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Vicky Nolan

The Big Game and the Big Picture

7 February 2000

This story started out as a look at how the mainstream media generally ignores online gambling until the big games come around, like last week's Super Bowl. It's considered the biggest one-day betting event of the year, whether customers are betting virtually or with a Vegas bookie. The real story, however, is how well online sportsbooks are doing in comparison to their bricks-and-mortar counterparts.

According to the Nevada State Gaming Board, Las Vegas bookies brought in $71 million in total bets for the Super Bowl. Last year's total was higher, about $76 million. Online sportsbooks, meanwhile, had a record-making year handling bets for Super Bowl XXXIV.

Just how great was it?

Industry analyst Sebastian Sinclair estimates that around $300 million wagered on the Super Bowl at online sportsbooks this year. That's twice as much as last year!

The Betting's The Thing

Individual websites had plenty of good news to report, despite the fact that a steady 7-point line made this year's game, for most, a push. World Wide Telesports (WWTS), like many sites, broke even-- a big-time improvement over last year, when WWTS lost more than a half-million dollars on bets against the spread.

This year's action represented a 60 percent increase in total Super Bowl bets from last year at WWTS. A spokesperson for the sports book explained, however, that the actual game day is a bust compared to regular season Sundays when 14 different games are played each week. "It wasn't a great day for us. About $150,000 was bet, " the spokesperson said. "All we try to do is break even on Super Bowl." Instead, the teaser, parlay and proposition bets brought in the most money for the site.

Cyberoad licensees also reported huge handle and customer increases. "Our licensees reported roughly a 25 percent increase over previous single Sunday betting," said business development manager Jason Gordon. Compared to last year's game, Cyberoad sites had six to seven times more action and up to a 700 percent increase in handle, Gordon said. He further explained that even with the seven-point spread, the licensees made money, thanks to props and other specialty bets. He estimated that as many as 4,800 new clients signed up with the three books.

Mike Edwards of indicated that Betmaker enjoyed a fourfold increase in players for the Super Bowl. A normal football Sunday averages 5,000 to 8,000 bets, he said, while 25,000 bets were placed on Super Bowl Sunday.

"We did alright; didn't get hit too hard," Edwards said.

Like other operators, Betmaker profited from the specialty bets, such as parlays, overs and props. While the betting volume for the site only increased about 10 to 20 percent over last year's Super Bowl, Edwards said 30 percent more money was wagered. Plus, the site had a huge spike in new customer sign-ups.

More people feel comfortable betting money with an offshore site, Edwards said, which may partially be responsible for the large number of punters online.

U.K. bookmaker William Hill's American football season betting totaled $5 million, according to spokesman Graham Shaw. Much of the money, he estimated, was from Super Bowl bets.

New sportsbooks reported big Super Bowl increases as well. had a 25 percent increase in wagers compared to previous Sundays, said one source. "It brought in more visitors to our site," he said, adding that membership sign-ups increased significantly the week before the game.

"The push was, of course, a no-action bet," said Mike Ross, vice president of operations for, another new sportsbook. "I found, however, many players wagering on the props. It was, by far, the heaviest month so far for my sportsbook in terms of wagers made."

Ross estimated that 20 percent of the month's income was Super Bowl related. The site, which offered a 15 percent bonus on all Super Bowl week deposits, averaged 20 new customers a day.

Even the Media Won

The Super Bowl also made a winner of those in the media who provided an unending supply of stories about the match-up. And of course, several stories focused on Super Bowl betting, especially on the Internet. courted a number of news organizations to garner additional exposure for their site, according to Edwards. He contacted, for example, newspapers in Atlanta, St. Louis and Tennessee.

His promotional efforts paid off by landing him free publicity from the likes of MSNBC News, Boston and

British bookmaker reportedly advertised its services on the New York Times website, while GIC Global Interactive Corp. promised to blitz its name all over Atlanta in an effort to catch those last minute Super Bowl bets. co-founder Simon Noble managed to get his name in a few publications as well.

Additional Internet Super Bowl betting stories were run by USA Today, Chicago Sun Times, and an AP story that ran in the Boston Globe and

So, What About Next Year?

Could Net betting sites make Las Vegas sportsbooks obsolete?

Just consider, already more than 61 million Americans are using the Internet now, and people around the world are rushing to enter the cyberspace age. Las Vegas sportsbooks' handle for the Super Bowl was only about a quarter of what Internet sites took in. It's conceivable that betting on the Internet could deliver some serious damage to bricks-and-mortar sites in Vegas.

Sinclair concurs. He added, "If the Nevada Gaming Board continues to bury its head in the sand regarding Internet gambling, business schools 10 years from now will be teaching how the Nevada Gaming Board lost the Internet gambling market."

The Big Game and the Big Picture is republished from
Vicky Nolan
Vicky Nolan