Betting the Super Bowl
From Super Bowls to the World Cup, Michael "Roxy" Roxborough Makes the Odds for Las Vegas--and the World
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95
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Later, when it becomes clear the Niners have handily vanquished the Cowboys (and covered the 7 1/2-point spread), Roxy positions himself between two key staffers--his odds manager, Scott Kaminsky, and one of his chief oddsmakers, Cesar Robaina--and says, "Okay, let's get to work." He erases the 16 1/2 on the board and writes "17".
"I'm thinking 17 and 51 [the total number of points scored], though I'm also inclined to go a little higher," Roxy says.
"There's no defense that can stop San Francisco," Kaminsky says. "I'm leaning toward 18 or even 19. Total domination."
"San Diego needs turnovers. That's the only way they'll stay in the game," Robaina comments.
"So you like 18?" Roxy asks.
"I think 17 1/2 is good," Robaina replies.
Roxy looks at a computer printout of the teams' respective power ratings. He shakes his head. "Look, the computer makes no difference right now. We need to find a number that will make someone bet on San Diego. We know San Diego won't win. But we need to start with a number that will generate some action. We've got to put up a number that will make everyone who wants to bet on San Francisco think twice: 'Do I really want to lay that many points?' I think 17 1/2 is a good place to start. Seventeen-and-a-half and 52. That seems right."
"San Francisco has really become America's team. They've demolished everybody they've faced in big games," Kaminsky says. "Of course, we can always move it up."
"OK," Roxy announces. "Seventeen-and-a-half and 52." In less than two minutes he's decided the opening line for a game that will attract an estimated $5 billion in wagers. "Put it on the system," he says. Seconds later, every phone in the office starts ringing. Newspapers from all around Nevada and the rest of the United States and Canada want to hear Roxy's reasoning. "It's simple," he tells them. "We've seen throughout the season that nobody will bet San Diego. We want to give them a reason to change that."
Caesars Palace is the first major Las Vegas casino to release a Super Bowl line: Tweaking Roxy's number slightly, they open at 18 and 52. Four other of Roxy's major Strip clients mull the point spread for five minutes before posting the 17 1/2 and 52 figures. The MGM Grand opens at 17 and immediately lays several sizable bets on the 49ers. Kaminsky reports the news to Roxy. "Go to 18," he orders. By early evening, most Vegas sports books are dealing San Francisco at -18 1/2. By the next day it's 19, and the total has moved up to 53 1/2. Though one Vegas casino briefly posts 20 for a few hours as a publicity stunt, in the days preceding the big game, the number settles in at 18 1/2 or 19.
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