LAS VEGAS – Super Bowl Sunday here is all about lines, the ones you stand in to give the casinos your money and the ones that determine whether you get any of it back.
It starts early and ends late, and anything can happen, especially if you cross the lines.
4 a.m.: Some 11 hours before kickoff of Super Bowl LI, bettors formed a line at the shiny, red 24-hour sportsbook inside the Venetian. The two ticket writers took their money, mostly small bets on the hundreds of proposition bets. Some of folks were up early to beat game-day lines; others had not gone to sleep yet. The book won’t take bets from anyone completely plowed, but that’s tough judgment call at this point.
8 a.m.: Several dozen bettors are standing in line at the sportsbook at the MGM Grand, including one gentleman in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and a stocking hat. He’s ready for all weather conditions.
9 a.m.: A few miles down the Strip from the MGM, just outside the Mirage, the Budweiser Clydesdales are lined up, enjoying beautiful February weather, with temperatures in 60s and plenty of sunshine. Inside the Mirage, vice president of race and sports Jay Rood has not arrived yet for work.
9:30 a.m.: The line at the Venetian remains a dozen or so deep.
10 a.m.: Rood has arrived just in time to see the over/under on the Super Bowl start to plummet. Influential bettors have decided 59 is too high and take aim at every book in town. By the time they’re done, the highest total in Super Bowl history is no longer that. It is bet down to as low as 56.5.
10:30 a.m.: The biggest bet Rood says he’s taken on the Super Bowl is $485,000 on the Patriots.
11 a.m.: The line at the Wynn stretches down the wall under the odds board and to just outside of the book. A seat at the adjacent bar requires a $75 minimum drink purchase per person.
11:30 a.m.: The line at the sportsbook at the Aliante Hotel & Casino Is 50-deep, stretching to back of the book.
12:30 p.m.: The Guardian Angel Cathedral sits just off of Las Vegas Boulevard, a half a half-block north of the Encore hotel. Attendance for mass on Super Bowl Sunday is lighter than normal, much lighter than the overflow crowds that attend masses when big boxing matches are in town.
Some in attendance this Sunday are sporting football jerseys. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s No. 12 is there. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s No 21 is represented, and even a retro Los Angeles Rams jersey of Eric Dickerson’s No. 29. No Atlanta Falcons jerseys were spotted.
Often, tickets of winning sports bets are left quietly in the offering plate, which on this Sunday is a dark brown, leather basket.
As the service concludes, Father Tom Montelaro greets people on their way out the door. A man in an Oakland Raiders jersey jokes that he hopes Father Montelaro will pray for the team to find a home in Las Vegas, as he heads out the door.
2:30 p.m.: The line to bet at the Westgate SuperBook is hundreds deep, stretching from out front of the counter all the way down the wall underneath the giant oddsboard and wrapping around behind the bar.
Standing alongside the wall is Richie Baccellieri, a longtime Las Vegas bookmaker who some might know as the Pencil. Next to Baccellieri is iconic Vegas oddsmaker Roxy Roxborough, who, per usual, is dressed to the nines in a tailored suit, complete with his name stitched on his shirt cuff. Roxborough just stopped in looking for a price on a horse, before heading home for his wife’s guacamole.
Baccellieri is now an executive for Stadium Technology, which provides modern bookmaking software to the majority of sports book operators around town, including at the Westgate. He heads back into the office of the SuperBook, where his clients sportsbook managers Ed Salmons, Jeff Sherman and Randy Blum are glued to the computer screen, watching thousands of dollars roll in on everything from the Super Bowl point spread to the coin flip.
“Rich was the king,” Salmons says. “I remember when I first started as a teller, you’d go to Richie’s place at Caesars, it was like the greatest place in town.”
Baccellieri, a 52-year-old from the Bronx, spent 25 years behind the counter at various Las Vegas sportsbooks, including stops at MGM, Caesars Palace and the Palms. He took that experience and teamed up with a software expert to develop Stadium Technology’s product. But he misses the action at the sportsbook and thinks about one day returning to run a book.
“I’m not doing anything now,” he jokes, while looking at the mob of bettors at the betting windows. “This is work.”
Baccellieri says he does not miss the meetings with bosses after a weekend.
