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Gaming Guru

Matt Youmans

With Favorite's Win, Game Super for Bettors

6 February 2006

A Super Bowl lacking dramatic action on the field in Detroit drew plenty of it at Las Vegas sports books, where many bettors were rewarded for backing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The betting public played the favorite, and the Steelers delivered a 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, covering the 4-point spread, on what might amount to a record-setting Sunday.

"We wrote more tickets this week than I've ever seen on a Super Bowl," MGM Mirage sports book director Robert Walker said.

The wagering on the game is expected to threaten last year's record handle of $90.8 million at Nevada sports books.

"The volume was just incredible, especially the last two days," said Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay, who reported his book's handle was up approximately 25 percent from last year.

The Steelers, who have more of a public following than the Seahawks and bigger stars such as Roethlisberger and running back Jerome Bettis, opened and closed as 4-point favorites. The low-scoring game went under the total of 47.

The best result for the books would have been for the Steelers to win but not cover the spread, which hit 4 1/2 before support for the Seahawks arrived and pushed the number back to 4.

Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck drove his team deep into Pittsburgh territory in the final minute, a nervous moment for some bettors. But Hasselbeck's last pass was incomplete, and the Seahawks fell short of a backdoor cover that would have produced a big win for most books.

"We all want two-way action, but the reality is when we get it, we can't win a heck of a lot," said Walker, whose book received "tremendous two-way action" on the side and total.

Walker said he took fewer six-figure bets than in recent years, but 80 percent of those bets were on the Steelers.

Stardust sports book director Bob Scucci said he needed the Seahawks to cover.

"All the early money the first week was on Pittsburgh," Scucci said. "There was some late money on Seattle, but I don't think it was that significant."

Both teams seemed to sleep through the first quarter. Roethlisberger finally put the Steelers ahead on a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

On a proposition bet at the Hilton, Roethlisberger opened at 25-1 odds to score the game's first touchdown. The odds closed at 15-1, and Kornegay said 78 tickets were written on Roethlisberger.

The Steelers closed as 3-point favorites in the first half and the first-half total dropped from 24 to as low as 22. The bettors beat the books on the wagers, Kornegay and Scucci said, as Pittsburgh led 7-3 at halftime.

Willie Parker broke loose on a Super Bowl-record 75-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to help the Steelers bring some life to the game. The prop for Parker's total rushing yards was set at 59 1/2.

"The props received a lot of action," said Kornegay, who posted about 300 proposition wagers. "The atmosphere was terrific, and people were living and dying with every play."

The presence of a Seahawks team with few big-name players did not hurt betting activity much, if at all.

"A lot of people were questioning the popularity of the Seahawks, but it doesn't matter who's in the game," Kornegay said. "It's the popularity of the event, and the popularity of the NFL continues to grow."

The books made out like bandits on last year's Super Bowl when the favored New England Patriots won but did not cover the spread. Any celebration later this week, when the Nevada Gaming Control Board reports the state's handle and win, should be more subdued.

The outcome was a continuation of a season-long trend of favorites winning and the books losing some profits.

"We did not lose, but this will probably be our worst Super Bowl in five years," Walker said.