What goes into making – and taking – a million dollar sports bet
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Do you ever wonder what it would be like to place a $1 million bet?
Well, keep wondering. Most of us will never know that feeling.
But on the other side of the counter, they do know what it’s like to receive such a wager. And to pay out on it, too.
It’s got to be a pretty major event for a sportsbook to take on that kind of action, usually the Super Bowl. That was the case for John Avello and his crew at The Wynn for Super Bowl 50.
“Yeah, we took one,” Avello, executive director of race and sports for The Wynn, told Covers.com.
So for us common folk, how exactly does that process work? Does a bettor just walk up to the counter, open a briefcase full of cash and get down on a game?
Not exactly. In fact, million-dollar bets – and often six-figure bets – almost never arrive as a surprise to the bookmakers.
“If a guy wants to make a $1 million bet, that’s usually predetermined,” Avello said. “He’ll call, or his casino host will call, and then I’ll talk to my boss. I get back to him in a very short period of time, and the answer is usually ‘yes’ on the Super Bowl.”
That’s because the whales who can make such a bet have likely already been vetted to the hilt.
“These are isolated incidents,” Avello said.
OK, so once the book gives the OK to the bettor, what’s next?
“What a lot of people do is wire the money in to the casino, then take race and sports chips from the casino cage and use those to make the bet. That’s usually the process,” Avello said. “He puts his chips on the counter, and we do the necessary logging, and he gets a betting ticket and we verify it.”
For Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology, again the bet itself doesn’t come out of the clear blue sky.
“The casino host reaches out to us, and it’s usually a couple-days process,” Simbal said. “No customer wants to be walking around with all that money.”
But the process from there is a little different for CG, which operates books at the M, Cosmopolitan, the Hard Rock Hotel, the Palms and the Venetian, among others.
“What we have here is account-based wagering,” Simbal said, adding that many high-dollar bets come from people who have long relationships with the casino and who have spent a great deal of money at table games and such. “We can see the account, we know the balances in all the accounts. You can see if potential high rollers have that money in their account.
“You have to be proactive and look at account balances, know what this person has done in the past and might do again, so that we’re prepared for it.”
Then there’s the payout process, something Avello is quite familiar with. He had to go through it with that lone Super Bowl bet after the New England Patriots held on for a 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
“He put $1.1 million on New England at -1, to cash $1 million,” Avello said of the big-time bettor. “In that case, you’ve got two options: either we wire your money back, or wire some of it back, and you take cash for the rest.”
So despite the massive payout, it’s a pretty simple process, though there are some trade-secret security measures involved. For CG, paying the winner is generally even simpler.
“They never even really need to come in,” he said, noting the winnings can be electronically moved into the bettor’s account.
Such major wagers can put the sportsbook in a bit of a liability bind, which is why Avello said the Super Bowl is ostensibly the only event for which he’d accept a $1 million bet.
“I wouldn’t take one on an NFL regular season game. I can’t fade that. It’s too big a bet in the regular season,” he said. “We want liquidity in the pot, and in the regular season, we don’t have that. With the Super Bowl, we have that.”
Simbal concurred with that logic.
“Typically, the bigger the game, you don’t have to reach nearly as far to get bettors from the other side,” he said. “On the Super Bowl, a really big event – the biggest in the U.S. – you have a lot of people who want to bet a lot of money.”
Where Simbal differs a bit is that he might write a big ticket on a regular-season game, though the circumstance must be pretty unique.
“We’ve had specific customers (who want) these tickets on random NFL matchups,” he said. “They have to have a good history and be good customers of the casino, as well – they have to have been customers for a while. It might happen once a season. It’s not common. It’s not like it happens every week.”
During the last World Cup of soccer, online sportsbook Pinnacle Sports offered $1 million limits on the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina – the biggest global betting event in sports today. And as far as how the process differs from making that sized wager online compared to in a casino, well it’s much easier than you’d think.
“I know people might expect this to be a major process, but there is literally no difference within our system between betting $10 and $1,000,000, aside from the zeros,” Pinnacle Sports head of their book told Covers. “Same mouse clicks, same procedure, same payment process. Our limits are based on volume, so if we’re offering $1 million limits, we’re ready to take those bets in much the same way we would any other max bet.”
There is always another big betting event and another whale willing to plop down a seven-figures wager, so John Avello might again have to pay out a pretty big bet at The Wynn, as he did on Super Bowl 50. But that’s not something that fazes the longtime bookmaker.
“For us, it was probably a couple million dollar swing,” he said of the Super Bowl setback. “We go from winning money to losing money. But when the game is over, I don’t say, ‘Oh, darn it.’ It’s more like, ‘That’s it. We lost the bet, move on.’ Because I’ve been on the right side of that, too.”
In fact, he had nothing but good feelings for the customer who plunked down the $1.1 million and survived on the stunning interception that sealed New England’s win.
“He cashed the ticket right after the game. I spoke to him,” Avello said. “He was a happy guy. Good for him.”
Editor’s note: This story was written by Patrick Everson, a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers.com, a sister site also owned by Tribune. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.