Leagues Get Cozy with Gaming ; Super Bowl Updates

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Betting on the come: Leagues strike deals with gambling-related firms

Jan 28, 2016

Steve Fainaru, Paula Lavigne and David Purdum
After nearly a century of zero-tolerance policies that treated gambling as a mortal threat, U.S. sports leagues are rapidly cutting deals with companies involved in sports betting.

To varying degrees, the leagues are partnering — openly and in secret — with oddsmakers, betting prognosticators and data providers that make sports wagering possible in the digital age, according to interviews with a range of sports gambling officials and experts.

The deals lay the groundwork for the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball to profit if sports betting is legalized in the United States, as many experts predict. But for now, the deals have drawn the leagues into a shadowy, unregulated world that includes some companies that have been accused of operating illegal sports betting enterprises.

Among the recent developments:

The NFL in April became a part owner of newly formed Sportradar US, the subsidiary of a Swiss company that provides real-time statistics, scores and odds to bookmakers, including, according to gambling industry sources, multiple offshore sportsbooks that offer illegal betting in the U.S.

Last July, the NBA, through its ownership stake in FanDuel, became part owner of numberFire, a New York tech company that offers sophisticated analysis for daily fantasy and sports wagering, including betting recommendations on the league’s own games.

Shortly after the World Series in November, Major League Baseball signed a deal with a London-based company, Sport Integrity Monitor, to monitor betting lines and identify suspicious betting activity that might indicate fixed games. SportIM’s parent company sets odds and provides software for legal bookmakers in Europe and Asia.

The partnerships, unique to each league, give them a foothold in an industry estimated to generate as much as five times the combined $25 billion in revenue of the four major sports. Perhaps just as important, the deals also, in the case of the NBA and NFL, have opened up new and potentially lucrative revenue streams. The product the leagues are selling? Live data — the instantaneous statistics that form the lifeblood of sports wagering, just as a continuous stream of financial information fuels the stock market. Dollar figures for the deals remain largely unknown, but a recent agreement between Sportradar and the International Tennis Federation offers a glimpse at the stakes: Sportradar is paying the ITF $70 million over five years for exclusive access to live match data.

“A subtle bridge is being built,” said Chris Grove, the editor of legalsportsreport.com, an online newsletter that tracks the sports betting industry closely. “This sort of activity, I think we’re seeing it normalized.”

League officials also hope they can use data to prevent the types of scandals that have periodically rocked the major sports and were most recently seen in professional tennis. Buzzfeed and the BBC reported on Jan. 17 that studies of betting pattern data indicated that more than a dozen top-50 players had been involved in fixing matches and that the sport’s integrity unit overlooked the information.

But the deals come with some risk for the leagues, which are embracing an industry that is changing rapidly and pushing the boundaries of federal gambling laws. The New York attorney general’s investigation into daily fantasy has sought information about the leagues’ relationships with FanDuel and DraftKings, according to sources familiar with the probe. Both the NBA and Major League Baseball are equity partners in FanDuel and DraftKings, respectively, and nearly every pro team — including 28 NFL teams — has a sponsorship agreement with one of the rival companies. The NFLPA also has licensing deals with DraftKings and FanDuel.

Yet even with the potential risks, the leagues’ moves into the sports gambling industry seem inevitable, said Nevada state Sen. Mark Lipparelli, the former leader of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

“To the extent that they don’t participate, they do so at their own peril,” he said. “You can’t be late to the party and expect that everyone else who’s come to agreement is going to shift their position to your concern.”

Technological advances have changed the gambling industry and how and when people place bets. Once largely centered around game outcomes and point spreads, sports betting now also includes dozens, sometimes hundreds, of betting scenarios within a single game or match.

Partnering with sports leagues allows data providers and bookmakers to provide that key information in real time. Without a direct, official feed, the data providers are forced to log information from spotters in stands or via TV and Internet broadcasts, less accurate systems that can cause transmission delays up to 30 seconds — an eternity in live wagering.

“That’s where basically everything is going,” said one Las Vegas bookmaker. “They want to be able to say, ‘Hey, we’re partners with the NBA and have the fastest data out there.’ When you’re talking a few milliseconds faster than anyone else, it makes it a big difference.”

