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In Las Vegas, odds on NFL teams changed as season progressed

Early favorites to win the Super Bowl have given way to upstarts such as the Atlanta Falcons, but regardless, it has been a good season for the bookmakers.

January 04, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan tosses his hat to the fans after clinching the NFC South on Sunday. The Falcons began as 40-to-1 longshots to win the Super Bowl and are now the NFC's No. 1-seeded team with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan tosses his hat to the fans after clinching… (Curtis Compton / MCT )

New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan's colorful mouth has defined this NFL season, and no one wants it closed more than the men who run the Las Vegas sports books.

Ryan started his preseason run on HBO's "Hard Knocks" when he urged his team that reached last season's AFC championship game to aspire to a Super Bowl title. His bombast won legions of betting believers, too.

The Jets, after opening at 20 to 1, attracted so many off-season bets that they began this season as popular a bet to win the Super Bowl as Brett Favre's Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys.

Then Favre got old and the Vikings unraveled, and so did the Cowboys. Both teams did not reach the playoffs, and neither did another preseason Super Bowl favorite, the San Diego Chargers.

It has been a good NFL season for the Las Vegas sports books.

But Ryan has kept yapping, and this week declared he was taking Saturday's playoff game against host Indianapolis and Peyton Manning "personal."

Millions of dollars are wavering on the outcome.

"I'm rooting for the Colts," said Jay Rood, director of the MGM Resorts race and sports book. "The Colts were virtually ignored by the public in future-book betting, and if it's Colts-Falcons in the Super Bowl, I may be seen … on game day with my feet up, sipping a cocktail."

Even though Atlanta began as 40-to-1 longshots to win the Super Bowl and are now the NFC's No. 1-seeded team with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, very few bet on the Falcons early.

"We didn't get a lot of attention on them when the number was high, and then when [Atlanta] started winning, we immediately reduced their number," said Jay Kornegay, sports book director for the Las Vegas Hilton.

Bettors have typically been on the short end in Las Vegas this season. Rood reports a 10% increase in profits from NFL betting this season, and with 20% more traffic than in the 2009 season.

"If sports betting is an economic indicator, then I'd say our country is getting closer to turning the corner," Rood said.

Bookmakers said the number of upsets through the NFL's first eight weeks was staggering, with 20 more underdog triumphs than by favored teams. Since then, it has leveled off because of strong showings by favorites in Week 15 and Week 17, Kornegay said.

"There was so much parity in the beginning, and we've said for a long time in this business that the NFL's desire for parity is good. Parity is our friend," Kornegay said.

Some bettors hoped for a lucrative return by picking three or four favorites together on a parlay card. But Rood said favored NFL teams had a record of 129-119 overall against the spread this season, with eight pushes, killing most parlay bets.

"A few years ago, we were having problems with that strategy because three or four teams were dominating," Rood said. "This year, you couldn't go Patriots- Steelers-Falcons every week because the [underdogs] were always in the equation, and if you go 3-1 on your parlay ticket, that's the same as going 0-4."

However, the Vegas bookmakers still have to navigate the wildly popular NFL playoffs and Super Bowl before declaring it a winning season.

New England is a 6-5 favorite to win Super Bowl XLV, followed by the Falcons (4-1) and Pittsburgh (9-2). Rood doesn't mind the heavy money bet on the popular Patriots, Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers because bigger crowds create more reckless betting patterns, he said.

A Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl would generate the largest crowd, Rood said. And if the Patriots and Eagles meet, he'd be tempted to make the over/under on the game as high as 62 points because of their explosive offenses.

Rood cautioned the regular season should have reinforced the notion to avoid parlays and "go with your gut" on a single straight bet.

When reminded his advice would likely be ignored by gamblers who would rather chase a greater jackpot or bet again to make up for a loss, Rood said, "That's why I get paid."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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