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From the Super Bowl to Bryce Harper’s MVP to a 25-game parlay: recapping the biggest sports betting moments of 2021

Written by corres2

The sportsbooks always win, so it wasn’t a profitable year for everyone in sports betting, but it certainly was colorful. From Bryce Harper helping to cash MVP tickets to the Eagles easily going over 6.5 wins to that excruciating half-million-dollar college football parlay in October, there have been plenty of eye-raising moments in 2021.

Here are some of the biggest highlights, lowlights, and most outrageous action from the year in sports wagering and a sneak peek at what is to come in 2022:

FanDuel’s odds on the Eagles next head coach had Robert Saleh favored at +200. Next was Mike Kafka at +450. Then it was Kellen Moore at +500, Brian Daboll +650 and Eric Bieniemy +650.

The eventual hire, Nick Sirianni, wasn’t even on the board. But Nick Saban was at +5000…

Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl, and his first with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a good day for the sportsbooks as action generally leaned toward Kansas City (-3.5) and over (54.5), though there were some big winners on the Bucs. DraftKings paid out $3.46 million on one Tampa wager while BetMGM forked over $2.3 million on another. The ‘books also took some lumps on futures bets as the Bucs were popular with the addition of Brady.

Drexel’s men’s team, seeded sixth, won its first Colonial Athletic Association tournament. The Dragons then were awarded a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament where they were 23.5-point underdogs to top-seeded Illinois. They lost, 78-49.

“The only thing I knew about Drexel is there was a guy named Bruiser Flint who was their coach for a while,” joked Nick Bogdanovich, then-director of trading for William Hill-US sportsbook.

Optimism was sky-high as 98% of the handle at Rivers’ Pennsylvania ‘books on the Phillies’ win total was on over 80.5 victories. They went 82-80. Bryce Harper was around 15-1 to win MVP when the season opened.

» READ MORE: Bryce Harper’s case for Cooperstown

  • Medina Spirit’s win in the Kentucky Derby was tarnished by the presence of a banned therapeutic substance detected in his system. The victory stood and paid $26.20 to win. The exacta of Medina Spirit (12-1) and Mandaloun (27-1) paid $503.60. Medina Spirit died of a heart attack in December.

  • Phil Mickelson stunned the golf world by winning the PGA Championship while one DraftKings bettor cashed a $1,000 ticket at 300-1 odds.

  • The SuperBook in Vegas released lines for all 17 Eagles games shortly after the NFL schedule was released. They were underdogs in 14, including as 3-point ‘dogs in Week 17 against Washington. The Eagles entered the week favored by 3.5 points instead.

Odds on where Ben Simmons would be traded hit the board. The Trail Blazers (+250) opened as favorites, with the Wizards (+300) and Spurs (+450) just behind. Of course, Simmons remains in limbo as a absentee Sixer.

  • Regulated U.S. books took extended Olympic sports action for the first time ever. “We’re so confident in our line for say Game 6 of the NBA Finals, whereas fencing and water polo, we don’t have the same amount of data or betting activity,” said Jay Croucher of PointsBet. “It’s kind of like old-school bookmaking where we put up a number as best as we can make it based on the information available, and we just move aggressively off of sharp money that comes in.”

  • The over/under on where Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl would be selected was 39.5. He was taken at No. 32 by New York and traded to Oklahoma City.

  • The Eagles’ preseason consensus win total was 6.5. They are 8-7 with two games remaining.

» READ MORE: Here are the Eagles’ and opponents’ win totals, and Super Bowl odds (from May 2021)

Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown boldly announced that he would bet all of his game checks on Jets wide receiver (and former Ole Miss teammate) Elijah Moore to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Moore had a couple of nice games, but was never in the hunt.

  • The Sixers’ preseason win total was 51.5. They entered the week on pace for 42 victories.

  • The NFL allowed sports wagering commercials during its regular-season games for the first time ever. They were the last of the four majors to permit such advertising during games.

  • New Jersey became the first U.S. state ever to surpass $1 billion in sports-betting handle in a single month.

  • The U.S. finished off its rout of Europe in the Ryder Cup by going 7-3-2 on the final day. A FanDuel customer correctly picked all 12 matches in an $8 parlay — including the two ties! — for a payout of $966,290.

  • Renowned Houston businessman “Mattress Mack” Jim McIngvale would have won $35.6 million if the Astros had won the World Series. Among the $3 million he laid during the season was one play of $2 million when Houston was 10-1. It would have been the largest single payout in regulated U.S. sports wagering history. “Obviously the Astros would be our worst-case scenario,” said Craig Mucklow, Caesars’ VP of trading, before the postseason. Atlanta beat Houston in the World Series in six games.

  • The Braves, 50-1 on Aug. 1, won their first World Series in 26 years

  • Kudos to the player who put up $1,000 that Jets quarterback Mike White would be the league’s leading passer in Week 8 at 125-1. White threw for 405 and the bettor collected $125,000 — $75k more than White’s game check that week.

  • Alabama’s football team was an underdog for the first time in six years when they met Georgia in the SEC Championship. Despite being 6.5-point underdogs, Alabama rolled UGA, 41-24.

A monster 25-leg parlay was hit at Caesars. The $25 wager, consisting of 15 college/NBA money lines and 10 college spread lines, paid $237,553.11.

  • Video highlights provided through Twitter helped correct the final score of Illinois State’s 81-71 win over Chicago State. Official scorers had overlooked a made free throw by ISU in the final minute and originally posted the final as 80-71. The missing point was important as Illinois State was laying 9.5.

  • A surge in COVID-19 positive tests played havoc with NFL rosters and kept oddsmakers up at night. The Eagles line against Washington, whose quarterbacks were besieged by positive tests, swung from -2.5 to -12.5 to closing at -9.5 when the game moved to a Tuesday. “The market keeps moving … ” said Tom Gable, sportsbook director at the Borgata. “It’s insane, but who knows how many guys Washington will even have available.”

  1. New York expects to launch mobile sports betting in mid-January with aspirations to be humming for the NFL playoffs. Will be curious to see how New Jersey, which has the highest handle of any state, is impacted by its neighbors adding mobile wagering.

  2. Pregame spreads and totals are the most talked about, but in-game wagering will only continue to grow — and saturate the television viewing experience.

  3. COVID-19 is sure to make Olympics betting a quagmire.

  4. NFL futures this spring could hang on what Green Bay decides to do with Aaron Rodgers. Is 2022 the year they transition to Jordan Love? And, to a lesser extent, whether Russell Wilson remains in Seattle.

  5. Whether sportsbooks ever post how much they’re willing to accept from customers on various bets. Too often the limits seem arbitrary and stacked against successful/professional bettors. If the blackjack table can post its bet range (i.e. $10-$1,000), the same should apply to sports betting.


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