Bettors jump to underdogs and sportsbooks suffer big losses

ByDavid Purdum ESPN logo
Monday, January 16, 2017

Forget Aaron Rodgers--the most impressive performance of the NFL playoffs belongs to the betting public, which jumped from favorites to underdogs at precisely the right time this weekend and squashed multiple Las Vegas sportsbooks in the process.

William Hill, which operates sportsbooks at 108 locations throughout the state, reported suffering the worst day in the company's five-year history in Nevada. So much parlay liability had built up over the weekend, the book's "seven-figure" fate was sealed before the underdog Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 18-16 Sunday night.

After Saturday's action, favorites were 6-0 straight up and against the spread. But on Sunday, bettors backed the underdogs, taking the Green Bay Packers and Steelers plus the points and on the money line.

"Seemed like a blue-collar betting day with public parlaying, teasing and pounding money lines on Packers and Steelers," said Bill Sattler, the director of specialty games for Caesars Entertainment. "We salvaged the under in [the] late game, but another solid week for the public."

Rodgers led the Packers on a last-second drive to set up Mason Crosby's winning field goal in Sunday's 34-31 victory over the Cowboys.

The Steelers topped it off. MGM took twice as much money on Pittsburgh plus the points as it took on Kansas City, but the more severe damage was done by parlays.

"It's just colossal," Jay Rood, vice president of MGM race and sports, said of his shop's loss.

"Awful," said Westgate SuperBook assistant manager Ed Salmons of the weekend's results. "Can't be worse."

Last week in the wild-card round, bettors cashed in when all four favorites covered the spread. They then sided heavily with underdog Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship, delivering another significant blow to the books. The Tigers' upset of Alabama produced William Hill's worst loss on a college football game ever.

Bettors stayed hot Saturday, siding with the two favorites. They were rewarded when the Atlanta Falcons sank the Seattle Seahawks 36-20 and the New England Patriots covered one of the largest point spreads in playoff history in a 34-16 win over the Houston Texans.

The Patriots closed as consensus 17-point favorites over the Texans. It was the largest playoff point spread since 1994, when the San Francisco 49ers were 17.5-point favorites over the Chicago Bears. Even with that point spread, bettors flocked to New England. In the hours leading up to kickoff, 89 percent of the money bet on the spread at William Hill was on the Patriots, who were -1,800 to win the game straight up.

Bettors were willing to lay the giant odds. Sportsbook operator CG Technology took a $50,000 money-line bet on the Patriots when the odds dropped to -1,500 earlier in the week. The bet netted $3,300. There were some stabs on the underdog Texans at 10-1 to win straight up, too, including a $10,000 money-line bet placed on Houston right before kickoff at CG Technology.

Nevada sportsbooks won a combined $73.64 million on football, both NFL and college, in September, October and November, down 12 percent from the same three months in 2015, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

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