All’s calm two days before carnival

Attending the Super Bowl is overrated. I would much rather watch the game in a Las Vegas sports book, and it just so happens that Mayor Oscar Goodman agrees. That’s no surprise, obviously, because Goodman is this playground’s top pitchman.

But he’s pitching something close to the truth when he says, “To me, Super Bowl weekend is as big as New Year’s here.”

The biggest betting day of the year is two days away. All the characters come out on Super Bowl Sunday as the books take on a carnival atmosphere. Last year, I observed a bearded lady putting in bets. (She had a thick, black mustache, at least.)

So last year, I visited 11 books in the five hours before kickoff and wrote a play-by-play blog about the scene. This time — because I’ll be stuck in Provo, Utah, until about noon Sunday — the tour to eight books was made on Super Bowl Thursday.

It was strangely calm before the storm.

■ BINION’S — At 11:44 a.m., all is quiet in the Cal Neva sports book. Four guys are handicapping horse races. The Green Bay Packers are posted as 2½-point favorites over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the total is 45. No one is in line at the window.

In the casino, there are no big-breasted girls wearing referee shirts and cowboy hats dealing blackjack as there were last year. The girls have been replaced by video machines. Very disappointing.

■ PLAZA — The wagering is tilted in favor of the Packers all over the city, but Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky’s sports books, said it’s not a landslide.

“There’s a lot of back and forth. It’s Steelers tickets, and then it’s Packers tickets,” he said. “The good sign for us is we’ve taken as much money on props as we have on the game, which is incredible.”

Lucky’s has posted about 250 proposition bets. “There might be just a handful — maybe five or 10 — that don’t have any bets on them,” Vaccaro said.

One college basketball-Super Bowl prop is interesting: Brigham Young star guard Jimmer Fredette’s total points against UNLV on Saturday versus the total points in the Super Bowl. Fredette is plus-11½, and Vaccaro said he just took two limit bets ($500) against Jimmer the gunner. (He dropped 39 points on the Rebels in January, but I’ll guess he gets about 32 this time.)

Vaccaro said almost everything “over 2-1” odds is getting hit by bettors. “People like to bet the ‘dogs in these props,” he says.

■ GOLDEN NUGGET — It feels like a normal day. Most TVs are showing races at Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs, where the No. 8 horse (Bonnistar) wins the seventh at 53-1 odds. Apparently, nobody here bet the long shot because nobody makes a sound.

I place a small NBA bet (San Antonio plus-3½ over the Los Angeles Lakers), leave and walk through Binion’s, where the four horsemen are still sitting quietly.

■ RED ROCK — Several guys are betting horses and only a few stop at the sports windows.

It’s 1:15 p.m., and ESPN News has a breaking story: “Free agent P Andy Pettitte to announce his retirement tomorrow.” As a New York Yankees fan, I take it as really bad news and hit the road. Pettitte was the only Yankees starter I liked to bet.

■ SOUTH POINT — It takes 17 minutes to drive here and not much is happening, but who cares? I’ve stopped in a lot since mid-December, when South Point owner Michael Gaughan made the genius move of putting in a Steak ‘n Shake near the book. I get a double steakburger to go.

■ LAS VEGAS HILTON — Now it’s getting interesting. Brian Blessing, host of Sportsbook Radio on ESPN 1100, welcomes Goodman as a guest. The Mayor bets on Green Bay minus-2½ mostly because he believes quarterback Aaron Rodgers is ready for a big game.

“I think Rodgers is going to be very, very special,” Goodman said. “This is the game that he makes Green Bay forget that (Brett) Favre ever lived there.”

Goodman is all-in with Green Bay. A friend bought him a $100 ticket on the Packers to win the Super Bowl at 9-1 odds. He also likes the game to go over the total, as he picks the Packers, 28-24.

Bet on the first pass by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be incomplete at plus-190, Goodman said, because it’s a “coin flip” and “jitters” might affect Roethlisberger and his receivers.

“I think that’s probably the best bet on the board, to be honest with you,” Goodman said.

Be leery when a politician says “to be honest with you.” Goodman later says he’s been betting sports in some form since third grade.

Vaccaro’s theory — prop bettors are looking to turn a matchstick into a lumberyard — holds true here.

“What I look for is a big payoff,” Goodman said. “I don’t want one of these minus-110 things. If I’m going to bet it, I like to bet something that’s absurd and really make a score.

“I’m really looking forward to Sunday because I’ll get up real early and read the newspaper, read the sports page.”

■ MIRAGE — MGM Resorts book director Jay Rood posted a prop on the total points scored by Blake Griffin and LeBron James in the L.A. Clippers-Miami game on Sunday versus the total points in the Super Bowl. James and Griffin are a 4½-point favorite. (James scored 51 against Orlando on Thursday.)

■ HARD ROCK — It’s 5:05 p.m. when I visit the “exclusive media launch event” hosted by Lee Amaitis, president and chief executive officer of Cantor Gaming, at this new state-of-the-art book. The former Hard Rock book was a dumpy Motel 6 by comparison. This one is impressively unique and definitely worth checking out.

With the exception of one lunatic screaming at the end of a close college basketball game, it was calm Thursday.

It gets crazy everywhere when the storm hits Sunday.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.

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