Despite COVID-19, Vegas Won Yet Again In Super Bowl 55

Patrick Everson
Clock Icon Feb 9, 2021 - 1:52 PM ET

On Sunday afternoon, a couple of hours before Super Bowl 55 kicked off, an oddsmaker for a major Las Vegas sportsbook was far too overwhelmed to provide specifics on Big Game betting. But he did have this to say:

“Busy as ****, that I can tell you!”

The results bore that out. On Tuesday morning, the Nevada Gaming Control Board released statewide Super Bowl betting numbers, and they were far better than expected.

Nevada sportsbooks took in $136.1 million in Super Bowl bets and won $12.6 million, a hold of 9.2 percent from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The handle was down noticeably from last year’s $154.7 million, the second-highest ever in Nevada. However, projections last week estimated a potential drop-off of 30 percent or more. But the Silver State, powered by Vegas sportsbooks, was down just a shade over 12 percent, surprisingly outperforming expectations in a year in which tourism – the huge driver of all gaming in Nevada – took a beating due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

“Overall, considering the difficult operating environment Nevada sportsbooks were facing, these figures represent the fifth-highest total all-time for Super Bowl betting volumes since Nevada has been recording these figures,” Gaming Control Board senior analyst Mike Lawton said. “That being said, the Board is very pleased with these results.”

Other States Did Well Too

For comparison, New Jersey posted excellent Super Bowl numbers, more than doubling its 2020 handle by drawing $117.4 million, with a win of $11.3 million (9.6 percent hold). But that’s in a market that benefits heavily on sheer population in the region, particularly drawing on massive New York City.

Nevada still outdrew New Jersey by about $19 million, in a year in which Vegas books were operating at a severe disadvantage, lacking the normally monstrous Super Bowl weekend tourist turnout and with books operating under a 25 percent capacity mandate.

“If it was business as usual, we would’ve blown by the state record,” William Hill US director of trading Nick Bogdanovich said, alluding to the $158.6 million wagered on Super Bowl 52 between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. “I know one thing: we were busy all weekend. The people who did show up, they were betting with both hands. They were here to bet.”

“Overall, considering the difficult operating environment Nevada sportsbooks were facing, these figures represent the fifth-highest total all-time for Super Bowl betting volumes since Nevada has been recording these figures.”
— Nevada Gaming Control Board senior analyst Mike Lawton

Longtime industry insider Jay Kornegay was equally satisfied with a big weekend for the Big Game at The SuperBook, which he operates as Westgate’s vice president of race and sports.

“For the most part, the Super Bowl in Las Vegas is driven by the tourist dollar,” Kornegay said. “We were expecting a 30 to 40 percent drop in handle due to the 25 percent capacity restrictions, but that didn’t happen. We took in a few larger wagers this year that made our handle mirror last year.”

And Nevada books’ take of $12.6 million represented the sixth-best Super Bowl outcome, in terms of the amount won. The record came in the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48, when Nevada books held $19.7 million on total wagering of $119.4 million. Last year, when the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl 54, Nevada sportsbooks won $18.8 million on the aforementioned handle of $154.7 million.

A new entry to the sports betting market, Illinois, also unveiled its Super Bowl numbers: $45.6 million in wagers – $42.8 million of which was online/mobile – and a win of $7.66 million, for a hefty 16.8 percent hold that surely had sportsbook operators over the moon.

Back in Sin City, Bogdanovich and his peers were certainly pleased that Las Vegas retained its status as the most attractive Super Bowl draw, even as the state and the country try to turn the corner on COVID.

“Vegas is Vegas. It’s the destination of all destinations,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s known for Super Bowl and March Madness parties. It’s a special place, it’s that simple.” 

A Brief History of Super Bowl Betting in Las Vegas

The Super Bowl is the biggest single event for sports betting in North America and that means big business in Nevada—the Mecca of U.S. sports gambling. 

Even as more states roll out legal betting, the famed Silver State sportsbooks, like those on the Las Vegas Strip, are still the measuring stick in terms of Big Game betting success.  

The growing popularity of Super Bowl betting has Nevada bookmakers flirting with record numbers for total Super bowl handle (money wagered) and sportsbook win every February. And with Las Vegas an appealing destination in the cold winter months, football fans flock to Sin City sportsbooks—the next best place to watch the Big Game besides attending the Super Bowl itself.

According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, Super Bowl LII in 2018 set the state record for Super Bowl betting handle, with $158,586,934 wagered on the NFL championship between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots.  

Super Bowl LIV in 2020 between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers came close to that record handle, with $154,679,241 in bets reported, but was the most profitable Super Bowl for Silver State sportsbooks with a win of $18,774,14 on a hold percentage of 12.1 percent. 