For years, U.S. sports leagues have steadfastly opposed attempts to legalize Vegas-style sports betting, fearing it would corrupt their sports. In the most visible example, the four major leagues and the NCAA are suing New Jersey to prevent sports betting from becoming legal in that state. The court case continues next month. In November 2012, former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, one of several sports officials to testify against legalization, called gambling an “evil” that “destroys your sport” and vowed to “fight it with every fiber of energy that we have.”

But the leagues — including MLB — appear to be softening in response to the growing acceptance of gambling as entertainment and the potential windfall.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s call for legal, federally regulated sports betting in a New York Times editorial in November 2014 has been cited as a tipping point. New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said last year the issue deserves “fresh consideration.”

In an interview this fall with Outside the Lines, Silver said the league’s relationships with gambling companies help the NBA look for signs of “irregularities, just like the New York Stock Exchange can monitor insider trading.”

While the NFL continues to publicly oppose sports betting, it has quietly strengthened its ties to the industry.

As recently as November, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated his opposition to sports betting, telling ESPN’s Mike & Mike Show: “We think that is a mistake for sports.”

Yet last April, the league walked away from its longtime data partner, Stats LLC, and struck a deal with Sportradar US, at the time a newly formed American subsidiary of Switzerland-based Sportradar AG, best known for providing sports data to bookmakers in Europe and Asia.

Sportradar struck similar data deals with the NHL, NASCAR and the ITF, although, unlike the NFL agreement, none included an ownership stake in the company. The company also has deals with FanDuel, media clients and social media firms. Sportradar is fueling Facebook’s new platform, Facebook Stadium, which allows users to follow major sporting events live, within Facebook.

The size of the NFL’s stake in Sportradar has not been disclosed. In late October, Michael Jordan, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Ted Leonsis, owner of the Wizards and Capitals, announced a $44 million investment in Sportradar US.

Ulrich Harmuth, the president of Sportradar US, told Outside the Lines that gambling was not part of the negotiations with the NFL. “We’re the official partner for the NFL, and they didn’t want us to distribute any NFL data, regardless of the source to gambling companies,” Harmuth said.

But one source with knowledge of the NFL’s negotiations said gambling was “a big part of the discussion,” with the NFL expressing interest in the potential for using league data in sports betting.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to be interviewed by Outside the Lines but wrote via email that “there is a strict prohibition on distribution of the NFL’s official data feeds to any gambling-related activity or entity, globally. … We have been consistent in our position that NFL data cannot be distributed to any gambling institutions. Our agreement with Sportradar US reflects that.”

When asked whether the NFL’s public opposition to gambling conflicts with its decision to partner with a company so enmeshed in the gambling industry, McCarthy reiterated that the NFL’s deal was with Sportradar US.

Records show Sportradar US was incorporated domestically just weeks before the announcement of the NFL deal. About the same time, the menu tab for “Betting Solutions” disappeared from the Sportradar home page, as did “bookmakers” from the list of clients. Sportradar’s marketing materials published after the NFL deal, which tout its status as the NFL’s “official” data provider and use NFL-copyrighted materials and trademarks, do not make any distinction between European and U.S. branches.

Sportradar AG provides NFL data to bookmakers through an “unofficial feed” manually logged from broadcasts, the company acknowledged. According to Harmuth, that practice does not violate its partnership with the NFL, because that agreement is with Sportradar US — not the parent company.

Some of Sportradar’s clients have run afoul of U.S. authorities. In December, The New York Times linked a Sportsradar-affiliated company with offshore bookmakers, including BetCRIS, which has been tied to multiple gambling prosecutions in the United States. Gambling industry sources confirmed to Outside the Lines that Sportradar does business with at least five offshore sportsbooks operating illegally in the U.S.

Those companies include Bovada, the sources said. Bovada is one of the largest online providers of illegal sports betting in the U.S. Sportradar provides odds for Bovada, which offers live betting on a variety of global sports, including NFL games.

