LAS VEGAS – Super Bowl XLIII doesn’t just pit Arizona against Pittsburgh. It’s also a matchup of the single biggest betting event in North American against tough economic times.
Every year, it seems, Nevada bookmakers predict the state will have its highest bet Super Bowl. Not this year, though.
“It will be interesting to see if the Super Bowl can overcome the economic times we’re facing,” said Jay Kornegay, race and sports book director for the Las Vegas Hilton. “It’s a question I can’t answer right now.”
Of the four possibilities with Sunday’s title matches, sportsbooks probably got the best matchup with the Cardinals and Steelers.
“No doubt we needed the Steelers in there,” Kornegay said.
The Steelers are one of the most public teams, hugely popular with recreational bettors. The oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened Pittsburgh minus seven with a total of 46 ½. The Hilton also opened the game at those numbers.
However, several places, including the Palms hotel, were down to 6 ½.
“I think seven is kind of an automatic take (with Arizona),” said Dan O’Brien, a linesmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants. “I think 6 ½ is the dividing line. If the line would drop to six that would be an automatic lay (with Pittsburgh).”
Early Sunday night money was on the Cardinals. This could be from sharps wanting to make sure they got at least a full touchdown. O’Brien didn’t anticipate the line climbing to 7 ½.
It remains to be seen if the public backs the favorite, which they often do. The Cardinals, though, have started to attract a following with their three-game playoff roll and exciting quarterback/wide receiver combination of Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald.
“We’re trying to project the popularity of the Steelers versus the appeal of the Cinderella team,” Kornegay said. “This is the one time where the line is made for the public and most of the time the public bets favorites.
“But from what I’ve seen, a lot of people are jumping on the Cardinals’ bandwagon.”
Despite a close proximity to Las Vegas, Arizona has never been popular with bettors in this town. The San Diego Chargers are, but not the Cardinals. This is just the Cardinals’ second winning season since 1984.
“It’s just because of their lack of success,” Kornegay said when asked why the Cardinals have never been a hit in Las Vegas. “The Cardinals have never been a winner.”
That may change if the Cardinals continue to get takeaways and Fitzgerald keeps making big plays. Arizona is 11-0 this season when winning the turnover battle. The Cardinals had a plus 26 turnover differential in their victories, compared to a minus 17 turnover differential in their last seven defeats.
Fitzgerald has been sensational in Arizona’s three post-season wins catching 23 passes for 419 yards and five touchdowns. Warner has been sacked just three times in the playoffs.
Of course, the Cardinals haven’t had to go against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense. The Steelers finished No. 1 in most of the key defensive categories, including scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. They also placed second in run defense and second in sacks with 51.
Given Pittsburgh’s dominant defense and Arizona’s high-flying aerial attack, making a total wasn’t the easiest thing.
“The total was tricky” O’Brien said. “But Super Bowl inflation mitigates Pittsburgh’s defense.”
The Steelers hadn’t had a total listed above 39 in their past eight games. They could be without star wideout Hines Ward, who suffered a knee injury against Baltimore in the AFC title game.
O’Brien said oddsmakers recognize Ward’s importance to the Steelers, but did not make an adjustment on their opening number because of his injury.