A $3 million parlay, and a huge bet that nearly backfired

  • Joined ESPN in 2014
  • Journalist covering gambling industry since 2008

Last Tuesday, according to DraftKings, an unidentified bettor risked $3 million on a three-leg parlay featuring the following: Georgia to win the SEC East division; Alabama to win the SEC West division; the Packers to win the NFC North division.

If successful, this bet would pay out $8.6 million, a $5.6 million net profit for the customer.

It’s the largest parlay bet that Johnny Avello, DraftKings’ sportsbook director and a 30-plus-year Nevada bookmaker, has ever taken. And it’s certainly among the biggest ever placed with a U.S. sportsbook — and it may not even have been the most interesting bet of the week.

On Thursday, a bettor at the William Hill sportsbook at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas placed a $240,000 money-line bet on heavily favored BYU to beat Texas-San Antonio straight up. The Cougars were favored by 34.5 points. To bet BYU to win outright on Saturday, the bettor had to put up $240,000 for a chance to make a $3,428.55 profit.

UTSA took an early lead and was within one possession late in the fourth quarter, but ultimately lost 27-20.

The bettor won $3,400, a 1.4% return on their investment in three days. To quote from the classic poker film “Rounders,” “Pay that man his money.”

Another way to look at such a unique bet is, “Holy bleep! They bet $240,000 to win just over $3,000. What the heck were they thinking?” It turns out, though, that giant money-line bets on large favorites aren’t that unique in Las Vegas.

“This happens way more than anyone really thinks,” Dave Sharapan, a former Las Vegas bookmaker at CG Technology sportsbooks, said of big money-line bets placed on heavy favorites.

Details regarding the BYU bet are slim. We know the what, when and where, but not the why or by whom. Only a select few know the true thinking behind risking $240,000 for a chance to win $3,400.

Some believe it has to do with reward club points for casino comps and hotel upgrades. Others suspect something more nefarious: money laundering. A customer has illicit funds and is looking to clean the money through an unsuspecting sportsbook. But that seems unlikely — or extremely dumb — says Mac Verstandig, a Las Vegas attorney who specializes in gambling cases.

“If this were a laundering effort, it would be absolutely horribly done,” Verstandig said.

In the past, when Verstandig has seen instances of suspected money-laundering efforts with sports betting, he says it normally involves a team of bettors betting both sides of games on the point spread, willing to pay the typical 10% vig to eliminate the risk of the favorite losing.

“If someone had $240,000 in somewhat illicit funds, and they had a runner that could walk into a Las Vegas sportsbook without arousing suspicion with that amount, BYU, until kickoff yesterday, seemed like an incredibly safe bet, and it gets you the return of your principle into reportable, taxable income, which is what you want from a laundering point of view,” Verstandig said. “It just sends up more red flags than a May Day parade at Tiananmen Square.”

Sportsbooks, like typical financial institutions, have to follow know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering protocols, and relationships are established with customers who place large wagers.

Sharapan didn’t know the specifics of the BYU bet. But during his years behind the sportsbook counter, he saw plenty of big money-line bets on prohibitive favorites. He’s seen customers carry cash into a sportsbook in a duffel bag to place big bets, but says most often they are handled with wire transfers to the casino cage or through a VIP host.

“Someone bet a house on BYU to win the game,” Sharapan said, “and it may never occur to that person that they could lose — until it does.”

Here is this week’s edition of Notable Bets, our look at storylines from sportsbooks around the nation.

NFL

• The Raiders’ upset of the Chiefs produced the biggest win Sunday for multiple sportsbooks. The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas said the Raiders winning outright was one of the book’s most profitable games of the season so far. “Very high-volume game, with so many money-line parlays and teasers to the Chiefs,” John Murray, executive director for the SuperBook, told ESPN.

• More money was bet on Raiders-Chiefs than any other game Sunday at sportsbook PointsBet. It was also the most profitable game of the day for PointsBet, followed by the Giants covering the spread in a loss to the Cowboys, and the Dolphins’ upset of the 49ers.

• The Cardinals’ 30-10 rout of the winless Jets produced one of the books’ biggest losses of the day. At BetRivers sportsbooks, only 6% of the money bet on the game (point spread and money line) backed the Jets.

• Since the 2018 season, the Jets are 12-24-1 against the spread, the worst ATS mark in the NFL. They have yet to cover the spread this season.

• “[It’s] basically a struggle to take a bet on [the Jets] regardless of the number,” John Sheeran, sportsbook director for FanDuel, told ESPN.

• “Up and down” was how multiple sportsbooks described Sunday’s results. “We probably lost more games than we won with public sides like the Cardinals, Steelers, Rams, Ravens, Texans, Browns all covering,” Murray said, “but we won the really big games.”

