Books take big hit on whirlwind day


All the amateurs come out to party on New Year's Eve, and all the amateurs come out to place their bets on Super Bowl Sunday.

It makes for two of the wildest days of the year in Las Vegas, and Sunday turned out to be one to remember.

In the days leading up to Super Bowl XLII, almost every "expert" who weighed in on the game picked the New England Patriots to roll over the New York Giants.

Even most professional handicappers and wiseguys were siding with the Patriots as 12-point favorites. They were 18-0, and how could they lose to a Giants team that lost six regular-season games?

No way Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin could beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, right?

The "experts" got it wrong, the amateurs got it right, and the sports books got hammered as the underdog Giants won 17-14.

I toured seven books Sunday to get a feel for the atmosphere and gauge public opinion. Here is the day's play-by-play:

10:07 a.m. -- I answer a phone call from my friend Brooke, who never placed an NFL bet before this season. She loves the Giants and just placed her largest wager of the season on them at plus-12.

11:02 a.m. -- The four-hour pregame show starts on Fox. Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson are talking. For some odd reason, Ryan Seacrest is nearby on a red carpet.

11:11 a.m. -- This pregame show is getting old.

11:14 a.m. -- We see Peyton Manning's first commercial. No proposition bets were posted for the total number of Manning commercials.

11:35 a.m. -- Dark skies, high winds and rain set the scene as I walk into the Red Rock Casino.

The sports book is standing-room only. A tall guy with long hair is wearing a Walter Payton jersey, and he is asked his opinion on the game.

"I think I would take the Giants and the points," he says. "That's a lot of points."

1:07 p.m. -- A middle-aged man wearing a Giants hat stands in the middle of the book at Sunset Station.

"I think it will be close," he says, "as long as Eli Manning doesn't make a bunch of mistakes. The Patriots will win a close one."

Another guy approaches sports book director Micah Roberts and asks the most ridiculous question of the day. He points at the TV screens and says, "Is the game going to be on in here?"

Roberts politely says "yes" and goes back to discussing the game. He points out that in the previous 41 Super Bowls, the underdog either won outright or the favorite covered 36 times. That means the favorite has won but not covered in only five Super Bowls.

"Everybody's got action on something going on in this game," says Roberts, who likes the Patriots to win big. "There's nothing like it."

1:56 p.m. -- On to the Downtown area, where I pass by two security guards smoking cigarettes outside the Gold Strike Casino.

"Who do you guys like in the game?" I ask.

"I like the Giants," says Fred the security guard. "If they can get in what's-his-name's face and keep him from throwing the ball, it'll be a good game. It won't be a blowout."

What's-his-name must be Brady. (Great analysis, it turns out.)

2:05 p.m. -- Inside the smoky Binion's sports book, three guys who could pass for The Three Stooges huddle up. The line has just been moved to 111/2. "The spread is shrinking," the ringleader says. "We should take the Giants."

His buddy, gripping a Bud Light bottle, shouts out his best bet: "Ten bucks on over 10 points in the first quarter."

2:22 p.m. -- Driving from Downtown and heading for the Wynn Las Vegas feels like crossing the border from Tijuana to San Diego.

2:37 p.m. -- A line of 48 people snakes through the Wynn book into the casino. Kickoff is less than an hour away.

The point spread is 12, and the total is 55.

Wynn sports book director John Avello has predicted the Patriots to win by 28, but he says, "My opinion on a game like this is never that strong. This is one game where you make a number and hope you get balanced action."

2:56 p.m. -- At the Riviera, every seat is occupied in the new Crazy Leroy's Sports Book Bar & Grill, but only one person is in line to bet.

As the Fox pregame show wraps up, Bradshaw, Long and Johnson pick the Patriots. Comedian Frank Caliendo goes with the Giants.

3:07 p.m. -- In an interview on ESPN Radio, Mike Ditka says, "I'm taking the Giants, 27-24."

3:17 p.m. -- I walk into the Las Vegas Hilton and immediately run into sports book director Jay Kornegay. Thirty minutes ago, he says, the betting windows were jammed. Now, with 16 windows open, no one is waiting, and several ticket writers are sitting idle.

"I always tell people, 'If you want to bet the Super Bowl, bet it two minutes before kickoff,' " Kornegay says.

About 3,000 people are in a Hilton ballroom to watch the game, and another 1,500 or so are in the theatre.

3:26 p.m. -- The Giants call tails on the coin flip, it comes up tails, and several fans celebrate a winning wager.

3:30 p.m. -- The game finally kicks off. The Giants' Brandon Jacobs goes for 3 yards on his first rushing attempt. The total on the prop for his first rush was 31/2 yards. Manning completes first pass, making "complete" the winning side at minus-175.

3:44 p.m. -- After a long drive, the Giants score on a 32-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes.

3:50 p.m. -- Brady's first pass is incomplete; the line for "complete" opened as the minus-250 favorite.

3:58 p.m. -- Patriots running back Laurence Maroney is stopped at the 1-yard line on the last play of the first quarter. The Giants lead 3-0.

4:07 p.m. -- Brady's supermodel girlfriend, Gisele Bundchen, is shown sitting in a luxury suite. This is the first bad sign for the Patriots. We remember what happened with Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson.

4:27 p.m. -- Brady is sacked for the second time.

4:55 p.m. -- The Patriots lead 7-3 at halftime. The halftime line is posted at the Palms sports book; the Patriots are favored by seven points, and the total is 26.

6:02 p.m. -- It's the end of a scoreless third quarter. There is a prop that asks, Will at least one quarter be scoreless? "Yes" is plus-450.

6:39 p.m. -- Brady hits Randy Moss for a 6-yard touchdown pass, and the Patriots lead 14-10 with 2:42 left.

6:56 p.m. -- Manning hits Plaxico Burress for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds remaining, and the Giants lead 17-14.

7:05 p.m. -- Brady's last pass falls incomplete. One of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history hits the books hard.

8:02 p.m. -- MGM Mirage sports book director Robert Walker, who predicted the Patriots in a rout, assesses the damage.

"We got crushed on the game," he says. "The Giants winning outright was our worst-case scenario. We just needed the Patriots to win the game, and we would've been fine. There are a lot of happy customers out there."

Walker estimates tickets were written on the Giants at a 2-to-1 ratio on the point spread and a 30-to-1 ratio on the money line. The Giants were about plus-350 to win outright, meaning a $100 wager paid off $350. Some large money-line bets were on the Patriots, he says, but the public money overwhelmed the professional play.

Walker says business was "steady but not extraordinary," and he's unsure if the handle on the game will set a Nevada record and approach $100 million.

"I was really surprised the Giants were able to march down the field like that and win," Walker says. "I really thought the game was over when Moss scored that touchdown.

"I didn't like the Giants. I didn't think they had a chance."

He was not alone. But a lot of NFL handicapping "amateurs" were partying like it was New Year's Eve.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2907.