“I don’t miss the second-guessing that occurs,” he says. “But I do miss the business.”
He also misses the bettors, including the celebrity gamblers.
In 2000, ahead of Super Bowl XXXIV between the favored St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans, Baccellieri was running the sportsbook at the MGM Grand. Actor Joe Pesci on the property for the ESPYs and was hanging around the book in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. Baccellieri kept pestering Pesci to bet, but the actor didn’t like the point spread sitting at Rams -7. Finally, Baccellieri offered the Pesci a deal. “I told him I’d give him ½ point either say,” Baccellieri recalls. Pesci accepted and took the Titans +7.5. The Rams prevailed 23-16, causing refunds for most customers.
After the game, Baccellieri was visiting with his boss in the baccarat pit, explaining the results. “I was telling him it wasn’t too bad, all things considered,” he says. “Then, Pesci stands up and yells, ‘Richie, you gave me a half a point. I had the only winner!’”
2:45 p.m.: The line to bet at the Wynn is hundreds deep and stretches out into the casino. At the private party in the spacious Lafite Ballroom, hamburgers, brisket sliders, chili with prime rib meat, macaroni and cheese with assorted toppings highlight the buffet. Country-western singer Toby Keith is in attendance. He trips over a plant, but keeps moving.
3:25 p.m: Former President George H.W. Bush flips the coin. It lands on tails, much to the dismay of the bettors, who had combined to risk close to $100,000 on the coin toss. The majority of the action was on heads.
6:40 p.m.: Finally, New England scores its first touchdown late third quarter, only to have kicker Stephen Gostkowski bang the extra point off the right upright. It’s a costly doink for Caesars Palace, which offered a proposition bet on “Will a PAT or field goal hit the goal post?” Despite some early sharp money on “No,” Caesars Palace finished with 89 percent of the bets on “Yes” at +425. “Caesars Palace got crushed on this prop,” Caesars sportsbook director Frank Kunovic puts out on twitter.
7:06 p.m.: New England is mounting its comeback, but still trails 28-20. Because the betting action had been so even on the game, a 31-28 Patriots win, which would result in a push on the side and the over/under total, is the worst-case scenario for books. That score is looking more and more like a possibility. A text message comes in from a bookmaker: “Super Bowls are like four hours of torture. I’d rather be waterboarded.”
7:40 p.m.: The Westgate SuperBook is electric. Screaming Patriots’ fans, having just watched their team complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, are now lining up to cash their bets. The line stretches from the front of the book, down the wall and around the bar in the back. SuperBook vice president Jay Korengay is moving people through quickly, but the line is still hundreds deep two hours after the end of the game.
A mother-daughter combination from Rhode Island is ecstatic. “I parlayed Pats and the over,” says mother Linda Dubois. “I won $720.”
“We had faith in (coach Bill) Belichick and (quarterback) Brady,” adds daughter Deborah Boisclair.
Ralph Vacca of Needham, Massachusetts is one of the first out cashier’s line and is carry $15,000 in cash.
“I was bumming out,” Vacca said, thinking back to the Patriots being down 28-3. “I almost ripped up the ticket, but I said, ‘you know what, you just never know.” Patriots, you never count them out.”
Over at the sportsbook at Santa Fe Station Casino, one patron isn’t quite as thrilled by the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and hurls a beer bottle, knocking a small hole in the new multi-million-dollar video wall that was just installed last year ahead of the NCAA basketball tournament. Luckily, damage is minimal and easily repaired. In fact, repairs were already underway Monday, according to a company spokesperson.
8 p.m.: The line for a cab outside of the Westgate is 50-people deep. A group of devastated Atlanta Falcons fans decline to comment. People are drunk. “Did you see that dude just walk right out in the street and fall on face?” the cab driver says. “Let’s get out of here.”
9:19 p.m.: The South Point sportsbook still has a crowd, some more welcome than others. An armed robber points a gun at a sportsbook employee and demands money. According to Las Vegas police, the suspect grabs the cash then proceeds to run out into the valet area, where he confronts another casino employee, before being apprehended by security.
10 p.m.: The line to cash winning tickets at the Westgate SuperBook remains 100s deep.
--ESPN staff writer Dave Tuley contributed reporting to this article.