STEELERS FAVORED TO WIN SUPER BOWL

On the marquee promoting a surprising Super Bowl matchup, the featured actors will be the Pittsburgh Steelers and their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

It could be argued that no team fits the underdog profile better than the Arizona Cardinals, a historically hapless NFL afterthought. While it remains to be seen if Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1 at Tampa, Fla., will make for great theater, the game is undoubtedly an attraction of opposites.

Las Vegas sports books opened the Steelers as consensus 7-point favorites, with a total of 47.

"It’s going to be a very intriguing Super Bowl in that we have one of the most popular teams in the league versus a true Cinderella team," Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said.

"The Steelers are such a popular team, and this is the line you make toward the opinion of the public. We’re not quite sure which side the general public is going to be on. The Cardinals are a team on a Cinderella roll, and that’s very appealing for a lot of fans."

Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmakers sent out an opening line of 6 on Sunday night, and the Palms and Station Casinos posted the same number.

But the Hilton and MGM Mirage opened the line at 7, which was the most common number at several Las Vegas and offshore books.

"If you put up 6, it’s only going one way — you’re going to get nothing but one-sided action," said MGM Mirage sports book director Jay Rood, who anticipates more wagering support for the Steelers.

Roethlisberger passed for 255 yards and one touchdown as Pittsburgh defeated the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 in the AFC championship on Sunday.

The Steelers, 6-point home favorites, covered the spread on safety Troy Polamalu’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown with 4:24 remaining.

In the NFC championship, Kurt Warner passed for four touchdowns to lift the Cardinals to a 32-25 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, who were 4-point road favorites.

At MGM Mirage books, Arizona was at 45-1 odds in August to win the Super Bowl. The odds were adjusted to 28-1 in early January.

The Cardinals were blown out in two of their last three regular-season games, losing 35-14 to Minnesota and 47-7 to New England.

Warner went to two Super Bowls and won one as quarterback of the St. Louis Rams. Roethlisberger has led Pittsburgh to one Super Bowl victory.

A Super Bowl-record $94.5 million was wagered in Nevada in 2006, when the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10.

There was speculation that last year’s New York Giants-New England Patriots matchup would draw a handle approaching $100 million.

But the state’s total wagering for the game was $92.1 million. The Giants, who closed as 12-point underdogs, upset the Patriots, 17-14.

A record handle is not anticipated for the Cardinals-Steelers showdown. Although the teams are attractive enough, the nation’s economic collapse has resulted in declining gambling revenues.

"Sports betting has been strong through this entire economic crisis," Kornegay said. "This is going to be the true test to see if the Super Bowl is recession-proof."

The state’s Super Bowl handle was $81.2 million in 2004, but it topped $90 million in each of the past four years.

"If we wrote over $100 million for the state, it wouldn’t surprise me," Rood said. "I’m guessing it’s going to fall somewhere between $85 million and $95 million."

According to the Gaming Control Board, the state’s 174 sports books lost $2.6 million on last year’s game. It was only the second time in 18 years that Nevada sports books lost on the Super Bowl.

Proposition betting always boosts the Super Bowl handle, and Kornegay said the Hilton plans to post hundreds of prop bets by Tuesday night.

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

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