Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press
Published Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 | 1:39 a.m.
Updated Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 | 4:18 a.m.
Super Bowl betting started a little early this year.
Several Las Vegas sports books began posting numbers at halftime of the NFC Championship Game Sunday evening. The San Francisco 49ers were cruising in an eventual 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers as 8-point favorites to make it evident they were headed for a showdown with the AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 2 in Miami.
Make that an evenly-matched showdown. Super Bowl 54 was a straight pick'em initially at Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, Circa Sports and William Hill sports books.
The market eventually shifted in the Chiefs' direction. Most shops, including Station Casinos, settled on Kansas City minus-1. The over/under sits at 53.5 points.
“We first were thinking 2.5 or 3 going into the game, but with the way the 49ers dominated, we started seeing pick,” Stations/Red Rock sport book director Jason McCormick said. “The Niners sure did look great today. But then you see Kansas City and what they’ve been able to do the last two weeks after shaking off slow starts. I think we’ve got two great teams heading to Miami.”
Like the 49ers, the Chiefs, which defeated the Tennessee Titans 35-24 as 7-point favorites earlier in the day, have covered the spread in each of their first two playoff games. Bookmakers believe the pairing of two powerhouse teams will stimulate large betting volume.
Last year’s Super Bowl, which saw the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3, generated $145.93 million wagered in Nevada sports books. It was the second most ever, but the first time in three years that the state’s sports books didn’t set a new record for total handle on the game.
A matchup between Kansas City and San Francisco could get back to record-breaking and eclipse the $158.58 million bet two years ago when the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33.
“We were good once the Patriots lost (this year),” said Jay Kornegay, Westgate Las Vegas Superbook executive vice president. “I think there’s been some fatigue with the Patriots, but otherwise, it doesn’t really matter who plays in the Super Bowl these days. We’re looking at a record handle no matter what.”
Opening the lines an hour or two earlier than usual doesn’t ultimately make any difference to the bottom line but it did show gamblers had an appetite to get money down quickly. Or, namely, they had an appetite to get money down on the Chiefs quickly.
While many fans on social media were marveling at the 49ers’ 27-0 halftime lead and calling for them be favored over the Chiefs, at least a handful of big bettors disagreed as the global market shifted in the AFC champions’ favor. William Hill reported 87 percent of the money and 67 percent of the tickets in the first few minutes was on the Chiefs.
Kornegay tweeted a similar figure — 68 percent of the bets on the Chiefs. Stations held off on putting up the point spread until a more traditional time, near the end of the 49ers’ game, and saw more of a split as far as the preferred side among its customers.
“We’ve gotten good two-way action,” McCormick said. “We’re seeing a lot of people cash tickets on both of them today as favorites and when they come to the counter to bet again having a tough choice on who to keep going with.”
The identity of the two Super Bowl teams may matter less than ever before with sports betting’s expanding popularity, but this is still the matchup bookmakers would have likely picked coming into Sunday. A big reason is proposition wagers, which now make up around half the statewide handle.
Given the Chiefs’ high-powered offense led by last year’s MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, prop offerings figure to be expansive and popular.
“A lot of people will be excited to watch from that perspective,” Kornegay said. “Mahomes is such an exciting player that we might see a little bump from that.”
As for the 49ers, don’t underestimate the impact of Northern Nevada bettors with the team making its first Super Bowl since 2013. Their home Levi’s Stadium is only about 200 miles from the Nevada state line.
It’s no coincidence that the state set a handle record for the first time in seven years when the 49ers lost to the Ravens 34-31 as 3.5-point favorites in Super Bowl 47. The 49ers’ second-most recent Super Bowl appearance, a 49-26 win over the Chargers as 18.5-point favorites in 1995, was one of only two times sports books lost money on the game since the state started tracking it 29 years ago.
“More than just Northern Nevada, I think it’s a west coast thing in general,” McCormick said. “We’ll see a lot of California money with that team. It’s the same thing as everyone betting on the Golden Knights locally.”
McCormick is less certain that the state record is guaranteed to topple. He said the one thing standing in the way is the short point spread, which cuts into books’ chances to draw large additional wagers on teams to win outright on the money line.
The money line currently sits at Kansas City as a minus-120 (risking $1.20 to win $1) favorite with the 49ers coming back at Even money – nearly identical to the standard minus-110 price on each side of the point spread.
“It makes it easier to book but I would have loved to have had that money line possibility on the underdog,” McCormick said. “But this should be a great game. Both teams have looked unstoppable.”