Bet on it: Week 14 a rare week in which NFL gamblers came out ahead of the books
When the house loses, sportsbook directors might have some explaining to do to the higher-ups.
LAS VEGAS — For several heartbeats, as Bears running back Khalil Herbert snatched the late onside kick and ran it into the end zone at Lambeau Field, South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews felt a sliver of salvation.
“Happy as can be,” he says. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God!’ Then, ‘Wait. What? You can’t do that?’ Wasn’t meant to be. We still would have lost for the weekend, but it would have saved us a couple hundred thousand dollars.”
Week 14 represented a rare third NFL week in which Vegas sportsbooks were soundly pummeled by the public, it being the worst of the beatings. Seven-figure hits weren’t uncommon.
Favorites were 10-2-1 against the spread through that Sunday. Very-public Dallas, Tampa Bay and Green Bay all covered as favorites, a nightmare trifecta for the books.
“America loves underdogs,” South Point owner Michael Gaughan told me three years ago, “but America bets favorites.”
What’s the fallout for sportsbook directors when superiors see such blood-red figures on the bottom line?
At the Golden Nugget, sportsbook director Tony Miller braces himself with a dose or two of Knob Creek. BetMGM executives are largely hands-off with sportsbook chief Jeff Stoneback. Steve Wynn never pestered Johnny Avello.
At the South Point, the Bears made Andrews squirm. The Packers, up 45-30, were giving 11 to 13 points.
With 83 seconds left, Herbert recovered that bouncing ball. Which, unbeknownst to Andrews, 65, and probably many others, kicking teams can’t advance.
The Bears kept possession. Thirty seconds later, Packers cornerback Chandon Sullivan intercepted a pass from rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
In a weekly meeting with his hotel and casino managers two days later, Gaughan, 78, started the proceedings.
“OK, everybody,” Gaughan said, “take a last look at Chris.”
The son of Vegas legend Jackie Gaughan, Michael Gaughan possesses a cutting old-school sense of humor. Everyone in that boardroom, especially Andrews, knew he was teasing. Some of the edge of a tough Week 14 evaporated.
Before Bears-Packers had even kicked off, though, Miller tweeted, It’s Knob Creek time again!
In October, he typed similar notes about retreating home to a bottle of the savory Kentucky small-batch bourbon to diminish the events of the day.
“Yeah, buddy. Rough,” he tells me. “We have to explain everything to [bosses] upstairs. That kind of puts a knife in your back. Whenever all those favorites come in, it’s bad.”
Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of the Westgate SuperBook, takes it in stride when favorites cash on any given Sunday. Outsiders routinely misconstrue his words when he explains a tough weekend for the house.
“Am I supposed to say, ‘Everything’s great!’ after we lost 13 of 14 games?” he says. “I’m just trying to explain the losses. I know what’s going to happen in the long run, but . . .”
In the long run, 11-to-10 single-game odds — risking, say, $110 to win $100 — give the house an inexorable edge.
Conversely, Kornegay, 58, never gloats when his shop posts a Sunday profit, which is the norm.
His career stretches more than 30 years, to Bally’s and the old Imperial Palace, and he says he has never experienced an overall losing NFL season.
But maybe two did end narrowly in the black. Salaries and myriad expenses — this season, every individual book pays $129,000 to show NFL games — cut into profits.
“And those,” Kornegay says, “would be considered losing seasons.”
At BetMGM, Stoneback notes the abundance of parlay cards, paying 6-, 10- and 20-to-1 odds, that were live — on both outcomes — going into Week 14’s Monday night Rams-Cardinals game.
“We came into the office that Monday and knew it would be bad, a lose-lose situation for us,” says Stoneback, headquartered inside Mandalay Bay.
“When all the favorites cover, all the parlays roll into both teams [Monday] night. The Rams winning, I told some, would mitigate some of the damage for us.”
The virus-plagued Rams beat the Cardinals 30-23.
Stoneback, 58, has been with MGM for 36 years. He says he rarely hears from casino executives or newer BetMGM chiefs after losing weekends. He also points out that November was an epic winning month for his book.
“We hadn’t really had a month like that ever,” Stoneback says, “so it’s been kind of crazy the last couple of years.”
Amounts wagered, he adds, have been staggering.
Not long ago, Stoneback would take maybe 10 wagers of at least $100,000 for a Super Bowl game. Now, his shop takes those on a weeknight NBA game.