Super Bowl LIII: Getting A Handle On The Underwhelming HandleBy Robert H. Mann | Published: February 5, 2019 at 12:00 pm
This year’s Super Bowl hangover may be longer lasting than in the past.
That’s because the expected record handle in Nevada never materialized. In New Jersey, the newly created industry also had less-than-predicted betting action with Garden State books losing money on Super Bowl LIII, in which the New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams 13-3.
Legal Super Bowl betting expands beyond Nevada
This Super Bowl marked the first since full-fledged sports betting became available outside of Nevada. The Patriots closed as a 2 to 2 ½ point favorite, or 3 at some shops including William Hill. The game over/under total varied from 55 ½ to 57 ½, depending when and where the bet was taken.
Bookmakers nationally breathed a joint sigh of relief when a last minute Rams’ field goal try, that might have covered numerous 7-point teaser wagers, sailed wide to the left.
Sharing in the disappointment has to be CBS. This year’s game drew the the fewest eyeballs in 10 years, recording a 44.9 rating, according to Sports Business Journal. This is the weakest viewership since Super Bowl XLIII — a matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals.
CBS drew a 44.9 overnight rating for Patriots-Rams last night, which was lowest-scoring Super Bowl yet. That figure is lowest for Super Bowl since Steelers-Cards drew 42.1 in 2009. Boston market got 57.4 (best for game since 2015). L.A. market 44.6 (best SB in L.A. since 1996)
— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) February 4, 2019
Total handle less than stellar
The raw betting numbers show that, according to the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement (DGE), sportsbooks statewide took a $4.6 million loss on $34.9 million, or 13 percent in the red. The Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) reported that Nevada sportsbooks won $10.8 million on $145.9 million wagered, good for a 7.4 percent hold.
Just a year ago, Silver State sportsbooks took in a record $158.6 million in Super Bowl bets, winning less than 1 percent of all wagers when the Philadelphia Eagles upset New England, 41-33. The Super Bowl wagering decline was the first in Nevada since 2015.
The primary reason for the unspectacular handle in Nevada and elsewhere is being generally attributed to some “Patriots fatigue” and combined, two teams holding depressed interest for the general public.
“I thought the enthusiasm for the game was less this year,” said William Hill US CEO Joe Asher. “The Rams just don’t have the passionate fan base the Eagles do and the Patriots fans have had plenty of chances to take in a Super Bowl in Vegas.”
Asher said William Hill’s Nevada sportsbooks saw wagering action that “was basically the same as last year.” The company took three $1 million wagers a year ago, but only one on the Rams-Patriots game.
Asher called William Hill’s overall result in Nevada “a modest win,” after taking a loss in 2018.
Lead William Hill risk manager Nick Bogdanovich told a local radio outlet, the company “lost money in the east, nearer the Patriots fans, but was a winner in Nevada.”
At the non-tribal Mississippi sportsbooks, fans bet $4.67 million, according to the Associated Press. The win/loss amount not yet known. According to a Sports Handle source who spoke on condition of anonymity, Mississippi handle always is tied to the Beau Rivage, a MGM Resorts International property. The “Beau” is generally regarded as the only Mississippi sportsbook taking five and six figure bets, he said.
In Rhode Island, where William Hill operates the state’s two licensed sportsbooks, bettors pounded the New England Patriots, whose Gillette Stadium is just a 30 minute drive from one of the two retail sportsbooks. Fans bet a total 6.5 million, with 77 percent of bettors on New England laying 3 points. The Patriots’ 13-3 victory resulted in a $2.3 million sportsbook loss. Elsewhere, official revenue reports from Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia not yet available.
“Business was slow and the game was dull,” the source told Sports Handle, concisely summing up a Super Bowl Sunday that had been excessively talked and written about for the usual two weeks.
Considering the magnitude of the the event, and the volume of football bets fielded in New Jersey in 2018 — $501 million of a total $1.25 billion — the roughly $35 million wagered on the “Big Game” indeed fell short of expectations.
Digging beneath the surface might reveal a little more to the weaker than hoped for betting numbers.
Lack of synergy, appealing to “jackpot mentality”
As told to Sports Handle several months ago by veteran linemaker and sports wagering visionary Michael “Roxy” Roxborough, Nevada casinos use sports betting to attract customers to not only the sportsbook but also other casino games, restaurants and other activities. Sportsbooks such as those in New Jersey and other venues that are not part of a casino/resort operation or operate as a tenant lack the synergy to make sports betting as successful as it is in Nevada, according to Roxborough.
Another underlying factor is the “jackpot” mentality of many younger gamblers. A slot machine developer told Sports Handle recently that more and more casino games are currently geared to allowing players the chance to “bet a little and win a lot.” He points out the long odds, small wager side bets now available on “21” and other table games that allow for bigger payoffs and progressive jackpots as example of his theory.
Horseplayers seeking to become “lone ranger”
The “jackpot” mentality is also currently becoming more popular in pari-mutuel style horse racing wagering. These so-called “Rainbow Pick 6 bets” have a 20 cent minimum but only payout to a single winning ticket. If more than one bettor has a winning combination a major portion of the wagers are carried over until someone is the “lone ranger.” Such carryovers often result in multi-million dollar pools. It’s another example of the “bet a little, win a lot” mentality that has been the basis of the lottery business for decades.
The Super Bowl proposition bets, now generally believed to comprise about 40 to 50 percent of the Super Bowl handle, usually can not be parlayed to produce a large payout. For the casual bettor, many Super Bowl parlay wagers are also limited by only one game and one total, unlike the regular season, in which a smaller wager can net a big payoff.
The chances for a small player to make a big score are more difficult to find on Super Bowl Sunday. These types of players, especially in Nevada, often adjourn to slot machines or table games rather than bet the game.
The idea of providing a “jackpot” aspect to sports betting is not new. This thinking spawned the low-entry, big payoff football contests that remains popular in Nevada and most certainly will spread as newer betting markets mature.
For many years, sports betting pioneers Vic Salerno, now operating USBookmaking, a turn-key sports betting operation in new markets and Jimmy Vaccaro, the former Nevada bookmaker who recently relocated to Pittsburgh to work for Rush Street Gaming in a marketing role, have advocated such an option for sports bettors.
This was in the form of a statewide, multi-selection weekly parlay card wager with a $5 bet that could result in a six or seven figure win if there is no perfect card for a number of weeks. The twist to this idea is that is would be a statewide contest managed and operated jointly by competing sportsbooks. The idea long championed by Vaccaro is to produce a payoff in the order of multi-millions.
Look for Nevada bookmakers to revisit this concept to bring a the jackpot opportunity to Super Bowl betting. The only thing missing is the needed cooperation of the various bookmakers. In New Jersey and eventually Illinois or New York, the massive potential of sports betting and the deep pockets of fantasy operators DraftKings and FanDuel, now deeply involved in full-fledged bookmaking, might explore a Super Bowl jackpot parlay wager by next year.
Look for resourceful bookmakers to find ways to juice the Super Bowl handle in the very near future.