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December 18, 2014

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Las Vegas 49ers: Sports bettors see San Francisco as Super Bowl-bound

NFC teams given edge over AFC counterparts in potential Super Bowl lines

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John Bazemore / Associated Press

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore runs against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of a divisional playoff NFL game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Charlotte, N.C.

The 49ers are channeling their namesake in Las Vegas.

San Francisco is inciting a sports-book gold rush in the form of betting slips. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s squad was the most gambled-on team of the weekend in each of their first two playoff games as slight favorites against the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers.

Which team is the best bet in Sunday's conference championship games?

Which team is the best bet in Sunday's conference championship games?
Patriots plus-5 — 29.5%
49ers plus-3.5 — 26.2%
Broncos minus-5 — 22.7%
Seahawks minus-3.5 — 21.7%

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Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Nothing has changed now that they’re taking points, three or 3.5 depending on the shop, on the road against the Seahawks in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

“Forget that the 49ers are playing their fourth road game in a row and have been back and forth all over the country,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, South Point sports book vice president. “All anyone is seeing is how well this team is playing.”

While bookmakers would take a hit if the 49ers won in Seattle for the first time since 2011, it might be worthwhile considering the Super Bowl implications. San Francisco’s presence in the game Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., would boost Super Bowl betting volume up to 8 percent, according to Vaccaro.

Last year’s record of $98.9 million wagered statewide on the Super Bowl would find itself in imminent danger.

“I think we’ll set the record regardless,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich predicted. “But we’ll smash it if it’s San Francisco vs. Denver. It will draw so much more volume if Frisco’s involved.”

Part of that is the Northern California influence. 49ers fans notoriously cross the border and head into Reno to drop money on their team before big games.

The activity has served them well this season, as San Francisco comes in at an NFL-best 12-6 against the spread. But the loyal followers have attracted a consistent crew of wagon-train jumpers seduced by the promise of betting on the 49ers.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has transfixed gamblers since last season with the fascination reaching new highs during San Francisco’s current eight-game winning streak in which they’ve gone 5-3 against the spread.

“They’re finally healthy and peaking at the right time,” Bogdanovich opined. “Kaepernick is playing some good ball after a lull in the middle season. With all their weapons now, they’re just such a tough team.”

It will take longer than east-coast prospectors battling a treacherous trail to reach California to see oddsmakers make the 49ers an underdog again after Sunday. They project as the favorite in the vast majority of their games next season and will also give points if they reach the Super Bowl.

Most sports books in town have released lines on all four potential matchups. Both William Hill and South Point have San Francisco as a 1-point favorite over Denver — despite opening the line reversely — and a 3-point favorite over New England.

And oddsmakers believe those should stay rather stagnant.

“I’ve seen enough to know that nothing is guaranteed or absolute, every once in a while you’re surprised, but I don’t think you’re going to see them move even a couple points,” Vaccaro said. “You’re not going to see a whole lot of movement at all.”

The other two possible games carry similarly tight spreads. The Seahawks are 1-point favorites against the Broncos and 3-point favorites against the Patriots.

Bogdanovich couldn’t remember another year when every Super Bowl possibility carried a line of a field goal or less. It should make for a championship to remember everywhere, especially in Las Vegas.

More recreational players are swayed to risk their money when game is close to a pick’em. Sports books get the added bonus of not having to fear a flood of bets on the underdog to win outright to where they have to root for the favorite to win but not cover.

“It’s perfect and going to make for a monster betting event,” Bogdanovich said.

The difference between Denver and New England from a gambling interest perspective isn’t as large. But bookmakers lean to the Broncos, who give the Patriots five points in the AFC Championship Game, for one reason — quarterback Peyton Manning.

Bogdanovich and Vacarro agreed that Manning advancing to his third Super Bowl outweighs Brady’s quest for his fourth title in the betting market.

“Where he came from is mind-boggling,” Bogdanovich said. “He couldn’t even throw a football five yards after his neck surgery. His career was on the line and it was a miracle he came back and now he’s set the record for touchdowns thrown.”

To the delight of most bettors, Manning’s Broncos have put up enough points to go over sports books’ totals in 11 of 17 games this season. Seeing the NFL’s most prolific offense go up against its suddenly most popular team in the Super Bowl sounds golden to the casinos.

“You’re getting Mantle vs. Mays or Clemente vs. Aaron no matter how they come,” Vaccaro said. “It’s going to be great no matter what happens, but it would surely help the market even more if it’s San Francisco vs. Manning.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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