In the waning seconds of Super Bowl XIII, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Butch Johnson.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter, except that the 14 points the Cowboys scored in the final 2 minutes, 20 seconds of the game are footnotes of the Steelers’ 35-31 win.
Folklore in the annals of NFL history, it’s also known in Las Vegas casinos as “Black Sunday.”
The final score was perhaps just one of three Super Sundays in the 50 years of the game, where bettors got the better of Sin City oddsmakers.
Next week, Super Bowl LI will be held in Houston, with New England taking on Atlanta. New England is favored.
But the game that put Super Bowl betting on the map was that 1978 Vegas nightmare.
“The Cowboys are a big reason we have the kind of betting on Super Sunday that we have today,” legendary oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “It was just one of those things where the line moved throughout the week and the result just couldn’t have been worse for all of us.”
Some early lines had the Steelers favored by one-and-a-half points to open the windows.
As money poured in on Pittsburgh, oddsmakers moved their lines in order to entice Cowboys fans to play the other way.
By the time the line had moved to as much as the Cowboys getting four and five points at various casinos, early bettors were able to hedge their plays by taking the Cowboys and the five points.
That created what’s termed as “the middle” in Vegas oddsmaking. With the Cowboys storming back with garbage scores in the final minutes, the 35-31 outcome meant Vegas lost heavily on both sides of the game.
Vaccaro, now at South Point Hotel and Casino, lost just $200,000 at his little Royal Inn sportsbook.
But big books, like the former Stardust casino, lost close to $2 million and estimates put Vegas on the short end as a whole by close to $9 million.
In what seems to be an annual climb now, Vegas casinos booked some $132 million, a new record, last season on Denver’s win over Carolina.
By comparison, Vegas took in around $56 million for the Cowboys’ win over Buffalo in 1993.
On a global scale, Bovada’s Nick Bogdanovich said around $6 billion to $7 billion is wagered legally and illegally around the world.
“I was in the business in 1986 and remember then that we had just the line, the total and then a second-half money line,” he said. “Now it’s to a point that we have so many pages of prop bets that we have to weed out the garbage ones.”
Anywhere from 300 to 500 prop bets — novelty bets or side bets — will be available when booking windows open for Super Bowl LI.
“Prop bets now make up about 40 percent of the casino’s tickets for the Super Bowl,” Bogdanovich said. “There are certain ones that draw big action, too, like will a team score a 2-point conversion, will there be a safety or overtime. And if there will be a score in the first 6 minutes of the game is a very popular bet.”
Originally used as marketing gimmicks to bring new bettors into the casinos, prop bets have taken on a life of their own.
“A lot of folks have Super Bowl parties and want to have some kind of reason to watch the game even if they don’t have interest in either team,” Vaccaro said. “They’re looking for the higher-impact bet as well.
“Betting against the line or the total is something for the ‘wise guys,’ the professionals that have been doing it a long time. But people who don’t play regularly are looking to turn that small bet into a big win, and so the prop bets are the best for that.”
According to BoydsBets.com, Vegas casinos booked $70 million in Dallas’ 1996 win over Pittsburgh.
That was a 78 percent ($30 million) jump from 1991 and hasn’t been seen in any five-year period since.
Still, the rise of betting has been steady and lucrative.
In addition to “Black Sunday,” Vegas casinos have only been on the wrong side of the numbers twice since 1991: San Francisco’s 49-26 win over San Diego and the Giants’ 17-14 win over New England in 2008.
A betting chance
Fans can bet on just about anything involving Super Bowl LI. Veteran oddsmaker Jim Murphy of sportsbettingexperts.com has a few categories for thought. Negative number is how much you have to bet to win $100. Positive number is how much you profit if you bet $100.
Will the team that wins the opening coin toss elect to ‘defer’ and receive the ball to open the second half?
Will the opening kickoff be returned for a touchdown?
Will the opening kickoff be a touchback?
Longest field goal?
Over 45.5 yards: -125
Under 45.5 yards: +105
Shortest field goal?
Over 24.5 yards: -125
Under 24.5 yards: +105
Will there be a missed field goal in the game?
Will there be a missed extra point (PAT) in the game?
Which team will score the first field goal?
Atlanta Falcons: +105
New England Patriots: -125
Will either team score a field goal in the first quarter?
Will a kicker or punter win the Super Bowl MVP Award?