A gambler displays his tickets after making proposition bets on Super Bowl… (Steve Marcus / Reuters )
Reporting from Las Vegas — The boys from Ohio and their lawyer friend from New York pulled onto the Strip this weekend braced for the inevitable.
"We came with a budget to burn through," Jake Racick, 26, said. "I'm trying to pay off a 1,200-square-foot house, and here we were thinking, 'How can anyone pay for these colossal palaces?' "
Typically it's done by emptying the wallets of everyday folk such as Racick and his friends Sal Ponzio, 25, from Youngstown, and Steve Purcell, 36, from New York.
Not this time. Not at Super Bowl XLV.
Thanks to a high-scoring game, a decisive margin of victory by the favored Green Bay Packers and a slew of other breaks, the public made off with riches Sunday at sports books throughout the city.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger threw a late fourth-quarter, fourth-down incomplete pass in his territory, a wave of gamblers pounded tables in celebration and raised their arms in triumph along with Packers Greg Jennings and most-valuable-player quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and marched in a wave to collect their winnings.
"It was bad," said MGM Resorts Race and Sports Book director Jay Rood, whose 11-property operation slipped into deep trouble when the Packers surged to a 21-3 lead.
Inside the book's war room, where cold cuts, salads and pizzas were served to those presiding over gambling's busiest day of the year, Rood fielded a halftime phone call from his boss, Bill McBaeth, at a lavish Aria hotel party.
"What's the worse-case scenario?" McBaeth said. Answered Rood: "It's happening."
A Steelers touchdown before halftime encouraged Rood to set a second-half line with the Steelers favored by 2½ points in the final two quarters. Pittsburgh was only a 2½-point underdog when the game started, so bettors recognized the value of the bet — that they could gamble on Pittsburgh as the equivalent of an 8½-point underdog.
A swarm, including one dressed in a cheesehead cowboy hat and another wearing a Steelers towel/cape over his back, rushed from their leather chairs inside the Mirage to back the Steelers. And those wagers were winners, too.
A Steelers fourth-quarter touchdown and two-point conversion (also paying big odds as an exotic bet) put the game over the 45½-point total that Las Vegas bookmakers had assessed would be the best number to draw bettors considering a game between two of the NFL's top defenses.
"The combination of the 'over' and the Packers' victory was lethal," Rood said. "It's the worst Super Bowl I've seen since being here in 1993. There was no getting around it. Not a great scenario."
No one enjoyed the rollercoaster ride of events as much as Purcell, who shimmied on the Mirage sports book carpet and was doused in beer after realizing these winnings: a lucrative parlay of Packers to the over, a $200 future-book bet made before the season on the 14-to-1 Packers to win the Super Bowl, a $50 bet that Green Bay's Nick Collins would intercept a pass that paid $750, and another longshot gamble that Packers receiver Jordy Nelson would score the game's first touchdown.
"I can't even put it into words," Purcell said, standing in the collection line. "All I can do is this," duplicating the title-belt fitting around the waist move created by Rodgers.
"The best thing," Ponzio said, "is that we're [Cleveland] Browns fans and the Steelers went down."
Nevada gaming authorities are expected to release by Tuesday the final numbers of how state casinos fared. Last year, there were $82.7 million bet on Super Bowl Sunday, with state casinos collecting $6.8 million.
This year, the deficit should border on a Vegas bloodbath, considering that a $1-million bet and scores of five-figure wagers like those Rood allowed Sunday were public payouts.
Packers fan Bahman Khandehroo of Los Angeles has maintained a tradition of watching the Super Bowl in Las Vegas since 1996. Sunday, he lost his voice cheering on his good fortune, embracing friends and enjoying a postgame smoke and drink.
"It was the best Super Bowl in my 14 years," Khandehroo said. "This is the greatest place to watch this game ever created. I'm on top of the world."
Or as another bettor rejoiced, "I love America!"