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Gaming Guru

Matt Youmans

Vegas sportsbooks ready for marquee Super Bowl

25 January 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Betting against Peyton Manning is rarely advised. It's not as dumb as staring into the summer sun, which is a no-win situation, but it does fall in the category of playing with fire.

Spot the opposing team a double-digit lead, dare Manning to rally and cover as a big favorite, and he puts up 24 unanswered points. If you're on the other side, he burns your bankroll and your eyeballs.

So it's no surprise the Indianapolis Colts are 4 1/2-point favorites over the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 in Miami. Of the four teams playing Sunday, the Colts were easily the most impressive.

"After watching the games," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky's sports books, "I would suggest the Colts are the better team. The Manning kid is incredible."

Manning started slowly, picked up the pace and then completely picked apart the New York Jets' defense to lead the Colts to a 30-17 victory in the AFC Championship Game.

Before the first pass was thrown Sunday, the projected line at Lucky's for a Colts-Saints matchup was Indianapolis minus-3. By the end of the night, it was obvious that was not the right price.

The Saints were extremely lucky to dodge elimination in a 31-28 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship.

"At the beginning of the day, I had a couple numbers in mind in terms of matchups," MGM Mirage sports book director Jay Rood said. "If the two teams played well and looked good, I was thinking Colts about -1 1/2 over the Saints."

New Orleans did not look so good, so Rood opened the line 3 1/2 and said bettors lined up "right away" to wager on Indianapolis. The high percentage of early Colts bets pushed the number to 4 1/2, and it might creep up in the next two weeks.

The Saints, you get the sense, are just happy to be in their first Super Bowl. Manning already has been there, and he expects to win it again.

The NFL, Las Vegas sports books and the bettors all can agree on this: Indianapolis-New Orleans is about as good as it gets in terms of a Super Bowl matchup. Two great quarterbacks, Manning and Drew Brees, and two teams that at one point were a combined 27-0.

There should be offensive fireworks -- the total is 56 -- and proposition betting will turn the game into a wagering circus.

A record $94.5 million was wagered at Nevada sports books on the 2006 Super Bowl, but the state's handle has declined slightly each year since. Expect a spike in business for Super Bowl XLIV.

The impact of a sagging economy was more dramatic last year, when the state's handle of $81.5 million for the game was an 11.5 percent decrease from 2008.

"I hope we beat the record. I feel we're going to snap out of our little slump," Vaccaro said. "Even in bad times, I'm looking for the best (handle) we've had on the Super Bowl in the past four or five years."

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was so close to earning an invitation to the party. Minnesota was at the New Orleans 33-yard line -- and within field-goal range for Ryan Longwell -- with 19 seconds remaining in regulation before two inexcusable mistakes.

First, the Vikings drew a 5-yard penalty for having 12 men in the huddle. Next, Favre rolled to his right and, instead of running for a crucial 5 to 7 yards that appeared available, he threw late across the middle and was intercepted by the Saints' Tracy Porter.

"The two biggest gaffes of the year," Vaccaro said. "How do you get a penalty out of a timeout? Favre's pass across his body was ridiculous."

Vaccaro credited Favre, who passed for 310 yards and a touchdown, for being "pretty courageous" and playing through injuries. "I didn't think he was getting up a couple times," Vaccaro said.

Minnesota also was hurt by six fumbles (three lost) and a dubious pass-interference call in overtime.

Brees, who threw for three TDs, was good enough but not spectacular. New Orleans, favored by 3 1/2, failed to cover.

Manning passed for 377 yards and three TDs to rally the Colts, who covered as 8 1/2-point favorites after trailing 17-6.

"We took a ton of Colts money. We got hurt on that game, but not too bad," Rood said. "We had a lot of parlays going from the Colts to the Saints, so we avoided that bullet. We needed the Saints to win but not cover, so it was the ideal scenario for us."

The Jets had a great run, and coach Rex Ryan need not apologize for predicting a win. He got beat by the NFL's best quarterback.

This Super Bowl matchup is ideal. Manning is not the guaranteed winner, but if you bet against him, prepare to get burned.