The history of Super Bowl betting, from a William Perry prop to bad beats and Joe Namath's guarantee


The Super Bowl has a huge audience and fans tune in for different reasons: the halftime show, the commercials, camaraderie at parties or the game itself.

And for many, it means betting on the big game.

There have been 57 Super Bowls and plenty of betting stories to come from them. In honor of Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers coming to Las Vegas, here’s a history of Super Bowl betting:

Super Bowl III: It can be argued the first big moment in sports betting history — other than the controversies with the 1919 Black Sox or the college basketball point-shaving scandal including City College of New York in the 1950s — was the New York Jets’ win in Super Bowl III. It was clearly the first big moment for Super Bowl betting, which has become the biggest day on the sports betting calendar.

Famed oddsmaker Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder proclaimed that the Baltimore Colts were 17-point favorites for the game. According to Mark Kriegel’s biography “Namath,” Namath knew the spread and told at least one friend he didn’t need the points, but to take the moneyline at 7-to-1 odds because the Jets would win straight up (“Bet it,” Namath said, according to the book. “Bet the ranch”). Namath eventually issued his famous guarantee, the Jets won 16-7 and the massive spread, which reached 18 points and higher in some places, became a part of the game’s lore.

Super Bowl XIII: Ask an old-school oddsmaker and they’ll remember the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys as “Black Sunday.”

The game ended up being a debacle for sports books, not that anyone felt sorry for them. The Steelers opened as a 2.5-point favorite. That was bet up to Steelers -5. That led to bettors taking the underdog Cowboys and the line came back to settle at Steelers -3.5. There were a lot of Steelers -2.5 tickets and Cowboys +5 tickets when the game ended up as a 35-31 Steelers win, meaning all of those bets won.

Even worse for the Stardust, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal (the inspiration for Robert DeNiro’s character in “Casino”) posted a promotion allowing bettors to take Cowboys +4.5 and Steelers -3.5, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. That was a big loser for the Stardust. As the legend goes, casinos lost well more than $1 million on that Super Bowl, the rare loss for Vegas.

William Perry celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XX. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Super Bowl XX: The Chicago Bears-New England Patriots game didn’t have a lot of intrigue, even with the point spread of Bears -10. The Bears were expected to win big. So Art Manteris, the sports book manager at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, had an idea. He came up with a prop bet on defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry scoring a touchdown. It was at a time when prop bets were very rare and unimaginative, even on the Super Bowl.

There’s uncertainty over what the Perry TD odds opened at, but it is said to have been about 20-to-1 before the odds came way down before kickoff. Manteris remembers his employer losing about $100,000 when Perry scored.

It turned out to be money well spent. The interest in that prop bet led to more prop bets in following years, to the point in which there are dozens of props — from serious (Super Bowl MVP, first touchdown scorer) to silly (color of the Gatorade dumped on the winning coach, heads or tails on the coin toss — not just on the Super Bowl but practically every regular-season game in the four major American sports. And it all started with trying to drum up some interest in the Bears’ predictable blowout of the Patriots.

Super Bowl XXIX: Super Bowl III wasn’t the biggest spread in Super Bowl history, according to Vegas Insider’s history. That would be the Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers at the end of the 1994 season. One bettor made a $2.4 million bet on the 49ers to win, which more than doubled the old record for largest Super Bowl bet. Because the 49ers were such a big favorite, the $2.4 million bet won just $300,000. But the bet did win and the 49ers covered, winning 49-26.

Super Bowl XLIX: Only one Super Bowl has closed as a pick ’em. Oddsmakers were right about how close the game would be.

Nobody was favored when the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks played. And the game went right down to the end. The Seahawks got to the 1-yard line in the final minute and then instead of Marshawn Lynch getting another carry, Malcolm Butler had one of the greatest defensive plays in Super Bowl history. Patriots bettors got a dramatic win.

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Super Bowl 50: Until 2015, Nevada sports books couldn’t post prop bets on anything decided by a vote, like Super Bowl MVP. That changed and it was an immediate bad beat for the house.

Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller opened up at 60-to-1 odds to win Super Bowl MVP. Books took a lot of action on Miller and the odds came all the way down to 15-to-1 as a result. Miller won Super Bowl MVP and Nevada sports books lamented a big loss on their first time offering Super Bowl MVP odds.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' comeback in Super Bowl LI was a bad beat for Falcons bettors that day. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Anychance/Getty Images)

Super Bowl LI: Atlanta Falcons fans, turn away. Falcons bettors from Super Bowl LI should too.

You know this story very well by now. The Falcons led the New England Patriots 28-3. They lost. It is the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history and doubles as perhaps the worst beat in Super Bowl betting history.

The Falcons were a 3-point underdog and for most of the game looked like a lock. Even when the game went to overtime, if the Patriots won on a field goal it would be a push for Falcons bettors. But the Patriots scored a touchdown in overtime to win 34-28. Falcons bettors still don’t know how they lost.

It was also a fairly bad beat for under bettors. The total of 57 is still tied for the highest in Super Bowl history (Super Bowl XLIV between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints also had a total of 57). The game went over the total on the Patriots’ overtime touchdown.

Super Bowl LIV: This Super Bowl had the strangest bad beat. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had a prop of 30.5 rushing yards. Late in the game Mahomes had 44 rushing yards, which would have been an easy win for over bettors.

Then it got weird. At the end of the game, while kneeling to run the clock out, Mahomes inexplicably retreated a total of 15 yards on three kneeldowns as he tried to burn a little extra time. That moved his rushing yardage from 44 to 29 … a horrendous beat for bettors who took the over on his rushing total.

Super Bowl LVI: The largest known Super Bowl bet belongs to a familiar name. Houston furniture store owner Jim McIngvale, better known as “Mattress Mack,” wagered $5 million on the Cincinnati Bengals to beat the Los Angeles Rams. The moneyline bet would have returned $8.5 million at +170 odds. The Rams won the game on a drive in the final two minutes, costing McIngvale a small fortune.

Super Bowl LVII: Last year’s Super Bowl was in Arizona, the first time the Super Bowl was held in a state with legal sports betting. The American Gaming Association said that 50.4 million Americans were expected to bet $16 billion on that Super Bowl. With the Super Bowl coming to the gambling capital of the United States and more states than ever allowing legal sports betting, Super Bowl LVIII could set a record.



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