When Jimmy Vaccaro set the odds for Super Bowl XIII in 1979, there were three available wagers: the win bet, the over/under, and the halftime score. Nine days before Super Bowl LVII, the veteran bookmaker was in the middle of adding between 75-100 types of wagers for his current employer at the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa in Las Vegas.
Including prop bets, the sportsbook’s wagering menu will total more than 200 options by game day.
“It’s time consuming,” Vaccaro says. “You have to set everything up, but it’s worth it. People don’t understand how big prop bets have become and how they’ve changed the industry. About 45 percent of our handle on the Super Bowl is on prop bets alone. People love it … because now you’re engaged the entire game.”
Sportsbooks across the country will be filled on Sunday hours before the kickoff of Super Bowl LVII at 6:30 p.m. EST. In a recent survey, the American Gaming Association estimated that 50 million Americans will wager more than $16 billion on the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.
For Andrew Palumbo, sportsbook manager at Rivers Casino Philadelphia, the last few weeks have been joyously raucous, with fervent Eagles fans packing the sportsbook for playoff games in which they defeated the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.
“For the NFC championship game (against San Francisco), it was electrifying,” Palumbo says, “with people standing the whole time.”
The Rivers Casino sportsbook’s party – including a $40 per person, all-you-can-eat buffet – was sold out the day after the NFC championship game. Palumbo notes, however, that there will be room for people to watch the game and despite his duties, he’ll be paying attention.
“Absolutely I’m going to be able to watch it,” Palumbo says. “We’re all going to be watching. If you’re in Rivers Casino, everyone is watching the game, including the staff. We’re looking forward to it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our team and it’s all you can ask for being a sportsbook manager.”
While Super Bowl Sunday is a quasi-national holiday in the U.S., the game is also extremely popular in Canada.
Steve McAllister, editor-in-chief of Gaming News Canada, says Canadian football fans have solid loyalties to NFL teams. In southern Ontario, support is strong for the Buffalo Bills. The Minnesota Vikings are popular in Manitoba and the Seattle Seahawks are favored by British Columbia fans.
And yes, those fans bet on the Super Bowl. McAllister notes that PlayNow, the online sportsbook owned by the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (and used by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries) is promoting Super Bowl prop bets “in anticipation of the huge interest around Sunday’s game,” McAllister says. “In fact, it’s a safe bet that the Super Bowl is one of the most bet-on sporting events with the provincial lottery and gaming corporations across the country.”
McAllister adds that Super Bowl LVI “attracted almost 17 million TV viewers in Canada, about 45 percent of the country’s population. So yes, there’s massive interest in the game and it does garner much bigger TV numbers than the Grey Cup (the Canadian version of the Super Bowl).”
Vaccaro, a resident of Trafford, Pennsylvania, a few miles outside of Pittsburgh, has worked on 48 Super Bowls for various operators in Las Vegas. One of the pivotal moments in betting on the game came during Super Bowl XX, when Chicago Bears lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry scored a touchdown. Vaccaro, then working for MGM, opened with odds of 30-1 on Perry scoring a touchdown, then closed at 5-1 on the wager.
Vaccaro says he lost “only” about $40,000 on that prop bet. But the ensuing publicity mitigated any financial concerns.
“From that point every, every, every beat writer wherever they were from wanted to hear the story, what happened,” Vaccaro says. “We got our asses kicked, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to the product, because from that particular point, writers were checking in whenever there was a big event.”
That particular Super Bowl, Vaccaro adds, spurred competition among his fellow bookmakers in Las Vegas and was arguably the start of the game as a huge wagering event.
The last time the Eagles were in the Super Bowl in 2017, sports betting wasn’t legal in Pennsylvania. This year, Eagles fans are heavily backing the home team, with many wagering on Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (+130) to become the game’s most valuable player.
Palumbo notes that fans are overwhelmingly betting on the Eagles, at -1.5 points, to win the game. Which is fine, save one minor issue: If the Eagles win, Rivers Casino Philadelphia’s sportsbook is going to lose money.
“It certainly will be a monetary loss for the casino (if the Eagles win),” Palumbo says. “But the excitement and energy and what it’s going to do for the city and Rivers Casino are really second to none. (Losing money) pales in comparison to what it means for the city.”