Vegas, Not Indianapolis, Becomes Hot Spot for Super Bowl Watching, Betting

PHOTO: While roughly 70,000 fans will pour into Indianapolis to watch the New York Giants face off against New England Patriots for the Super Bowl, almost five times that many will be heading to Vegas.PlayMitchell Funk/Getty Images
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While roughly 70,000 fans will pour into Indianapolis to watch the New York Giants face off against New England Patriots for the Super Bowl, almost five times that many will be heading to Vegas.

The gaudy neon-lit oasis in the Nevada desert -- 1,600 miles away from Lucas Oil Stadium where the Super Bowl XLVI will be hosted -- becomes the biggest and glitziest man cave during Super Bowl weekend. Swanky hotels and nightclubs with beautiful lounges hosting enormous flat screen TVs put fans in the lap of football-watching luxury.

But the biggest reason football fans flock to Vegas is because Nevada is the only state where betting on big games is legal. Jimmy Vaccaro, one of the most influential sports bookies in Sin City, said he has been setting the odds on sports for more than 30 years.

"Football is king," he said. "Basketball is a distant second and baseball. Put it this way, football you write about, 45 percent of the whole year's handle is on the football."

The handle is the total amount of money bet, and the Super Bowl has the biggest handle of any sporting event, with up to $93 million in the pot in previous years and bookies are expecting a bigger pool this year.

"We all know there's a recession going on. We all know it's not been good the last few years," Vaccaro said. "Sports betting handle has kept up from year to year. People find money to bet on football. We have not taken any nosedive whatsoever. Matter of fact we're going to write more this year than we did last year. It's in our blood."

Lisa Marchese, chief of marketing at the Cosmopolitan hotel, said that in Vegas the only thing bigger than Super Bowl weekend is New Years Eve. One reason it draws out so many people is that sports betting is a bit more accessible than some of the other casino games.

"They've got all those ancillary bets, like who's going to get the first touchdown, and who's going to get the most yardage. Those are the bets I always fall for. They're the absolute worst bets," she said.

The sports book is unlike any other game in the casino. The odds, for everything else, are mathematical. The casinos know, with precision, how likely it is that the dice will roll a lucky seven or the next card will make blackjack.

That's where the genius of sports bookmakers come in. It's their job to set the odds -- from the overall point spread in the game to the countless so-called "proposition bets," for example, "Will the Patriots score more points than Lebron James does for the Miami Heat Sunday?" Bookmakers say it's more of an art than a science.

"It's on you," Vacarro said. "You're pulling your cash out of your pocket. I think I'm a little smarter than you at times."

Vacarro said the biggest loss of his career was a proposition bet made back in 1985 when the Chicago Bears played the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Bears defensive lineman William "The Refridgerator" Perry scored a touchdown.

"I can still see Refrigerator Perry crossing the goal line when it was about 100-to-1 that he would score a touchdown in the game," he said. "We paid dearly. I can still feel the sting 26 years later. It resonated through the whole strip corridor. When he went across the goal line I could hear a groan."

This year bookies are facing another possible heart-stopping moment, because the Giants were never expected to make it to the Super Bowl this season.

"If you're a better and you're sitting with the Giants at 100-to-1 for $200 that's to win $20,000," said Wynn sports bookmaker Johnny Avello. "There's quite a few out there. At the beginning of the season they were about 20 to 1. They were as high as 100-to-1 and everywhere in between, so there's a lot of Giants money out there."

Vegas has plenty of ways to hedge the bet, and plenty of 49'ers and Packers fans have already lost their wagers.

"The most I can do is book the game and that's it. I cannot play the game. I can't decide the outcome. And wherever the chips fall, they fall," Avello said.