- Joined ESPN in 2014
- Journalist covering gambling industry since 2008
Caesars Sportsbook’s 22-page Super Bowl betting menu was created by more than a dozen oddsmakers last Monday night over pizza and wings at an employee’s house in Las Vegas.
Roughly 60% of the odds on more than 2,000 different betting options on Sunday’s Kansas City Chiefs-Philadelphia Eagles game were produced during the five-hour gathering at the residence of Caesars Sportsbook’s assistant director trading Adam Pullen, a veteran of Super Bowl prop odds.
What will be more? The yards of the longest field goal or the total points scored. The over/under on third-down conversions is 10.5, with the over favored. Will a fumble be lost in the second half plus overtime? The “no” is a small favorite. Will there be overtime? You can get around 9-1 on the “yes,” while Caesars is charging bettors $5,000 for a chance to win $100 betting on no overtime.
Eventually, in states that allow it, the over/under on the length of the national anthem will be posted, along with what color of Gatorade will dumped on the winning coach. Even more obscure prop bets can be found at offshore sportsbooks, which don’t face as strict of regulatory scrutiny as sportsbooks licensed in the U.S. do. For example, at one offshore sportsbook, you can bet on which movie clip Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni will show his team ahead of the Super Bowl.
Pullen, at Caesars, uses a database of prop bets from previous Super Bowls to create a template for the betting menu then adds new options based on the specific matchup and storylines for the year’s game.
“There are some props that don’t draw hardly anything, but you don’t want to take it away, if it’s easy to price up,” Pullen told ESPN. “We rarely get rid of things, almost never. But we are always adding.”
The oddsmakers showed up at Pullen’s house with their laptops and spreadsheets around 5:30 p.m. Pullen facilitated the conversation at the prop party, asking oddsmakers in attendance for their take on each of the bets. He’s quick to acknowledge that a lot of the oddsmaking process isn’t “rocket science.”
“The ones that are always the most difficult to make are the ones factoring number of players to have a rushing attempt or number of players to have a reception for each team, because you have to look at the game plan,” Pullen said. “You’re looking at how they did during the regular season and how they did in the playoffs as far as receptions go. Are they using the running game more so than they did in the regular season? Those are the ones that year after year consistently take more time to come up with than any of the others. Those are the ones that were the most highly debated.”
Caesars posted its first batch of Super Bowl props Tuesday, with more hitting the board throughout the week. Professional bettors and customers whose action is respected by the sportsbooks make up the bulk of the early action on Super Bowl props. Among the prop bets targeted by pros was one based on the Eagles’ famous throw-back pass to then-quarterback Nick Foles, known as the “Philly Special” in their Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots in 2018. Caesars offered a yes/no prop on whether a quarterback will have a reception in the game. The yes opened as a +450 underdog, and the no at -650. Money poured in on the “no,” including a $13,000 bet by a customer in New York, who laid the -650 odds for a chance at a net $2,000 win. The odds on the “no” nearly doubled, with the price growing to -1,200.
“Sharps are going to bet the no, but we are going to want them to win because if the quarterback does catch a touchdown pass or an offensive lineman or defensive player scores a touchdown, we’re going to get buried on those,” Pullen said. “Sharps usually bet no and under, and the public usually bets yes and overs.”
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Booking props in the past
Ed Salmons, vice president of risk for the SuperBook, has been making and booking Super Bowl prop bets in Las Vegas for 30-plus years, including in days before the internet was widely accessible.
Salmons remembers booking Super Bowls in the 1980s at the Imperial Palace casino in Las Vegas. It had a subscription sports ticker in the back room to get the stats quickly on Super Bowl Sundays internet, but it was a time-consuming ordeal that regularly caused disputes between bettors and bookmakers over whether a player actually played in the game.
“Just getting an official box score with the play-by-play, showing you who played was hard to get at the time,” Salmons recalled. “We used to record games in case someone had a question [about a prop], and we’d go back and look at the tape to make sure the player played.”
Even though there were far fewer prop bets offered in the ’80s and ’90s, when the internet was nonexistent or in its infancy, grading the wagers would take hours. Salmons estimated it would take three hours after the game ending before they’d finish grading all the prop bets. Now, though, Salmons said the grading process, thanks to better technology and more manpower, is much more efficient.
“We start literally with the coin toss,” Salmons said. “From there, the opening kickoff, which there are a bunch of props on. It starts crazily. Usually the first five to 10 players for each team, there’s a million props to be graded. Plays are happening faster than we can grade them. We do the best we can with it. I would say now we’re to the point where about 45 minutes after the game, we’ve got everything graded. There was a time a where it would take two or three hours after the game to get it all graded.”
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