When Jay Kornegay began his career at the Imperial Palace Race & Sportsbook in the late 1980s, Las Vegas books generally had a only a handful of Super Bowl 'props' on their board as novelties for their customers. But times have clearly changed, as props are now big business, often making or breaking a book for the big game.
The credit has to go to Kornegay, the director of race and sports, and his staff at the IP, who have revolutionized the way people bet on the Super Bowl. Although many in the industry try and duplicate the IP's formula for success in the area of props, Kornegay always manages to keep his book in front of the pack as the worldwide leader.
Estimates indicate more than $70 million is bet each year in Nevada on the Super Bowl. Kornegay says that 60 percent of his Super Bowl business comes from props betting and that his book is among the top five in Las Vegas each year in tickets written for the big game. Other books with big limits and high-rolling casino players may bring in more handle, but the IP has as long lines at the betting window as anybody on The Strip.
"For the game itself, I think we have won one game in the last five years," says Kornegay. "The props were designed - not only to get us publicity - but to spread the money out. We didn't just want one big decision for the day; we want 10 or 20 big decisions. Our chances obviously are better if we have 20 major decisions compared to one."
When Kornegay started at the IP in 1988, the book was like many others in Las Vegas that offered a limited number of props for the Super Bowl. At the time, he remembers making friendly wagers with members of his staff on scored points by certain players in the NBA Finals. At one point, he decided to put a few of these options on the board to gauge customer interest. Clients took the bait and the rest his history. Props betting has put the IP, which is dwarfed by some of its bigger neighbors on The Strip, on the map in the sports betting industry.
"When everybody else was putting up 12 (props), we were putting up 30, and now it has come to - when most places have 30 or 40 -- we are looking for somewhere from 180 to 190 props for this Super Bowl," says Kornegay. Creating nearly 200 props is no easy task. Kornegay and four or five other staff members spend three consecutive days after the championship games putting together the props. The team gets together as a focus group in order to come out with solid numbers. Members of the staff come to the session with their own number on a particular prop and then the group hashes it out until they agree on a set number.
"We just discuss it until we pound it out," he adds. "Believe me, it could be a couple bottles of Tylenol and sometimes it is very frustrating and we have to take a break because that is what I want them to do; I want them to argue it out. Even though I made it a 'pick'em and the other guy made it a -160, I mean it might be -160 if he makes a good point. I don't have a huge ego so that it needs to be closer to my line or anything, I just want to make the best possible line that we can to put us in the best possible position at the conclusion of the game."
Since the Super Bowl is the biggest public betting event of the year, Kornegay's lines are set for public consumption. Public bettors, he says, are going to bet on teams and players to succeed, so most of the money is going to be bet on the 'positive' side of a prop. According to Kornegay, this is the only NFL game of the year where he doesn't have to set the lines with the professional bettors in mind. The professionals, he adds, do bet on props but the handle taken in from the public masses that flock to Las Vegas during Super Bowl weekend far outweighs the smart money.
Although the public tends to bet with their hearts rather than their heads, Kornegay admits that he has taken some big losses on props. In 2001, during Super Bowl XXXV, there were widespread rumors that the Ravens would defer the kickoff to the Giants if they won the coin toss in order to put their dominating defense on the field first. Even though there is an NFL rule against such an action, the public believed that there was no way the Giants would not get the ball first. Kornegay saw heavy action on this prop and the Giants ended up winning the toss and getting the ball first. "The game hadn't even kicked off yet and we were already down quite a bit," he says.
Kornegay also has to be very careful when posting the rules for his props. Last year one of the most popular bets was the over/under for tackles Tampa Bay DT Warren Sapp would have against Oakland. Since Sapp does not accumulate a lot of tackles during the regular season, the IP set the number at 1 ½. Sapp was credited with an early tackle and a sack towards the end of the game. The rules clearly stated that sacks were not counted toward this particular prop, but many of his customers were irate. Kornegay was forced to contact Elias Sports Bureau, the official stat keeper for the NFL, for confirmation that sacks and tackles were counted separately. Every year, he says, there are some situations like this that arise.
"We don't want to mislead anybody," he comments. "The last thing I want to do is be arguing with all these people at the end of the game. We really try and cover every possible angle."
The IP usually adds approximately 10 props every Super Bowl. Kornegay stays with the successful ones and he likes to try out some new ones every year.
"We only want to put ones out there that are going to receive some action," he says. "There is nothing more disappointing than doing all of your work on a prop and looking in there and no one has bet it. We want people to be intrigued and we want people to bet into these things. I want (the customers) to enjoy it."