In December, Bovada offered 79 bets on a single Thursday night game featuring the Packers and Lions, with the odds shifting constantly. When the Packers fell behind 20-0, Bovada changed the “money line” to +900 — meaning a $100 bet would win $900 if Green Bay came back. The Packers won on Aaron Rodgers’ last-second heave to Richard Rodgers.

Jeff Ifrah, a Washington attorney who has represented numerous clients in the gambling industry, said the partnerships show how the NFL no longer views sports betting as a threat to the sport’s integrity — regardless of Goodell’s pronouncements. “If you take an equity interest in a company that’s running lines on the games that your teams are playing, then you must have gotten over that issue,” he said. Ifrah has not represented the NFL.

Bovada was spawned from Bodog.com, a popular offshore sportsbook registered in Latvia. In 2012, a U.S. federal grand jury in Maryland indicted the company’s founder, Calvin Ayre, charging him and three associates with operating an illegal sports gambling enterprise. Ayre appeared on the Department of Homeland Security’s most wanted list as recently as 2014.

After U.S. authorities seized Bodog’s domain name, the company migrated its U.S. customers to Bovada. The sportsbook circumvents U.S. gambling laws by routing credit card transactions through third countries; deposits recently made in California by Outside the Lines showed the transactions occurring in South Korea.

A Sportradar spokesman said the firm “has a strict policy to only provide data to licensed bookmakers” and contractually obligates them to avoid jurisdictions where gambling is illegal. Sportradar, a spokesman said, would terminate the relationship if a bookmaker loses its license or is “found by U.S authorities to be engaged in illegal betting operations.”

In November 2014, Sportradar AG struck a deal with CG Analytics, a data firm that is part of CG Technology, which operates nine Las Vegas sportsbooks. Several months earlier, CG Technology — then known as Cantor Gaming — paid the largest fine in Nevada history at $5.5 million after the Nevada Gaming Control Board connected a company manager to an illegal betting ring.

CG Technology, a subsidiary of the Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald, does not receive official NFL data from Sportradar, said Matthew Holt, the company’s chief operations officer, adding: “That may change in the near future.” Holt said CG receives NFL data through Sportradar’s unofficial feed, built through manually logging live broadcasts.

The NFL’s hairsplitting was taken to new extremes in November, after Sportradar announced that it would provide NFL data for a new mobile application that allows consumers to bet on the outcome of every play. A league spokesman said the deal was completed without the NFL’s consent and “is not permitted.” Sportradar quickly backtracked, amending the announcement to say the data would be used only for non-cash, social gaming.

But iPro, which produces an app called “ringit!,” said it intends to move ahead with sports betting for cash, including NFL games. Sportradar, according to iPro, is providing the data for iPro’s social gaming options and for cash fantasy play. The company refused to say where the data to fuel cash sports betting would originate.

Robert Melendres, a longtime gambling executive who is iPro’s CEO, said he understood the NFL’s sensitivity. Asked if he believes the NFL is opposed to gambling, he laughed.

“I respect their position. I just take it at face value,” Melendres said.

To varying degrees, major U.S. sports leagues are partnering — openly and in secret — with oddsmakers, betting prognosticators and data providers that make sports wagering possible in the digital age. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
More than any league, the NBA is pushing the envelope on sports betting.

Last year, the NBA held talks about a potential advertising deal with BetCRIS, the offshore sportsbook that has been named in multiple federal indictments, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. An NBA spokesman confirmed the talks but said the two sides were never close to an agreement.

The league also extended a deal with Perform, a London-based firm, to stream at least 250 NBA games through Perform’s “Watch & Bet” channel, which allows viewers to place bets as they watch NBA games in Europe, where sports betting is legal and widespread. The NFL has a deal with Perform for U.S. distribution of short-form video content, NFL spokesman McCarthy said. Perform can distribute some NFL content in Germany, McCarthy said, but is “expressly prohibited from distributing to any site, app, etc. with any gambling affiliation.”

The NBA announced its partnership with FanDuel on Nov. 12, 2014, one day before Silver’s New York Times editorial. Silver told Outside the Lines the league was motivated not only by fan engagement and business opportunities but also by the potential to track irregularities. The league acquired a small ownership stake — less than 10 percent, according to sources — in exchange for making FanDuel the league’s official fantasy partner.

