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Big bets come in all shapes and sizes at sports books

Before Super Bowl XXI between the Broncos and Giants, a group of orange-clad Denver fans literally walked into the Caesars Palace sports book with a barrel full of cash.

Late Broncos superfan Tim McKernan, aka the Barrel Man, approached the counter wearing a barrel, suspenders, cowboy hat and boots and not much else.

“The writer said, ‘You got anything else on under there?’ He said, ‘You want to see?’ ” former Caesars Palace sports book director Vinny Magliulo said. “I interrupted and said, ‘No, leave your barrel on and bet.’ All of them started pulling their cash out of the barrel.”

Before Super Bowl XXVII between the Bills and Cowboys, a bettor approached the counter at Caesars, his arms overflowing with manila envelopes full of cash.

“He put them on the counter and said, ‘I want to bet $110,000 on Buffalo,’” said Magliulo, now a VSiN host and Gaughan Gaming sports book director. “The Super Bowl not only brings out the most action on a single event but it brings out the biggest action.”

Revisiting billionaire’s $2.4 million bet

The biggest bet South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro ever took was a $2.4 million money-line wager from billionaire investor Carl Icahn in 1995. Icahn placed the bet on the 49ers and won $300,000 when San Francisco, an 8-1 favorite, whipped San Diego 49-26 in Super Bowl XXIX.

“Carl would come in three or four times a year. We call those people event bettors,” said Vaccaro, who was The Mirage sports book director at the time. “They’re not everyday players. They just like to come in for big football games or March Madness or boxing matches.”

Vaccaro said Icahn’s bet was easy to book because there was a ton of money-line action on the Chargers, who were 19-point underdogs.

“I told him after, ‘You can have more (action),’” Vaccaro said. “He didn’t know what I was talking about. But everybody who lived in San Diego drove to Nevada to bet the money line.”

No six-figure Ivy League bets?

While six-figure wagers are fairly common at Las Vegas sports books, they’re typically accepted only on special events, when there’s more market liquidity.

“There’s a better chance of getting a six-figure bet on an NFL playoff game than on an Ivy League basketball game,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “I haven’t rejected a wager. But in the NFL playoffs, there’s so much more money in the pot, it gives you more maneuverability. In big fights, you see it all the time.”

Six-figure wagers on Eagles, Jaguars

Wynn Las Vegas sports book director Johnny Avello already has taken six-figure wagers on the Eagles and Jaguars in Sunday’s conference championship games. A longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker, Avello said he approves most six-figure bets himself.

Approving $1 million bets

“But $1 million bets are a different ballgame,” Avello said. “I need higher approval on that, and I want there to be a secondary process on those.”

The process of taking six- or seven-figure wagers can take seconds or hours, depending on whether it’s a cash transaction.

“Usually a six-figure bet is an easy transaction,” Avello said. “The guy usually has chips he either had because he’s a table game player or a sports guy who got the chips after he wired the money in. He comes over and gives us the chips and it takes 20 seconds. No big deal.

“But it’s not unusual for a guy to pop in for the Super Bowl and say he wants to bet $1 million and he has the cash on him.”

Cash counting

Avello doesn’t recall which Super Bowl it was, but said a local bettor showed up on two occasions before the game with $550,000 in cash to wager a total of $1.1 million.

“When you’re dealing with that kind of money, it’s hard because it could take hours trying to count that cash,” Bogdanovich said.

Sock it away

Placing a large wager with casino chips is the easiest option for all involved, but there are exceptions. CG Technology sports book director Jason Simbal recalls a time when he was a ticket writer at Caesars Palace and a high roller showed up at the book flanked by bodyguards to make a big bet in true old-school fashion.

“The guy had a bunch of chips in a sock,” Simbal said. “He took chips out of a sock to bet around six figures on a boxing match.”

At least he wasn’t wearing the sock.

“I’ve seen money come in from all areas,” Bogdanovich said. “From Dolphin shorts, sweaty socks, hats and fanny packs. I’ve seen it all.”

Not sure if he’s seen a barrel man.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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