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Gaming Guru

Matt Youmans

Vegas handle down for Super Bowl

4 February 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A memorable drive directed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger helped the Pittsburgh Steelers pull out a thrilling Super Bowl victory. But in Nevada, the game was not one for the record books.

Not even the Steelers, always a big draw with the betting public, can beat a sagging economy.

A total of $81.5 million was wagered in the state's sports books on Super Bowl XLIII, an 11.5 percent decrease from the game's 2008 handle, according to figures released Tuesday by the Gaming Control Board.

Roethlisberger's 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds to play pushed the Steelers past the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 on Sunday. The high drama surpassed expectations, but the wagering handle in Nevada was the lowest since 2004.

"It was not the matchup. I just think it was the economy," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky's sports books. "It's not the teams, it's the times that made this thing go down."

Vaccaro, who has run sports books in Las Vegas for more than 30 years, said he was "totally satisfied" despite the handle's dip.

"I've always contended this is the only game where people still show up and people bet it," he said. "It was an excellent rush the last five hours. It wasn't a stampede, but it was a steady flow.

"Some of the big money just didn't show. These things are good for everybody, and obviously good for the books."

The state's 176 sports books won $6.7 million for a win percentage of 8.2.

The total wagering in Nevada for last year's Super Bowl, in which the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots 17-14, was $92.1 million. The books lost $2.6 million, only the second time in 18 years that Nevada books had lost on the game.

Books rebounded this year partly because the Steelers, favored by 61/2 to 7 points, won but failed to cover the spread.

Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said bettors backed the Cardinals at plus-7 and the Steelers at minus-61/2. He said Pittsburgh and over-the-total (461/2) parlays were popular, as were money-line wagers on Arizona to win outright.

"We moved the line to 61/2 one week before the game. Those who stayed at 61/2 most of the week needed the Cardinals," Kornegay said. "It was a good line for us because you could really control your liability.

"We took some big bets on the Cardinals at 7. But it's not like we took a lot of big bets."

Kornegay and Vaccaro both said proposition betting helped the books' win percentage, although it might have been a different story if the game had gone to overtime -- a heavily bet prop at 8-1 odds.

A Super Bowl-record $94.5 million was wagered in 2006, when the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks. Kornegay said the Hilton's handle was up from last year, and he expected the state's total might threaten $90 million.

"To see the number drop that much is surprising," he said.