“By having equity in that company, and having access to the inner workings of that company, it was our view that we’re much better off being inside the tent than outside the tent,” Silver said. “What comes with that involvement is access to data. When every participant has to identify him or herself, when he or she has to register with a credit card, to the extent that there are irregularities, you can track it directly.”

But the scope of the NBA’s investment in FanDuel stunned some experts. The move was all the more surprising given the league’s recent history. In 2008, referee Tim Donaghy went to prison after giving tips to gamblers in exchange for cash, perhaps the worst scandal in the league’s history.

“The most shocking thing to me is the level of involvement,” said Timothy Fong, co-director of the Gambling Studies Program at UCLA. “This isn’t like a first date. This is a first date and they went all the way.”

The NBA’s partnership with FanDuel gave daily fantasy a stamp of legitimacy, even as the legality of the contests remained unclear. The NBA’s president of global operations and merchandising, Sal LaRocca, took a non-voting seat on FanDuel’s board. In July, after raising $275 million, the company bought numberFire, a tiny analytics firm with a charming backstory and a business model that blends daily fantasy with sports betting.

Nik Bonaddio, an information systems expert from Pittsburgh, founded numberFire in 2009 after winning $100,000 on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” Bonaddio, 34, said he treated the unexpected windfall as if he had been “walking down the street and found a sack full of money.” He decided to start a business that combined his expertise in data with his love of sports.

NumberFire ingests huge amounts of data and uses proprietary algorithms to spit out analysis on every player and every game in the four major sports. It offers for free daily fantasy articles and player analysis. Behind a paywall, numberFire offers not only customized daily fantasy lineups but also betting recommendations on NBA, NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball and NCAA football and basketball.

“The way we look at it, we’re sort of agnostic with what someone wants to do with our information,” Bonaddio said.

Three gambling experts said they were unaware of any previous instance in which a major U.S. sports league had offered betting recommendations through a partner it has an ownership stake in. NFL.com, MLB.com, NHL.com and NBA TV provide fantasy advice.

When the NBA deal with FanDuel was announced in 2014, FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles called it “a true partnership.” The NBA has downplayed its relationship with the company, noting that LaRocca is a non-voting observer on the board and that the league put no money into the deal. Silver emphasized that the NBA is “not a decision-maker” in FanDuel and did not vote on the numberFire acquisition.

Silver said the NBA was aware that numberFire offered betting advice at the time of the deal. He compared the league’s relationship with numberFire to the broadcasting partnership with ESPN, which also offers gambling predictions.

“We are completely independent of FanDuel or any company that they have acquired when it comes to betting on sports contests,” Silver said.

Daniel Wallach, a gambling attorney with Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said the NBA’s association with numberFire was consistent with the league’s strategy.

“This is not coming out of nowhere,” Wallach said. “This is part of a strategic plan by the NBA to monetize and avail itself of all the benefits and revenues associated with daily fantasy and sports betting but at the same time ensuring that its integrity is protected. That’s a delicate balance.”

The leagues’ aggressive push into daily fantasy has dragged them into a growing legal morass.

Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington prohibit daily fantasy, and at least 20 other states are reviewing the legality of the contests. State attorneys general in New York, Illinois, Hawaii, Texas and Vermont have said daily fantasy violates their states’ gambling laws. Nevada officials say daily fantasy meets the state’s definition of sports gambling. A Florida grand jury is investigating whether daily fantasy violates federal gambling laws, according to multiple legal sources.

One sports league official familiar with the New York probe indicated that he has received assurances that investigators there are focusing on the individual companies — not the leagues — but some gambling experts believe the leagues may ultimately draw scrutiny from law enforcement authorities, regulators and class action attorneys.

“If I was the general counsel of the NBA right now, I would be very, very concerned,” said Marc Dunbar, a partner with Jones Walker in Tallahassee, Florida, who teaches gambling law at Florida State University.

In late November, the first class action lawsuit to target the sports leagues was filed by two daily fantasy players in Florida. The suit charged investors, including the NBA and Major League Baseball, with facilitating illegal gambling under state and federal laws. The suit chided the NBA and MLB for hypocrisy, with the NBA forcing Donaghy’s resignation and baseball banning Pete Rose while, at the same time, encouraging gambling on their sports.

