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December 21, 2014

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Las Vegas’ top sports bettors take first stab at Super Bowl prop bets

Seahawks over 22.5 points a popular pick on LVH Superbook’s opening night of gambling

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Steve Marcus

Gamblers check their notes as they wait in line to place bets on Super Bowl XLVIII at the Las Vegas Hotel Superbook, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.

Underneath the flickering of a constantly changing betting board and surrounded by hands unwrapping wads of $100 bills, Rufus Peabody tilts his droopy eyes downward.

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The 28-year-old Yale graduate plots his next move at the LVH Superbook by thumbing through an intricately detailed packet with Super Bowl 48 projections and numbers.

“I’ve worked on this since Sunday night, more than 50 hours,” Peabody says. “It was very tiring. I’m very sleep-deprived.”

Thursday night brought the moment Las Vegas’ best sports bettors, like Peabody, begin acting on their considerable preparation for the biggest gambling event of the year. The Superbook unveiled more than 300 proposition wagers for next Sunday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos.

The vast majority of casual bettors won’t start firing on the wagers until this weekend, when the Superbook releases its popular stapled-together sheets of all the props. But the professionals show up early, eager to pounce on the most vulnerable numbers straight off the board flashing the props in red, green and yellow over 14 rows and nine columns.

Peabody and his team of three other professionals were four of approximately 50 bettors who showed up to take the first crack with $2,000 betting limits.

“We’ve got everything smoothed out by the time we get here,” said Matt Emanuel, one of Peabody’s associates. “There’s a lot of stuff for us to get. We’re going to be here for a while.”

Sure enough, the crowd had thinned to a handful of gamblers an hour and a half after the props opened with Peabody’s crew making up about a quarter of those remaining. The Superbook only allows two $2,000 wagers per trip to the window, so Emanuel and his friends placed their bets and headed to the back of the line on a continuous loop.

At one point, Peabody shouts back that one of his bets prompted a 40-cent line move on the betting board.

“They moved it so far,” Emanuel said. “That shows you there are numbers worth taking out there.”

Emmanuel and Peabody are careful to conceal any hints of what they’re betting to outsiders. Peabody explains that he wants to use the same market inefficiencies to get more money on similar wagers at other sports books once they post their own props.

Others exercised less caution. In the middle of the mad scramble to label betting opportunities, 55-year-old Paul Bovi from Laguna, Calif., exudes calm.

The professional horse bettor softly jots down a few betting numbers and heads to the window with no additional materials.

“That’s just how I am,” Bovi said. “I’m great with numbers. I’ve made all the numbers in my head and that’s what I’m going off of.”

Bovi believes it’s wisest to ignore the most exotic options on the first night, props like the inter-sport wagers. He’ll study, for example, whether Peyton Manning will have more completions than Carmelo Anthony does points on Super Bowl Sunday or Seattle can stay within 5.5 points of LeBron James later.

For now, Bovi wants to gamble on options like Marshawn Lynch’s rushing yards and Peyton Manning’s completions. Figuring the LVH would post Lynch’s yards at 89 and Manning’s completions at 25, he leaned over on both but came away dismayed when the actual openers were 92.5 and 26.5, respectively.

“Those are just too high,” Bovi said. “They’re trying to drag you in with a bad number. I would have taken either of them with a lower number.”

He found another over to his liking, though, and placed three consecutive limit bets on it when the Superbook never adjusted. Bovi wasn’t the only one acting on the Seahawks to go over 22.5 points, as at least one other gambler put down a large wager on it.

Bovi figured Seattle’s total would be 23.5 points, which he said he saw at offshore sports books.

“The one thing about it is, this way, you’re not betting against Peyton Manning,” he said. “You’re just betting on your own team. I had this game as a pick’em, so I like Seattle but Manning worries me. This way, the more he scores, it’s actually better for me because it will put Seattle in a hurry to answer. And I’m betting against Denver’s defense. Three touchdowns and a field goal? They should be able to get there.”

Two other props that immediately caught Bovi’s eye were Denver tight end Jacob Tamme over 11.5 yards and Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate plus-17.5 yards against Denver counterpart Eric Decker.

He referred to the latter as “a clear mistake.” Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t guarantee victory.

That’s what can be so maddening about tying up a fortune in minute details of a single game. Peabody admits to still not being totally comfortable with it, but he’s come a long way.

He gambled his entire savings and raised additional money from investors for his first Super Bowl as a professional bettor five years ago when the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Arizona Cardinals. Before kickoff, Peabody was a bigger mess than a sports book floor littered with losing tickets.

“I couldn’t even watch,” he reminisced. “I remember I went to play a round over at Callaway, the 3-hole golf course. I had a huge bet on Gary Russell scoring the first touchdown at 20-to-1, and the first thing I saw was that he did it. That was the greatest feeling.”

Peabody managed a 40 percent return on investment on Super Bowl 43, the best of his career. The objective, of course, is to top it this year.

He’ll know right away. No rounds of golf, abbreviated or otherwise, are scheduled for 2014 Super Bowl Sunday. Peabody will watch the game.

“It’s going to be pretty stressful,” Peabody said. “Every play is like, ‘oh my God, we just lost $5K or we just won $5K.’ By the end of the game, you need three yards but not four yards. But you’ve got to accept the variance and know you hold an edge.”

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

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