Here’s a look at the Super Bowl betting results for Nevada sportsbooks since 1991:

Super Bowl (Year) Super Bowl Result Total Handle Sportsbook Win Hold (Win %)
Super Bowl LV (2021) Tampa Bay 31,
Kansas City 9
$136.1 million $12.6 million 9.2%
Super Bowl LIV (2020) Kansas City 31,
San Francisco 20
$154,679,241 $18,774,148 12.1%
Super Bowl LIII (2019) New England 13,
Los Angeles 3
$145,939,025 $10,780,319 7.4%
Super Bowl LII (2018) Philadelphia 41,
New England 33
$158,586,934 $1,170,432 0.7%
Super Bowl LI (2017) New England 34,
Atlanta 28
$138,480,136 $10,937,826 7.9%
Super Bowl 50 (2016) Denver 24,
Carolina 10
$132,545,587 $13,314,539 10.1%
Super Bowl XLIX (2015)  New England 28,
Seattle 24
$115,986,086 $3,261,066 2.8%
Super Bowl XLVIII (2014) Seattle 43,
Denver 8
$119,400,822 $19,673,960 16.5%
Super Bowl XLVII (2013) Baltimore 34,
San Francisco 31
$98,936,798 $7,206,460 7.3%
Super Bowl XLVI (2012) N.Y. Giants 21,
New England 17
$93,899,840 $5,064,470 5.4%
Super Bowl XLV (2011)  Green Bay 31,
Pittsburgh 25
$87,491,098 $724,176 0.8%
Super Bowl XLIV (2010) New Orleans 31, Indianapolis 17 $82,726,367 $6,857,101 8.3%
Super Bowl XLIII (2009) Pittsburgh 27,
Arizona 23
$81,514,748 $6,678,044 8.2%
Super Bowl XLII (2008) N.Y. Giants 17,
New England 14
$92,055,833 -$2,573,103 -2.80%
Super Bowl XLI (2007) Indianapolis 29,
Chicago 17
$93,067,358 $12,930,175 13.89%
Super Bowl XL (2006) Pittsburgh 21,
Seattle 10
$94,534,372 $8,828,431 9.34%
Super Bowl XXXIX (2005) New England 24, Philadelphia 21 $90,759,236 $15,430,138 17.00%
Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004) New England 32, Carolina 29 $81,242,191 $12,440,698 15.31%
Super Bowl XXXVII (2003) Tampa Bay 48,
Oakland 21
$71,693,032 $5,264,963 7.34%
Super Bowl XXXVI (2002) New England 20,
St. Louis 17
$71,513,304 $2,331,607 3.26%
Super Bowl XXXV (2001) Baltimore 34,
New York Giants 7
$67,661,425 $11,002,636 16.26%
Super Bowl XXXIV (2000) St. Louis 23,
Tennessee 16
$71,046,751 $4,237,978 5.97%
Super Bowl XXXIII (1999) Denver 34,
Atlanta 19
$75,986,520 $2,906,601 3.83%
Super Bowl XXXII (1998) Denver 31,
Green Bay 24
$77,253,246 $472,033 0.61%
Super Bowl XXXI (1997) Green Bay 35,
New England 21
$70,853,211 $2,265,701 3.20%
Super Bowl XXX (1996) Dallas 27,
Pittsburgh 17
$70,907,801 $7,126,145 10.05%
Super Bowl XXIX (1995) San Francisco 49,
San Diego 26
$69,591,818 -$396,674 -0.57%
Super Bowl XXVIII (1994) Dallas 30,
Buffalo 13
$54,483,221 $7,481,541 13.73%
Super Bowl XXVII (1993) Dallas 52,
Buffalo 17
$56,811,405 $7,174,869 12.63%
Super Bowl XXVI (1992) Washington 37,
Buffalo 24
$50,334,277 $301,280 0.60%
Super Bowl XXV (1991) New York Giants 20, Buffalo 19 $40,080,409 $3,512,241 8.76%

How Does Vegas Always Win?

Well, it's not always, but it's extremely consistent. As the above table shows, Nevada sportsbooks have posted just two losing Super Bowls since 1991, though there have been a few very lean wins of 1 percent or less. For the most part, though, the books have done well.

Jay Kornegay, a decades-long industry insider who oversees operations of The SuperBook as vice president of race and sports for Westgate, explained the long-term success.

"I believe it’s been a combination of a few results," Kornegay said. "The futures have been very favorable over the years. There haven't been that many years where we lost on NFL Super Bowl futures. The outcomes have treated the books very well over the years."

Indeed, with 32 teams to bet on and only one winner, by the end of each season, oddsmakers only have to dodge that one big popular bullet or a long shot that took a lot of money at larger odds and somehow got to and won the Super Bowl.

The massive growth of Super Bowl prop bets over the past decade or so has also contributed greatly to sportsbooks' success in the market.

"The Super Bowl propositions have been out-handling the game itself for many years now," Kornegay said, speaking not only of prop-bet activity at The SuperBook, but all Nevada sportsbooks. "In most cases, the results have been positive for the operators."

And more recently, the explosive growth of betting via mobile app has been tremendous for the Super Bowl, not just up until kickoff, but throughout the game with in-game betting.

"As we all know, the mobile channel has been growing each and every year. It’s no different for the biggest single wagering event of the year," Kornegay said. "In-game wagering has also grown over the years, and its popularity during the Super Bowl has seen a spike in the last few years, as more customers are comfortable with that option."

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