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Arizona proves hot ticket at books

If veteran quarterback Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals are just misfits stumbling into a Super Bowl and waiting to get exposed, the betting public is not seeing it.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are favored by 61/2 to 7 points over the Cardinals in Sunday’s game at Tampa, Fla., and most of the early wagering at Las Vegas sports books has been on the underdog.

A vast majority of the betting action is expected to show in the final three days, but Wynn Las Vegas sports book director John Avello said a significant line move would be a surprise.

"I don’t believe it’s going to 71/2," Avello said. "It doesn’t look like that number is in the cards."

The Wynn has the Steelers as 7-point favorites at even money, while the Las Vegas Hilton moved the line to 61/2 and minus-110.

Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay opened Pittsburgh at 7 and kept the number there for a week, but he said about 90 percent of the tickets written were on Arizona. With the line at 61/2, he said, the bets are more balanced with about 60 percent on the Steelers.

"As far as the general public just betting the favorite and laying the points, I think that has curtailed in the past couple years," Kornegay said.

The wagering pattern is similar to last year’s Super Bowl, Kornegay said. The New York Giants, who were bet heavily and closed as 12-point underdogs, upset the New England Patriots, 17-14.

The public pounded the Giants to win outright on the money line, and as a result, it was only the second time in 18 years that Nevada sports books lost on the Super Bowl.

Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky’s sports books, lowered Pittsburgh’s money-line price to minus-215 on Thursday, he said, after Arizona bets were coming in at an 8-to-1 ratio.

A normal 7-point NFL favorite has a money line of about minus-300. Vaccaro said the Steelers could drop to minus-200, a number that he called "insane," and might entice bettors to wager on both sides of the game because of the potential value.

"It’s very, very low for a 7-point favorite, and Pittsburgh is a public team," Vaccaro said. "I thought the line would go to 71/2 before it would go to 61/2, but I’ve been completely wrong so far.

"Laying 2-to-1 (with Pittsburgh) and taking plus-7 (with Arizona), you would like to do that in every NFL game. That’s an absolute sweet middle going for you. But this is only one game. This is a bargain, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to fall in the middle."

Vaccaro said although he respects the Steelers’ top-ranked defense and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to win big games, he would wager on Warner.

"I like the ‘dog," Vaccaro said. "I know Roethlisberger makes great individual plays, but overall he has not played that great. This Cardinals team is pretty good, apparently better than we thought."

The total on the game opened at 47 and is down to 461/2. "It was all ‘under’ money at 47," Avello said.

There is no speculation about the Cardinals-Steelers matchup drawing a handle approaching $100 million in Nevada.

A Super Bowl-record $94.5 million was wagered in Nevada in 2006, when the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10. The state’s total wagering for last year’s game was $92.1 million.

Mostly because of an economic downturn, the handle is expected to reach about $80 million. Vaccaro said the "telltale sign" was the lack of action the first few days after the Super Bowl line was posted.

"It’s slower than normal," Vaccaro said. "This one is going to be a little tricky. I don’t think anybody can guess what we’re going to do on Sunday."

To help boost the Super Bowl handle, Lucky’s posted about 165 proposition bets at its seven sports books. Kornegay said prop betting at the Hilton has been steady, but he’s hoping bettors pick up the pace this weekend.

"It feels a little slow," Kornegay said. "I’m trying to stay optimistic."

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

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