LAS VEGAS -- Sports books in Las Vegas have made the San Francisco 49ers a favorite in the Super Bowl over the Baltimore Ravens based on the team's solid record and popularity with sports fans.
Oddsmakers gave the 49ers an early 4½-point handicap and put the total score at 49 points for the Feb. 3 game in New Orleans. This means gamblers who bet on the Niners will collect only if they win by a margin of victory surpassing 4½ points.
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In addition to betting on the victor, fans can put money on whether the total points scored during the game will fall short of or exceed oddsmakers' predictions.
Jay Kornegay, race and sports book director at The LVH casino, said his book made the 49ers a 4½-point favorite and quickly moved the line to 4 points as bettors gambled on the Ravens.
"The 49ers have been a sexy team all year," he said. "The Ravens don't get a lot of respect from the public, but that bandwagon is getting a lot more supporters as we speak."
The 49ers beat the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game Sunday afternoon, rallying in the second half after falling behind by 17 points. The Ravens defeated the New England Patriots for the AFC championship later that night, with Joe Flacco throwing three touchdown passes in just over 10 minutes.
Oddsmaker Benjamin Eckstein of America's Line said he made the 49ers a 4½-point favorite to encourage action on both teams.
"San Francisco is what we call a very public team because they've been very good over the past couple years, and people just like to bet on them," said Eckstein, who provides betting lines to more than 100 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. "The 49ers have done very well against the spread this year, so they've made people a lot of money."
The Super Bowl is the most popular betting event of the year in Las Vegas.
Last year, sports books made the New England Patriots three-point favorites to win the Super Bowl over the New York Giants, but the Giants won 21-17. Fans bet $93.9 million at Nevada casinos on the matchup -- the most wagered in the past decade -- and sports books made $5 million on the action, according to data from the Gaming Control Board.
Oddsmakers say average fans bet far more money on the Super Bowl than professional bettors -- making conventional wisdom all-important in setting betting lines.
"The Super Bowl is the one game all year where the public's money dominates the action," Kornegay said. "That's why we have to gear this line toward the public perception."
Johnny Avello, director of race and sports at Wynn Las Vegas, opened the 49ers as 5-point favorites. He said he expected heavy betting with a competitive underdog and a sibling rivalry narrative inspired by brothers John and Jim Harbaugh coaching the two teams.
"Baltimore's kind of dangerous. And you've got two brothers playing against each other. It makes for a good matchup," he said.
Avello said he planned to spend Monday watching footage from past games and devising what he said will likely exceed 200 proposition bets on the game, everything from total passing yards in the game to which team will win the coin toss or which team will make the first turnover.