Major League Baseball said its deal with Sport Integrity Monitor, announced after the World Series, is designed to monitor betting lines for wild swings that could indicate a fixed game. SportIM has a similar arrangement with the English Premier League to monitor the lines on soccer matches. Unlike with the EPL, however, SportIM is unable to harvest MLB data and distribute it to bookmakers.

“This is strictly, honestly, just for integrity purposes,” said Dan Halem, MLB’s chief legal officer. “We don’t provide any data to the company that they are permitted to use or distribute for any purpose.”

Data tracking as a potential illegal betting monitoring tool was most recently seen on Sunday, when a sports gambling website said it had suspended betting on a mixed doubles match at the Australian Open because the obscure match attracted an unusual amount of betting.

But the lines between leagues and all types of sports gambling-related companies are blurring so rapidly that even people who have followed the industry for decades are wondering what will come next.

“It goes back to the fundamental question: To what purpose are the leagues doing this?” said Fong of UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program. “Is this something that will make the product better? Or is it just straight greed?”

Editor’s note: ESPN has business relationships with numberFire and Stats LLC. ESPN International has an advertising deal with BetCRIS.


super bowl 50

Super Bowl 50 Betting Update

January 30, 2016
By Micah Roberts

Update – 1.30.16 – 9:05 p.m. ET

Wynn sports book director John Avello said earlier in the week that he was looking for a sign that Broncos money was out there and when he moved the Panthers from -5.5 to -6 on Friday, he got that sign with a Denver wager he described as a high six-figure wager. The wager pushed the Wynn book back to -5.5 on Saturday afternoon.

“There’s still a long ways to go — we’ll take 80 percent of overall wagers on the game Saturday and Sunday, ” said Avello. “We’re still long on the Panthers right now, but it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see our position completely change from the first week. It happened last year.”
The public is still loving the Panthers, but the frenzied pace seen when the number was first posted has leveled off. Like Avello said, there is a long ways to go and things could change drastically. It’s apparent that some large money is willing to show their hand with Denver and +6 is acceptable. Other sharp outfits are still hoping +6.5 or +7 shows.

A solid indicator that Broncos money is still out there waiting is the action the South Point took on the Broncos money-line that dropped them from +215 to +180 (Panthers now -125). At the time, +215 was the highest price available in Las Vegas. Several books still have the Broncos at +200.

If looking to play the Broncos, it’s quite possible that +6 may be the best number you’ll find. We’ll keep following this story all the way till kickoff.

Update – 1.29.16 – 5:15 p.m. ET

Las Vegas is still one week away before they’ll see the bulk of all its Super Bowl action — 80 percent expected from next Friday night through gameday, but the small sampling of wagers being made already is a great indicator of what those final few days of wagers will have in store.

Yes, it’s all Panthers and will probably continue to be, but can it continue at a 94 percent clip? That’s the cash ratio William Hill’s 104 sports books across Nevada have seen on the game so far through Friday. That’s a ratio like we’d see if the Patriots were laying only -2.5 at home against the Jaguars. The actual ticket count at William Hill is 85 percent on the Panthers.

In most Super Bowls, the favorite gets bet with the spread and the underdog is bet heavily on the money-line. So far, William Hill has seen 62 percent of the wagers on the Broncos at +190, but 97 percent of the actual cash has been on the Panthers (-220) with $623,142 coming on one Panthers bet at -190 on Monday.

With those type of slanted numbers, it’s curious to see William Hill books so low from a comparative standpoint around Las Vegas, but it’s a long way to go and they’ve only seen a fraction of what’s about to come.

The consensus money-line price of Panthers -240 on Thursday was very comparable to a standard price we’d see at most spreads at -5.5 during the regular season, which is odd because the Super Bowl money-line price on the dog is always lower to protect against the masses who usually play the dog to win outright — they’ve been correct the past few years.

Station Casinos, who sit at -6, have the Panthers -220/+180. MGM Resorts, who moved to -5.5 to -5.5 -120 on Thursday, have it -240/+200. The South Point is at -6 and have a money-line at -240/+215.

