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Sports books brace for Super Bowl betting storm

Where it is calm this morning, it will be crazy by Sunday afternoon. A storm is due to hit Las Vegas sports books, and forecasting which way it blows is another part of handicapping a Super Bowl.

Will the betting public side with the underdog Baltimore Ravens? Will the largest and sharpest wagers favor the San Francisco 49ers? What are the most popular propositions?

It was the calm before the storm Thursday, and from Downtown to the Strip to points south, the books were quiet. So it was a good time to get around and get a feel for what’s going to happen around town.

"We’ve got Niners money coming in now," Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said. "It has been slow coming in, but it’s like this every year. We’re going to get hammered starting Friday. It’s all going to change over 48 hours."

That’s precisely how much time it took Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy to solve the crime. It was a classic movie. The 48 hours leading up to kickoff of the Super Bowl are fit for a filmmaker, too.

The game is in New Orleans this year, but Las Vegas – with its parties, people watching and limitless wagering opportunities – might be the more entertaining destination every year.

The guessing game is in handicapping the matchup, and this one features quarterbacks with contrasting styles. Joe Flacco, the classic pocket passer, and the Ravens are 3½- to 4-point ‘dogs to Colin Kaepernick, a dynamic playmaker, and the 49ers. The line is moving to 4, that much seems obvious, and the total is 47½ for now.

"I like the ‘under’ in the game, and I like the first quarter under 9½," Miller said. "In the first quarter, I think both teams are going to run the ball and feel each other out. It might be a close game. If I had to bet the game, I would take the points.

"I think we’re going to see Niners money, and I could see the line going to 4½. I know the Ravens have not faced a quarterback like Kaepernick, and that’s what everyone is talking about is Kaepernick."

Jay Rood, who runs the MGM Resorts books from the Mirage, said Kaepernick is the most popular choice to score the game’s first touchdown, at 8-1 odds. Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, each at 8-1, are hot tickets, too. Running back Ray Rice (5-1) is a likely candidate, and linebacker Ray Lewis (75-1) is a long shot. When not eyeing Kaepernick, San Francisco bettors are looking at wide receiver Michael Crabtree (7-1).

"I think there’s a strong possibility this could be the first overtime game," said Rood, who forecasts the 49ers to win 17-16 "with Kaepernick using his legs on the final drive."

It’s worth nothing that no Super Bowl has gone to overtime, and only one of the previous 46 was decided by one point. The "Yes" side of the overtime prop pays in the plus-500 to plus-700 range.

"I’m really optimistic this will be a nicely bet game," Rood said. "Actually, there is quite a bit of interest in terms of getting down large (six-figure) wagers. But it’s early at this point. We’ve got less than 5 percent of what we’re going to write on the game."

The rest will show up in the final 48 hours before kickoff. I hate waiting in long lines, so I stopped by the William Hill sports book at Tuscany, where there was no line, just off the Strip.

I bet three props – 49ers backup quarterback Alex Smith to take a snap from center at plus-450, the game to be decided by exactly 3 points at plus-425 and no score in the first 6½ minutes at minus-110.

A ticket with the Ravens plus-4½ is already in my pocket, but I’m not sold on the underdog and plan to use live wagering with the hope of getting a good line on San Francisco at some point during the game. (Four of the past 11 Super Bowls were decided by 3 points, and my forecast calls for the 49ers to win, 27-24.)

"Whoever we need is who I’ll be rooting for," South Point sports book director Bert Osborne said. "Probably the Ravens."

Osborne agreed with Rood that the worst-case scenario for the books probably would be the 49ers to cover and the score to go over the total.

"I think it’s going to keep trending that way," Osborne said.

He also said bettors are "taking the Keno shot" they take each year on long-shot props hitting such as overtime, a 2-point conversion and a safety – and the safety did cash last year.

At the LVH, where around 350 props are on the board, sports book director Jay Kornegay was calling for a record Super Bowl handle in Nevada. Last year’s handle of $93.9 million ranks second to the $94.5 million wagered in 2006.

"I really think we’re going to surpass that record," Kornegay said. "It feels like there’s more money being bet this year, and I think it’s going to be a 60-40 split in favor of the 49ers."

That’s the forecast for the crazy 48 hours before kickoff.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts "The Las Vegas Sportsline" weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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