• The sportsbook at The Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey, reported taking a $100,000 bet on the Panthers +4 for the second half of their game against the Falcons. The Panthers led 20-7 at halftime, and appeared poised to cover the spread in the second half before Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo made a 54-yard field goal with four seconds to play, making the final score 23-16.

• DraftKings reported taking a $5 bet on Steelers receiver Chase Claypool to score at least three touchdowns on Sunday, at 150-1. Claypool finished with four TDs, three receiving, and the bettor won $755.

• BetMGM said it took a $290,000 bet on the Seahawks -6.5 versus the Vikings in the Sunday night game.

Nearly 80% of the money bet on Vikings-Seahawks was on the Seahawks at PointsBet. The lopsided action on the Seahawks continued after kickoff, too — PointsBet reported early live betting on them after the Vikings jumped out to a 10-0 lead. The Seahawks won the game, but by just one point, 27-26.

• Vikings running back Dalvin Cook scored the first touchdown of the game against the Seahawks. FanDuel had boosted Cook’s odds to +750 to score the game’s first TD, a promotion that a company spokesperson said cost the sportsbook more than $1 million.

• The chances of a team being forced to forfeit a game due to a violation of league protocols on COVID-19 seem to increase each week. A forfeit, while recorded as a loss on a team’s record, would have different impacts on season win total bets, depending on the sportsbook. Here’s a couple examples of how sportsbook rules address forfeits, but check your book’s house rules:

At BetMGM, the house rules stipulate that teams must play all scheduled games for the bets in the season wins market to be honored. If a game were to be forfeited, all impacted season win market bets would be refunded.

At William Hill, a forfeited game would count as a win or a loss in terms of season win total bets.

College football

• Las Vegas sportsbook Circa Sports opened with Alabama as a 5-point favorite over Georgia in Saturday’s prime-time SEC showdown in Tuscaloosa. The line grew to Alabama -7, before settling back at -5.5 on Sunday afternoon. The total on the game had more dramatic early movement, growing from the opening number of 49.5 to 55 within the first three hours after Circa posted it.

• Florida opened as a 14-point favorite over visiting LSU. That line quickly dropped to -11 by Sunday afternoon.

• Two of the three largest college football bets FanDuel accepted on Saturday were on Florida to cover the 5.5-point spread against Texas A&M: $49,000, and $25,000 on the Gators -5.5. A&M won 41-38.

NBA

• The Lakers were favored in each of their 21 playoff games en route to winning the NBA title. According to ESPN Stats and Information, they are the fourth team in the past 30 seasons to be favored in every playoff game, followed the 2016-17 Warriors, the 2014-15 Warriors and the 1995-96 Bulls.

• The amount wagered on Sunday’s decisive Game 6 between the Lakers and Heat attracted a similar betting handle to an average NFL game at the SuperBook.

• The SuperBook said any money it won on the NFL on Sunday, it lost on its NBA title futures market. The Lakers attracted more bets and more money to win the NBA title than any other team by far at the SuperBook.

• “Hats off to the bettors on this one, they bet [the Lakers] from the beginning,” Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill U.S., told ESPN.

• The Lakers have already been installed as the favorites to win the title next season as well.

Odds and ends

• $206.8 million was bet with Indiana sportsbooks in September, the most in a month since the state authorized sports betting in the same month last year. Statewide, Indiana bookmakers finished up a net $14.2 million during the month. Bettors did get the best of the books in September at the sportsbooks at Caesars Southern Indiana (-$109,488) and Horseshoe Hammond (-$280,245). Those were the only two casinos to report a net loss on sports for the month.

Here is the breakdown by sports via the Indiana State Gaming Commission:

Football (college and pro): $48.4 million
Basketball: $34.2 million
Baseball: $30.5 million
Parlays: $50.6 million
Other: $43.1 million

• $72.4 million was bet in September with Iowa sportsbooks, who won a net $5.2 million during the month.

• A new interactive video conferencing platform centered on sports betting, BettorView Live, is prepping to launch in the U.S., showcasing betting odds, point spreads and win probabilities, and even helping place your delivery order. Think Zoom for friends wanting to watch and wager on a game together.

The BettorView Live platform, virtually toured by ESPN last week, is the result of a partnership between two tech companies, Edison Interactive (EI) and BettorView, formerly known as KonekTV. BettorView content can currently be found in 1,000 venues nationwide, and there are partnerships with restaurants and sportsbooks like Hooters and William Hill, respectively.

Ultimately, BettorView Live aims to include direct integration into sportsbook partners’ betting apps, and allow for live streaming of professional sports.

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