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Betting the Super Bowl

From Super Bowls to the World Cup, Michael "Roxy" Roxborough Makes the Odds for Las Vegas--and the World
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

(continued from page 1)

"I'd be happy if he retired," says Lem Banker, a well-known Vegas sports bettor with a 36-year reputation. "He's a very smart fellow, a very astute handicapper, and he makes a tough line."

According to Gary Olshan, chief analyst at "The Gold Sheet," a handicapping newsletter aimed at sophisticated gamblers, "Everyone who bets sports has great respect for Roxy. He's got a difficult job and he does it superbly. The lines have gotten a lot tougher since he took over."

Although Roxy no longer bets on the games--indeed, he owns a 10-percent stake in a Nevada bookmaking operation called Leroy's--he hasn't forsaken his "hobby" of betting on horseracing. Though he's characteristically modest about his equine accomplishments, Roxy is one of only three voting members of the National Turf Writer's Association (a group of leading writers who cover horse racing) in Nevada, contributes odds on the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races to the Daily Racing Form and has owned several thoroughbreds. He's visited 65 tracks in seven countries, making a few wagers here and there. In 1992, for example, he hit the pick 9 at Santa Anita, winning $108,000. Naturally, his office is decorated with signed racing programs and horse memorabilia.

Also hanging on the wall is a plastic bag containing a nylon rope. The sign on it says: For: a middle on Super Bowl.

If, indeed, the sports books were to get "middled" on the Super Bowl (beaten by bettors on both sides of the action because of an inaccurate line that had to be moved several points), more than a few people in Roxy's business might be mildly suicidal. But the fact is, in the past 15 Super Bowls, the line has been involved only twice in the wagering decision. In 1989, the 49ers won but failed to cover. And in 1979, the Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31. Because of a line that moved from -2 1/2 to -4 1/2, many books suffered the dreaded middle. But most of the time, to cash a winning ticket on the Super Bowl, bettors only have to pick the game's victor, independent of the point spread.

Roxy, of course, is aware of such trends. Though most of the odds he posts are aimed at the so-called "smart money"--the sophisticates who bet sports for a living--the Super Bowl line is aimed at the masses, the casual gamblers. Before the NFC Championship game begins, Roxy posts two numbers on a large bulletin board: SF 16 and D 13 1/2. "These are my tentative numbers against San Diego," he announces. "Let's see how the game goes." After San Francisco takes a commanding first-quarter lead, Roxy changes the "SF" number to 16 1/2. "I don't know," he says, thinking out loud, "it just doesn't look right." But before he and his associates can refine the Super Bowl odds, Roxy must issue the line for half-time betting on the NFC Championship. Based on the Niners' first-half domination, Cowboy Emmitt Smith's hamstring troubles and Niner Jerry Rice's improbable last-second score, Roxy makes San Francisco a -140 favorite (bet $140 to win $100) to "win" the second half. As the clock expires, an employee enters Roxy's odds on a computer; instantly, his line is posted all over Nevada, Mexico, England and everywhere else Las Vegas Sports Consultants has clients.

Within seconds, thanks to LVSC's on-line update system, Roxy learns the betting public's response to his line: big money is pouring in--all on the Cowboys. Like a currency trader unloading millions of pesos, Roxy quickly "trades" the number downward. "Minus 130," he says, staring at a computer screen, trying to discern if the move has attracted any money on the San Francisco side. "Go to 120," he orders. Seconds later he shakes his head incredulously and says, "Okay, make it even." Remarkably, the money is still pouring in on the 'Boys. Apparently the bettors think the Cowboys will rally in the second half and make the game close. "Cowboys minus 130," Roxy says, smiling sheepishly.

Finally, the action stabilizes. "I guess we were on the wrong side of that one," Roxy says. "It happens." The phone rings. The sports-book manager of a major Strip property wants to know, "Who made that line? Your girlfriend?"

"We botched that one," Roxy says, matter-of-factly. "Hey, get yourself another Ouija board."

When the second half starts, Roxy retreats to his office to begin formulating proposition bets for the Super Bowl. "The closer the game is to a pick 'em, the more betting you'll see," he says. "With a point spread as big as we'll be forced to make for San Diego-San Francisco, or even San Diego-Dallas, we'll need a lot more props to generate action." Pouring over statistics and computer analyses, Roxy issues odds on dozens of exotic wagers: "most sacks," "total yards," "first scorer," etc. (According to one professional bettor, the price for a safety occurring--12-to-1--was a decent value. It didn't happen. Jerry Rice being the first to score a touchdown--3-to-1--did.)

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