How a Safety in Super Bowl 48 Changed Prop Betting Forever

How a Safety in Super Bowl 48 Changed Prop Betting Forever article feature image
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Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports. Chris Clemons (91) celebrates a safety in Super Bowl XLVIII

LAS VEGAS — Over the last few years prop bets have skyrocketed in popularity at sportsbooks in Las Vegas.

It makes sense when you think about it, as a lot of Super Bowls ended in total blowouts. In fact only nine of the first 35 Super Bowls were decided by seven points or fewer. So the initial thought process behind prop bets was to make the game more interesting, no matter the score. These bets would also increase the action at the book, which would lead to a better bottom line.

Years later, prop betting has taken on a life of its own. These bets now span the range from practical to outlandish and bettors can’t get enough of them.

This is especially true among novice or first-time bettors. Don’t forget, a lot of people make one bet a year and that wager is on the Super Bowl.

Oftentimes, players swing for the fences when betting the Super Bowl because for many this is the one of the only wagers they make throughout the year. That is why a lot of people swing for the fences on some wild props.

There are two infamous prop bets that have crushed the sportsbooks over the years. The most famous one cashed on the first play of Super Bowl 48 between the Broncos and Seahawks.

Denver was backed up in its own territory when center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Peyton Manning’s head and into the endzone. Running back Knowshon Moreno recovered the ball and smartly took a knee, putting Seattle up, 2-0, in what was the fastest scoring play in Super Bowl history.

It also proved to be a costly play for the sportsbooks, as it cashed a bunch of props including a 60-1 hit on the first score of the game being a safety.

“We lost tens of thousands on that. We got crushed on that one and all the bets tied to it,” Bob Scucci, director of race and sports for Boyd Gaming, said.

The ‘Will there be a safety?’ prop is one of the most popular and sharp bets on the prop sheet. That would drive the price on ‘Yes’ up, which would attract casual bettors and make this particular bet very important to bookmakers.

And while everybody loves to hear about the books taking a bath, perhaps the most interesting part of this story is what happened afterwards as that safety changed how oddsmakers set the market for these more obscure bets.

“That safety prop got so much publicity in 2014 that it’s actually helped us to increase our handle,” Derek Wilkinson of the Westgate SuperBook explained. “That year, between the ‘Will there be a safety?’ and the ‘Safety as first score of the game’ props, we were down well over $150,000. It wasn’t a great start for us, but the attention it received was well worth it.”

Bettors, especially recreational ones, let recent history sway the way they bet on games. Sure enough, next year punters were chomping at the bit to bet the ‘Yes’ on safety props.

While some books skewed their odds because they knew a wave of money was going to come from public bettors, the Westgate kept the lines in the same range of what they had in the Seahawks-Broncos game.

“Safeties are rare enough, but to have one as the first score of the game is crazy. Knowing that, we didn’t open our odds any different the next year,” Wilkinson said. “I can’t say the same for all books, but we do our best to offer fair odds It also brings us new customers when they hear they can get better payouts with us. However, the public bet it so much for the next few years that we closed the betting at much, much lower numbers than we opened. We can only take so much risk on a prop, even if we’re almost certain it won’t happen.”

There hasn’t been a safety in a Super Bowl since 2013, so it’s no wonder that the appetite for that bet has waned a little bit. One prop that does end up causing a bit of liability is ‘Will the game go to overtime?’

There has only been one Super Bowl to ever go to overtime — Super Bowl 51 between New England and Atlanta. That bet — and game — ended up costing books a pretty penny.

“We got beat at +700 two years ago and it got bet very heavy again last year, but that doesn’t affect what do in future years,” Jay Rood, the vice president of race and sports for MGM, said. “We know it’s going to get bet ridiculously once it occurred for the first time. But I’ve been in the game long enough to know that being gun-shy and potentially losing business is simply not the way to approach a game.

“We lost a $3 million bet on the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl. Should that affect the way we handle large bets in the future? Of course not. Every game is different and just because we lost last year doesn’t mean we’re playing scared this year. We want that bettor to come back and try again. As long as he keeps coming back we’ll get our money back. If we set a bad line, he’s just going to go give his money away somewhere else.”

As of Monday, “Will there be a safety?” is the third-most popular prop bet in terms of money wagered at William Hill. The majority of the money for that bet is on ‘No,’ but the ‘Yes’ side is the sixth-most popular bet on the board.

The ‘No’ for the ‘Will the game go to overtime?’ prop is the fourth-most popular bet at William Hill while the ‘Yes’ is the 11th-most popular play. Expect that number to go way up by the time the game kicks.