“We’re even with action on the Denver money-line since going to +215,” said South Point sports book director Bert Osborne who is dealing the best Broncos money-line price in town. “We’re also a little high on the Panthers since we went to -6.”

That’s a lot different report we’ve been getting from the South Point and Osborne all week where it was all Panthers action similar to what William Hill has seen.

While it may seem hard to believe that the Panthers party train at the bet windows may slow everywhere throughout town, historically, it’s not unusual to see momentum slowed during the second week before kickoff as sentiment for the other team begins to show.

People remember what they saw last, which was Carolina in a 49-15 wipe out of Arizona while Denver struggled 20-18 at home against the Patriots, but a week later they start to find any kind of small reason to support the underdog. The main reason is usually because the dog winning outright pays more than the favorite on the point-line or money-line.

We’ll have the media with all its mega-coverage next week. The Broncos defense will be a major story, as will Peyton Manning possibly playing in his last game. For the 55-year old lady visiting Las Vegas from Iowa City, who never wagers, she’s bound to throw $10 on a nice young man like Manning.

Update – 1.28.16 – 3:25 p.m. ET

The Atlantis Reno was the first Nevada sports book to move Carolina from a 5.5-point favorite to -6 on Thursday morning and two other prominent Las Vegas bet shops followed suit a few hours later.

“We had to make the move (to -6), it’s been all Panthers action at any number we’ve had it at,” said Stratosphere sports book director Ed Malinowski. “I’d like to be able to see if +6 is a number we can get some buy back, but we’ve been at the number for an hour and haven’t had any takers. Maybe that number is +6.5.”

Whenever a desired number is sought by sharp money, they don’t a miss a move like this and within 10 minutes they‘re at the windows to get some.

The South Point also made the move to -6, as book director Bert Osborne said he might yesterday. At 11:53 a.m. PT, Station Books also went to -6.

Other places are contemplating when to make the move themselves as they sit at -5.5, like the CG Technology where VP of risk management Jason Simbal says “it’s all Panthers with 89 percent of the cash taken on the Panthers.”

Over at the Wynn sports book, they just made the move from -5 to -5.5 this morning, but it’s the same betting story with them too.

“It’s been all one-sided with Carolina, so let’s see if they’ll lay -5.5 too,” said Wynn sports book director John Avello. “I’m not ready to take a stance on any number until I can find someone willing to take Denver. That number may be +6, but I won’t be too quick to get off 5.5 for the time being.“

The Wynn usually takes a $1 million bet at least once during each Super Bowl, but Avello said the largest bet he’s taken so far was on Carolina in the high five-figures.

When the point-spread moves, the money-line has to be adjusted with it. The South Point is now giving Denver at a city best of +210 (Bet $100 to win $210) with Carolina set at -235 (Bet $100 to win $42), which is the most fantastic money-line split in town and a typical Super Bowl friendly gift the South Point usually gives its bettors.

The total consensus around town is 45.5 with the Westgate and MGM Resorts at a low of 45 and the South Point and Stations at a high of 46.

The other big news of Thursday besides a few books testing -6 is that the Westgate opens their famous Super Bowl propositions at 7:00 p.m. PT. A few books in town have some of the traditional point-spread props posted — Stations has five pages of props up — but everyone looks for the Westgate props to help set the market.

Within a few days, scalps around town will be finished and most of the numbers will look the same.

Update – 1.27.16 – 2:25 p.m. ET

Add Caesars Palace, Station Casinos and the Stratosphere to the growing list of Las Vegas sports books that have Carolina -5.5 over the Broncos for next week’s Super Bowl. They took the plunge Wednesday morning. MGM Resorts and the South Point made their move on Tuesday.

“I’m legitimately at Carolina -5.5 and I may be going to -6 soon,” South Point sports book director Bert Osborne said, who opened Carolina -4 on Sunday night. “We’re getting lots of action on the Panthers at -5.5.“

Osborne also said his teaser liability with Carolina-to-OVER was growing by the minute. He has the Panthers money line at -215 with the Broncos at +190, which is the most attractive dog number in the city as of Wednesday afternoon. His total has been steady at 45.5 the past two days after being at 46.5 on Monday.

