In one of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Pittsburgh Steelers to a victory that had Las Vegas sports books rocking Sunday.
The busiest betting day of the year brought out thousands of fans, some leaving happy and others broke and heartbroken. But there were no complaints about the game being boring.
Roethlisberger’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds remaining lifted the favored Steelers to a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII at Tampa, Fla.
"It certainly had its emotional moments," Wynn Las Vegas sports book director John Avello said. "It was an ending where everybody is just holding on to their hats."
The Steelers, favored by 6 1/2 to 7 points, succeeded in every way but in covering the point spread, leading to mixed results for sports books and mixed emotions for bettors.
"We had a great crowd. They were into it and screaming and yelling," MGM Mirage sports book director Jay Rood said. "They were cheering and I was dejected, and the other way around.
"I think the day went as well as it could possibly go for the state of Nevada."
By most accounts, betting action was better than expected because of a late rush, leading to speculation that the state’s wagering handle might remain nearly as strong as in recent years.
"There were steady lines all day, and it was typical Super Bowl traffic," Avello said. "I was kind of happy with it. I didn’t know what to expect between the matchup and the economy."
An hour before kickoff, five lines at the Red Rock sports book were about 50-people deep, all of them holding cash and hopes of picking winners. A similar scene played out at the Las Vegas Hilton between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
A Super Bowl-record $94.5 million was wagered in Nevada in 2006, when Roethlisberger and the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks. The state’s total wagering for last year’s game was $92.1 million.
"We’ve had some concerns, but I don’t think the handle is going to take a huge hit," Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said.
Rood reported the MGM Mirage’s handle as "right in line with last year, and maybe better than last year."
The finish was strikingly similar to last year’s Super Bowl, in which the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots 17-14 on a last-minute touchdown pass. The difference this time was the underdog did not close out the win.
"The last two Super Bowls have been great as far as entertainment," Rood said.
Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald, who took the second 64 yards for a score to put the Cardinals ahead 23-20 with 2:37 remaining.
Roethlisberger’s winning drive pushed the final score over the total of 461/2 and avoided the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. Many bettors had proposition betting tickets on the game going to overtime at about 8-1 odds.
Another oddity did occur when Roethlisberger threw a completion late in the fourth quarter, but holding was called on the Steelers in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Kornegay said the Hilton wrote two tickets on there being no safety and "too many" — about 100 — on a safety at about 7-1 odds, meaning a big payoff for the betting public.
"I’ll tell you what, I’ve never seen the reaction like I did during that safety," Kornegay said. "I swear, 90 percent of the people in the room had the safety sign going. It was hilarious. Although we didn’t need it, it was one of the best moments I’ve seen in the book."
The Hilton closed the Steelers as 61/2-point favorites. "It was the best-case scenario for us to have the Steelers win and not cover," Kornegay said.
The MGM Mirage and Wynn closed the line with Pittsburgh favored by 7, and Rood and Avello said they needed the Steelers to cover. The bottom line, though, was business was good and the game was better.
"The Super Bowl used to be blowouts," Avello said, "but that hasn’t been the case lately."