On a recent Friday afternoon in Vegas, I was sitting in bookmaker Jay Kornegay's office at the Las Vegas Hotel SuperBook. It's a corner space at the end of a winding linoleum path lined with boxes and faded Super Bowl posters. Just across from Kornegay's door is central command for the world's biggest sports book: a tinted glass enclosed, dimly lit hub of bookmaking activity that monitors betting action and athletic events from all over the world. It feels out of place, like NASA's mission control hiding out in a 1970s kitchen. A few hours later, NFL preseason games would kick off. A weekend crowd, many in town to sign up for the LVH's $1,500, season-long NFL handicapping contest, buzzed around the counter. You could feel the nervous energy fueled by seemingly bottomless depths of optimism, the kind that burns hot and then vaporizes into nothing; the kind that keeps Vegas in business.
Kornegay's office is lit up by more than a dozen televisions on the wall facing his desk. Along the top row are smaller, old-school screens showing an internal security feed. In the middle are mid-size TVs tuned to CNN, CNBC and other news channels. Along the bottom, on their own stands, are the kinds of units people splurge for whenever they move into a new house: Monster truck-sized TVs featuring soccer from overseas and the ever growing number of sports networks stateside.
But it was the screen on Kornegay's desk that both of us were glued to.
His computer looks like something Steve Jobs built in his garage and the graphics -- columns of block letters indicating NFL teams and numbers signifying total bets and Super Bowl odds -- are worthy of an '80s arcade game. "We gotta do something about our computer system," Kornegay said. "It's time to catch up."
I had just asked Kornegay a question: "Who do the wiseguys love right now?" In an instant, he was checking the number of bets he had on every NFL team's odds to win the Super Bowl. It's a question I had been asking a lot of bookmakers and professional bettors over the past few weeks as I looked for a consensus heading into the season.
Since first being posted in the spring, the Week 1 lines, team season win totals and Super Bowl futures have been relatively stagnant, changing because of news (Aaron Hernandez) or injury updates (Robert Griffin III). But now, with training camps a month old, numbers are moving. The market has evolved, and there are many factors driving the flow of money, from secret stews individual bettors cook up to training camp hype to preseason performances (hello Jets QBs). But mostly, the motivating factor is perceived value. Wiseguys, like Wall Street traders, are looking for teams they consider to be overvalued or undervalued.
"We're seeing what people think," says Bob Scucci, bookmaker for The Orleans and the seven other Boyd Gaming properties in Nevada. "And there is a direct correlation to how season win totals are moving and how Week 1 lines are moving."
Right now, around many teams exists that same pungent optimism that lingers in a sports book early on Sundays. Anything is possible. We can win. Most importantly, as far as you're concerned, forget the spin coming from camps, what do sharp bettors believe?
What follows below is a Gambling Opus!, a preview of what to expect when the season begins, a review of why we think that way and a smattering of trends, anecdotes and gambling-centric notes. We'll do a Gambling Opus! every four weeks through the season. This thing is big -- Royal Baby big. In fact, the British media are camped outside my house right now eating Toblerones. It is nothing short of the ultimate NFL season betting primer, with tips, trends and stats to impress your friends. You will want to print this out, make notes in the margins and treat it like the well-connected best buddy you've never had. As my 6-year-old son says, I'm for serious. So go. Now. Hit print. Kill some trees. Contribute to the climbing number of worker productivity dollars lost.
Three teams wiseguys love right now
When Kornegay was done fiddling with his keyboard, he saw that Denver had the most bets on the odds to win the Super Bowl, followed by Seattle. That's no surprise given how they've both become public darlings during the offseason. More surprising, though, was that neither presented the biggest liability if they were to win it all. That honor belonged to the Cardinals. They had opened the season as 100-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl, then climbed as high as 300-1 before moving back down to 100-1 in the past two weeks. "This is the one that will cost us the most," he told me. "It was all sharps that did this."