. Most bettors had the Cards scoring first. But, more than that, they believed the first score by either team would be a field goal. And of all the first-to-score-a-TD props, Roethlisberger got the least action. Alas, after Big Ben's rush a red flag flew and a review followed. Ken Whisenhunt saw it right: the decision was that Big Ben came up half a yard short. The Steelers kicked a field goal. It was a perfect storm of bad luck to open the game for the bookmakers. But a nice treat for the rest of us.

This game seemed to have everything that casual fans love—and sends bookies into bankruptcy. An interception returned for a touchdown? Got it. Enough close ups of Brenda Warner to keep that prop interesting? Absolutely. A team scoring on three straight possesssions? The Cards went TD, safety, TD. "Honestly," Scooch told me when I spoke with him Monday afternoon, "I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to watch the fourth quarter in my office with the door closed."

The prop that truly killed the bookmakers?

The safety. There hadn't been a safety in a Super Bowl since Bruce Smith sacked Jeff Hostetler in SB XXV. Every year that bet gets posted and every year the bookies clean up because people always bet yes. This year, the odds of a Super Bowl safety at the Orleans started out at 8-1. They ended up at 10-1. When Santonio Holmes made that sticky finger, third-down catch on his hip late in the game, with Roethlisberger throwing from the end zone, you could feel a warm wind coming from the Vegas desert, as every bookmaker in town exhaled.

Just as quickly, they got as serious as a heart attack. There was a yellow flag, a holding call in the end zone—a safety. In the freaking Super Bowl. Scooch had to pay out six-figures on that one. At the Hilton, "King of the Props" Jay Kornegay had more than 400 fans bet yes on the safety, and only six go with no. "It was one of the more memorable moments I've seen in the book," says Kornegay. "All the moans when they thought Holmes caught that pass. And then, after the ref discussion, all these fans start giving the safety sign. I didn't know that many people knew the safety sign. It hurt us, but it was exciting to see. I wish I had a picture of it."

Don't feel bad for the books though, they made out okay. "In the battle of the biggest betting day of the year vs. the recession, our handle was slightly up," says Kornegay. "It's nice to be needed."

And that was largely true across town. At Scooch's house, the Orleans, we like to think he was helped along by the espnthemag.com prop bet, submitted by contest winner Lance from American Samoa and posted at all eight of the Boyd Gaming properties this past Wednesday.

To recap: Lance suggested a bet of total game-time duration, from kickoff to final whistle. Looking at the past seven Super Bowls, Scooch and his staff settled on a time of 3:37. "Originally I was going to go with 3:38," says Scooch. "But then I thought I'd only get people betting the under. I was kind of kicking myself after the game."

How come? Because the game was 3:38 minutes, and most gamblers at the Orleans bet the under. But if you missed out on the prop this year, don't worry. There will be another game next year.

Scooch has his stopwatch ready.

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Chad Millman is a Senior Deputy Editor at ESPN The Magazine, and once wrote a book called The Odds. His column takes a close look at the culture surrounding the bet.