How a Las Vegas oddsmaker forever changed Super Bowl betting with the 1st prop bet

1986: William 'The Refrigerator' Perry
Tracing the rise in popularity of Super Bowl prop bets in Las Vegas
Tracing the rise in popularity of Super Bowl prop bets in Las Vegas
Posted at 5:28 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 16:01:14-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The Super Bowl is not only the most-watched sporting event in the U.S. every year, but it's also the biggest betting event of the year.

The outcome of the game isn’t the only thing bettors are watching.

Many have bets laid out from beginning to end, known as proposition bets, or "prop bets" for short.

At the sportsbook at the South Point hotel-casino, this year's Super Bowl prop sheet is 10 pages double-sided, with more than 300 propositions to bet on.

But, it wasn't always that way.

For nearly 50 years, Jimmy Vaccaro, an oddsmaker at the South Point, has been setting point spreads in Las Vegas, but one bet he set was a gambling game changer.

"It’s the biggest asked question when we talk about prop bets. How did it start?" said Vaccaro, who is credited for being one of the first oddsmakers to ever propose a prop bet.

For that story, you've got to go back to 1986 to Super Bowl XX between the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, when Vaccaro, who was working at the MGM. at the time, allowed people to bet on the unlikely proposition that William "The Refrigerator" Perry would score a touchdown in the big game.

"Who in the hell would think he would score a touchdown, especially with Walter Payton in the backfield!? I think we opened at around 60 to 1 [odds] Perry would score a touchdown," recalled Vaccaro.

"And naturally, I got my butt kicked pretty good at the MGM," he said. "I think I lost $45,000."

The birth of the prop bet may have cost Vaccaro on that day, but it would lead to much bigger wins for sportsbooks in the years to come.

"If people didn’t bet it, it would’ve stayed there, but it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger," said Vaccaro, describing the meteoric rise in popularity of prop betting.

"From where it was to where it is, it’s a monster."

Today, fans have hundreds of potential props to bet on, everything from who will win the coin toss to who will be named MVP of the big game.

"For first-timers or people who just do this once or twice a year, they will come to town, they’ll bet their team, but they’ll bet about eight prop bets," said Vaccaro. "$10 or $20 [each]."

"What that does is, you’re engaged for the entire game," he explained. "How many yards did he get on this rush? How many yards did he throw on this pass?"

"A fumble, a safety," continued Vaccaro, "whatever, you are inclined to have a great time at a cheap price."

However, in Nevada, there are some props you can't legally bet on, like the time it takes to sing the national anthem or the color of the Gatorade shower for the winning coach.

"We can’t use anything that’s not determined on the field of play without a backup. We can only do the stuff that can be validated from the NFL," said Vaccaro.

But, there are still plenty of props to bet on, and Vaccaro only expects these bets to get bigger and better in the years to come.

"We have doubled the number of tickets and money we’ve written in the same time span last year as opposed to this year, so far. So, it’s just getting bigger," said Vaccaro.

According to the South Point sportsbook, the Kansas City Chiefs enter the Super Bowl as three-point favorites over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Vaccaro said he expects more than half of the overall money wagered on this game at the South Point this year to be in the form of prop bets.