LAS VEGAS (AP) — The clock had ticked down to zero, and Minnesota fans were already deep into a celebration like no other.
In this city’s legal sports books, though, the outcome was still in doubt.
An extra point that wasn’t needed had to be attempted anyway. New Orleans players had to be brought back from the locker room to make a token effort to defend it.
In the minutes it took for the Vikings to finally line up and take a knee, many bettors who wagered on the point spread didn’t know whether to stand in line to cash their tickets or tear them up and toss them in the garbage.
“Millions and millions of dollars exchanged hands when they kneeled down at goal line,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, oddsmaker at the South Point hotel.
One of the most unimaginable endings in a playoff game made for some dicey moments in sports books around Las Vegas. While bettors on the money line either cursed or celebrated the final touchdown play, those who bet the point spread weren’t sure whether they were winners or losers.
If the Vikings had kicked the extra point, those who took the Saints at plus 5 1-2 points would go from winners to losers. Those who had the Vikings minus the points would swap places with them.
Just another playoff Sunday in a world where it’s not so much who wins, but which team covers the spread.
“When that play took place, the ones that knew they won were headed to the cashing line,” said Jay Kornegay of the Westgate Las Vegas sports book. “Then the reality of the extra point came into play and everybody started talking about what they were going to do.”
The game capped a weekend that for the most part was spectacular for sports books, which won big on Jacksonville’s, win over Pittsburgh and also cashed in on Philadelphia’s home underdog win over Atlanta.
Though many books lost money on the Vikings game, they would have been even worse off without the final touchdown because so much money was bet on the Saints to win straight up on the money line.
“We did really well overall,” said Nick Bogdanovich of the William Hill chain. “We just murdered those two games, Jacksonville and Philly.”
Things would have been even better had Tennessee not scored a meaningless touchdown in the final seconds that pushed the game against New England past the over/under and rewarded bettors who tend to favor the over in most games.
“In our world all those games came down to the last second,” Kornegay said. “Even in the one blowout the total was hinging on the last drive by the Titans.”
Oddsmakers said they had packed houses for both games, thanks to a strong economy and the exploding popularity of sports betting. Wagering on the NFL is up again this year, and most bookies say they expect a record Super Bowl handle, no matter which teams make it to the big game.
At the South Point, Vaccaro said he judged the crowd by the line at the hot dog cart, which was 25 long most of the weekend.
“All I can tell you is the handle is through the roof,” Vaccaro said. “We did as much on the two games each day as we do on a full plate of NFL on a regular season Sunday. It’s incredible to see.”