Here’s the thing: because sports betting is illegal in most states, it’s impossible to determine precisely how much is bet on any sport or any particular game. Thankfully, it’s legal in Nevada so we have at least one reliable data point to get a view into the economics of sports betting. And we can use that data to get a sense of how much money one game – and one call – can impact.
In 2011, Nevada sports books handled $1.34 billion in football bets, according to our review of reports compiled by the Nevada Gaming Commission. That includes bets on college and NFL games. According to LVH Sportsbook director Jay Kornegay, football betting is pretty evenly split between college and NFL. So, based on that, we know that Nevada sports books handle approximately $650 million on NFL games over the course of the entire season.
Here’s what else we know: there are 256 regular season games and 11 post-season games. $650 million bet across 267 NFL games means the average NFL game generates about $2.4 million in total bets [a previous version of this post indicated the average was $5 million per game which was an error.] But that’s just an average. Some games – like the Super Bowl – generate a lot more than the average game. Last year’s Super Bowl generated $94 million in total bets in Nevada last ¬†year. Of course, other games, like a Sunday afternoon game between the Browns and Bills, for example, generate a lot less than average action.
Monday Night Football games, though, certainly generate higher than average betting action because they are only game going and are always televised nationally. Given this, it’s likely the Packers/Seahawks game generated approximately $12 million in betting action across all Nevada sports books. Now, this is an estimate (an informed estimate, but an estimate nonetheless) so it’s quite possible that the actual handle was $8 million or $16 million.
But let’s keep going with the analysis.
According to Vegas Insider, 72% of the bets in the Packers/Seahawks game were on Green Bay -3. Keep in mind, this is an estimate of the bet count, not the money count. But according to nearly every sports book representative, including Dan Shapiro who works for William Hill bookmakers, most action (bets and money) was on Green Bay tonight.
Jay Kornegay at LVH estimates 70% of the money bet on this game was on the Packers -3. Using this 70% estimate, the controversial touchdown call on the final play of the game swung approximately $10 million away from bettors and into sports books coffers.
See, if the last pass was ruled an interception, the Packers would have won and covered. Sports books would have paid out approximately $7.6M in bets to Packers’ bettors and won about $3.6M from Seattle bettors for a net loss of $4M. But the pass was ruled a touchdown. The Seahawks win. And cover. Instead of paying out $7.6M in winning bets, sports books only have to pay out $3.2M and get to keep the $8.4M bet on the Packers. The result: a profit of $5.1 million.
So, this single call by a replacement referee resulted in a $9.2 million swing from bettors to sports books. And that’s just in Nevada.
How much betting money was affected worldwide as a result of this call? It’s impossible to know. It’s certainly an order of magnitude bigger as there is substantially more illegal gambling across America (and offshore) than there is legal betting in Nevada. It could be that this one touchdown call affected $75 million in total bets worldwide. Or $150 million. Or $250 million. No one can possibly know.
The only thing we know for sure: the outcome of every NFL game swings millions of dollars between bettors and bookies and this game was one of the more dramatic swings in NFL history.