MIAMI — For a while, Nevada sportsbooks were worried about the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers were the type of team that can cause problems for a casino’s bottom line. They have a large and passionate fanbase, they had long odds to win the Super Bowl before the season, and they ended up being much better than expected.
The 49ers were as high as 40-to-1 to win the Super Bowl before the season at BetMGM. Smart bettors and 49ers fans, who saw the potential of the team with a young and exciting defense and the return of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from knee surgery, took the 49ers and caused a potential liability for the sportsbooks in the Super Bowl futures market. Las Vegas wasn’t going to shut down if the 49ers won a Super Bowl, but the house isn’t used to losing. And it was looking at the possibility of losing on Super Bowl futures with a 49ers win in Super Bowl LIV.
Then a strange ally came to the rescue: The New England Patriots.
Patriots’ loss was good for sportsbooks
Sportsbooks release odds on who will win the Super Bowl before the current season’s champion has been determined. The odds for the 2021 Super Bowl are already out at BetMGM. Those odds stay up through the season and are a popular bet. Fans come to Las Vegas and like putting down a few bucks on their favorite team to win the Super Bowl.
A sportsbook looks at the total amount bet on the 32 teams when it assesses how it did at the end of the season. And the books stood to lose money on Super Bowl futures if the 49ers won, with some of those larger tickets out there.
Then the Patriots came into the picture. New England slumped late in the season, losing three of their last five regular-season games, which pushed their odds to win the Super Bowl up. Bettors, finally seeing value on a Patriots team that seemingly was in the Super Bowl every season, started betting on New England to win the championship.
“The Patriots took a lot of money,” said Jeff Stoneback, director of trading operations for MGM Resorts International.
MGM took enough bets on the Patriots that it canceled out the potential loss with the 49ers. Like many NFL fans, sportsbook operators weren’t too sad when the Tennessee Titans upset the Patriots in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
49ers had a fast start to the season
The 49ers’ great start to the season was actually a big benefit to sportsbooks in the end.
The 49ers started 8-0 and a few games in, the odds dropped significantly. Those 40-to-1 tickets were nowhere to be found anymore. They were a surprise after going 4-12 in 2018, but the books were able to adjust quickly. San Francisco’s odds were in the single digits a few games into the season.
The 1999 St. Louis Rams will always be the cautionary tale for the futures market. The Rams were 300-to-1 at points before the season, and had one of the most remarkable surprise seasons ever with Kurt Warner at quarterback, beating the Titans in the Super Bowl. The Rams’ win was great for the NFL and really bad for Las Vegas casinos.
“When we get stung is when we have these 100-to-1 shots,” Stoneback said.
In those terms, the liability on the 49ers this season wasn’t too bad. Still, the sportsbooks are happy to not be sweating it on Super Bowl Sunday.
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