Over at the MGM Resorts sports book hub inside the Mirage, manager Jeff Stoneback said he and VP Jay Rood were just having a discussion about when they were going to make the move off -5.5, a dead number, and go to -6.

“Our ticket count at just -5.5 alone has the Panthers at a 4-to-1 ratio and the cash taken in is at 2-to-1,“ said Stoneback, who then answered a call from one of his other nine sports books across the strip. A big bet wager was being accepted. “We just took a six-figure bet on Denver at +5.5, so the cash ratio is far more slanted on Denver at 5.5 than what I had just said, maybe at 15-to-1 on Denver now.”

However, Stoneback kept the game at 5.5 for one big reason. “Last night we took a six-figure bet on the Panthers at -5.”

Those are the two biggest wagers the MGM books have taken so far.

In a few days that cash differential at 5.5 will probably be slanted back towards the Panthers, but at least Stoneback has found out that there is Denver money out there and that they are willing to take +5.5.

Professional bettor Jeff Whitelaw says he made the game Carolina -4 and 43, and is betting accordingly with those numbers being his basis on making wagers, not just the game side and total, but also the props when they start coming out.

“I took +5.5 when the number first opened thinking I got the best of it and I also took the UNDER,” said Whitelaw who used to be a bookmaker two decades ago with Jimmy Vaccaro at the Barbary Coast. “If I win one of those bets, I should win the other. It’s a good correlation.”

Las Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White made Carolina -1 after adjusting all his ratings following the championship games.

So you have two extremely sharp NFL number guys saying -5.5 is inflated, but also saying there is no real reason to bet Denver now because you can let the public drive the number. People still love the Panthers early on. The big question for the books is if that same public sentiment will continue into next week.

Update – 1.26.16 – 12:45 p.m. ET

The easy part for Las Vegas sports books was posting a Super Bowl number on Sunday night. But the tough roll-up-your-sleeves type of work starts on Tuesday and continues through Thursday as the books start making numbers on just about everything offered in a box score.

It’s Super Bowl prop time and to get some insight on what kind of timeline were looking at before wagering starts, we talked with Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook assistant manager Jeff Sherman as he was on his way to Manager Ed Salmons’ house for what is expected to be an all day affair of cramming through data to compile what has becomes the world’s most famous Super Bowl propositions.

“We’ll work about 10 hours today and probably another eight hours tomorrow,” said Sherman, who has been doing this prop routine with Salmons and VP Jay Kornegay for nearly two decades dating back to their days together at the Imperial Palace. Supervisor Randy Blum has also been included in the meeting of prop minds for the past few Super Bowls.

“We’ve been setting up our template’s in the system and preparing sheets for the last couple of days. The only thing we need to add is players names and the actual odds. After reviewing everything Thursday, we should have about 350 props opened for wagering at 7 pm PT.”

Sheets will be available Friday and prop wagering on the Westgate’s new phone app will be turned on Saturday — they want the sharp early action coming through the bet windows first. If in Nevada, no account is necessary to download the Westgate’s app. It’s a nice tool to have for the next week just to compare real time prop prices at other books.

This Westgate crew deserves a lot of credit for what has happened in the Super Bowl prop world here in Las Vegas. They took things to a new level and forced the competition to catch up. First it was 20 props, then 50, 100, 200 and 300 — higher and higher each year. They were one of the first crews in the city to use box scores from other sports to make a Super Bowl prop. They thought outside of the box and others followed — some books even stole their sheets and used the same bet numbers and pasted their own logo on it and passed it off as their own.

Jay Kornegay says that 50 percent of their Super Bowl handle comes from props. No other book in town has that kind of equal action, but they’re all catching up as the prop wagers have become so popular with fringe once-a-year type of bettors. The beauty about the props is that the books get another outlet for making money and aren’t at the risk they used to be in if the worst side and total decision comes in on the Super Bowl. They also get tons of free national publicity.

We’ll have all 350 props posted on Friday afternoon.

What’s going on with the number?

