LAS VEGAS—Jay Kornegay was behind the counter in 2004 when someone approached with $5,000 to bet on the Super Bowl but had no idea how to decide.
The man, not a regular sports bettor, thought for a few moments and decided to put it all on the Carolina Panthers to score exactly 29 points at 30-1 odds.
Kornegay couldn’t believe it, but took the man’s money—and later returned it plus the winnings. The bet cashed when the Panthers scored that amount in a three-point loss to the New England Patriots.
The Super Bowl draws a larger portion of casual bettors than other American sporting events, and the numerous proposition options each year underscore how the game’s mass appeal goes well beyond professional gamblers and hardcore fans.
“We’re certainly going to write a lot more tickets on the propositions than the game,” said Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations at Westgate Las Vegas. “They’ve become so popular.”
This year’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles is February 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the first time the championship will be played inside a venue with a sportsbook.
Next year’s Super Bowl will be in Las Vegas, the nation’s sports betting capital.
Sportsbooks have taken advantage of the increasing popularity of prop bets, which could range from whether there will be a safety to whether the Chiefs or Eagles will score more points than LeBron James or Steph Curry when their teams meet the day before the big game.
Most props will be made available next week, but Caesars Sportsbook already has its 2,000-option menu available. Among the choices is whether the first turnover will be an interception or fumble. The interception is minus-170, meaning someone would need to bet $170 to win $100. The fumble is listed at plus-140, which means a $100 bet would pay $140.
Jason Scott, BetMGM vice president of trading, said he expects to put out 700 or 800 such bets by next week for its properties in 20 states plus Washington, DC. Kornegay said Westgate will have about 500 bets with roughly 1,000 options. Jeff Benson, Circa Sports operations manager, said his casino’s booklet will be 12 or 13 pages front and back.
“I think you have a ton of people that want just to bet the props,” Benson said. “They don’t really care who wins. That’s really a way for them to enjoy the game.”
The number of bets on props is considerably higher than traditional wagers such as which team will cover the point spread and whether the total number of points with be higher or lower than the posted figure. The Eagles are 1 1/2-point favorites at FanDuel Sportsbook, and the total is 50 1/2 points.
Kornegay estimated that for every traditional Super Bowl bet, there are six or seven prop wagers.
Scott said that while some of the more unusual prop bets draw much of the attention, more than 99% of the money tends to go to about 30 high-profile bets such as which player will score the first touchdown.
The popularity of props is a fairly recent phenomenon.
Caesars is believed to have published the first prop bet when it posted at 20-1 odds that defensive lineman and goal-line running back William “the Refrigerator” Perry would score a touchdown for the Chicago Bears in the 1986 Super Bowl. The odds plummeted to 2-1 by kickoff, and Perry rewarded bettors by reaching the end zone late in the third quarter.
That Super Bowl was the second of a 13-game winning streak for the NFC in the title game, many of them blowouts. Kornegay was at the now-closed Imperial Palace at the time, and he wanted to find a new way to attract bettors and keep their interest throughout the one-sided games.
Before the 1995 championship between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers, prop bets were still limited, so Kornegay and his team decided to change that. They developed about 150 prop bets for the anticipated blowout that became a 49-26 victory by the 49ers.
“It stirred up quite a bit of interest,” Kornegay said. “And ever since then, the propositions have been part of the Super Bowl weekend.”
The games have usually been much closer since the turn of the century, many coming down to the final minutes.
Professional sports bettors tend to make the more traditional wagers and look for value in the props if they believe they can find a betting number to exploit. For the most part, the props belong to the general public.
And with the lack of betting experience come some unusual choices.
Kornegay said a bettor drove to Las Vegas from California unsure of what to do with $50,000. He put is all on the coin toss.
And it came in.
In the Chiefs’ 31-20 victory over the 49ers three years ago, Benson said someone correctly bet the exact score for each team.
“It didn’t turn out great for us,” Benson said. “It turned out awfully good for him. But obviously in this business, you definitely see some longshots hit once you book enough Super Bowls.”
Image credits: AP