It’s been all Carolina money from the masses so far and Boyd Gaming has the highest number in town with the Panthers at -5.5. Everyone else is at -4.5 or -5. The total is steady at 45.5 at most places with Stations being the highest at 46. The lowest money-line price on Carolina is -200 at several books with Aliante being the highest at -220 with a take back of +190 on Denver, which is the best dog price in towm. William Hill sports books’ head oddsmaker Nick Bogdanovich said they took a $623,000 wager (wins $327,894) on the Panthers money-line at -190 and moved to -200 (+175 take back on Denver).

Update – 1.26.16 – 12:05 a.m. ET

While I love the idea that ESPN’s First Take is talking Las Vegas Super Bowl numbers, I thought analyst Skip Bayless did an awful job of disseminating the actual betting information when reporting that lots of big Denver money came in to drop the number.

Yes, early Denver money did come in at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook Sunday night when they posted +5.5, but with such small early limits and a market not set yet, they weren’t married to the number and got in line with other books.

The real story in Las Vegas is that everyone is betting the Panthers as if they’ve seen the final score already. William Hill’s 104 sports books across Nevada has seen 90 percent of its tickets Super Bowl tickets on the Panthers (-4) and 86 percent of actual cash wagered on them as well. It’s the same story all across town.

Okay, so it’s early and everyone has the Panthers 49-15 win over the Cardinals fresh in their minds. Arizona was a team many thought was truly super and destined for a title, including myself, and the Panthers beat them down like they were a nobody such as the Tennessee Titans. They also slapped the Seattle Seahawks around the week before, a team most oddsmakers had rated as the tops in the league.

However, after a week or so of thinking about things, bettors may start to soften on the Broncos and its No. 1 ranked defense. Defense is supposed to win championships and Denver’s has carried them all season and now play in the big game. Sure, quarterback Peyton Manning isn’t allowed to throw more than 30 yards downfield — he can’t physically do it anymore, but if he can refrain from turning the ball over like early in the season they can stay in this game.

The bettors who like Denver are waiting on the sidelines with their wads of cash waiting to see how many points they can get. Why take the high number of +5 at Stations or MGM right now when the Panthers risk is only going to get higher. Knowing that 5 and 5.5 are dead numbers, large money waiting for Denver knows they can wait things out for 13 days and possibly get +6. There’s no edge or reason to bet Denver now.

Limits will be raised higher over the next week at most books, but when the straight action and parlay money starts creating lopsided risk on Carolina the books will be forced to move. Sharps know this and the books know this and it will be like a staring contest to see who blinks first.

Stay tuned, we’ll have more updates daily as stuff happens in Las Vegas.

Update – 1.25.16 – 12:05 a.m. ET

Most Las Vegas sports books opened the Carolina Panthers as 4-point favorites over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, a number that was elevated to extreme measures based on power ratings.

“We opened Carolina -5.5,” said Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook VP Jay Kornegay, “but early Denver action dropped the number.”

The Westgate settled at Carolina -4 after all the early wagers with a total at 45. Las Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White had Denver 1-point better on a neutral field than Carolina before Sunday’s games.

When the Panthers demolished the Cardinals, 49-15, the public was all in with Carolina with early wagers.

“We wanted to be high with our number knowing the public would take Carolina,” said MGM Resorts sports books VP Jay Rood who opened -4.5. “So far we’re at a 6-to-1 ratio on tickets bet with the Panthers and we’re at a 4-to-1 ratio with cash taken in.”

The good news for the sports books is that the game isn’t a ‘3’ which means they have lots of wiggle room to maneuver.

The bad news is that they know the majority public wagers will be on Carolina and its possible that if the wagers become too one-sided that from the public that it could rise to -6 passing the dead numbers of -5 and -5.5.

However, sharps showed that they liked Denver at +5.5 at the Westgate. But remember that “sharp money” pales in comparison to the overall handle is wagered in the Super Bowl.

We’ll be updating everything that happens in Las Vegas regarding the Super Bowl spread, so be sure to check us out. Props are expected to open this Friday (1/29/16).

Roberts is a former Las Vegas sports book director that has been covering the sports betting industry for the last 12 years.

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