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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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These linemen handle the largest assignment

Jeff Darlington The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel

Pick a number, any number. Make it meaningful one, something you really care about.

Your birthday? Good one. Anniversary? Understandable.

But now really put some thought into it: What digit will mean more to your life in the next two weeks than any other? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell your spouse.) Which number will help spark each of your next dozen conversations?

OK, now we’re talking. It’s the Super Bowl line.

It’s New England by 6 1/2 .

Somewhere in the shadow of the Las Vegas glimmer, less than two miles from the famous hotels and casinos, five men sat around a table last Sunday night with the task of providing that magic.

They convened, they discussed, they tweaked.

By the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game between New England and Pittsburgh, they had crafted the most sacred number in all of sports: the Super Bowl line.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a lot of pressure,” said Tony Sinisi, odds director for the Las Vegas Sports Consultants. “Once you’ve been doing this a while, it’s not a big deal anymore.”

Not a big deal? Sinisi’s firm provides the line to nearly 90 percent of the sports books in Las Vegas. His number ultimately decides the fate of more than $80 million, an amount that will be legally wagered within Vegas on this game alone. Some industry estimates put the total number of Super Bowl bets placed at online sports books in the $400 million range.

More money likely will be gambled on this year’s Super Bowl than any sporting event in history. Last year’s mark reached $81 million in Las Vegas, almost twice the amount gambled on the entire NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Experts expect this year’s numbers to creep higher.

“It’s a huge day,” said Golden Nugget sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich, who will take some of the city’s highest wagers, some exceeding $200,000. “It’s a huge event for the city of Las Vegas. It’s just a phenomenal weekend.”

Of course, that doesn’t account for the amount of illegal gambling that’s done, a sum so monumental it can’t be calculated. “Our numbers pale in comparison to the amount of illegal gambling on the Super Bowl,” Bogdanovich said.

That’s because unlike any other sporting event during the year, the Super Bowl isn’t about the professional gambler. It’s about the amateur. It’s about everyone and anyone, even those willing to simply fill in a square in the office pool.

“This is the one game of the year when the line is based on the general public, the amateur bettor,” said Cesar Robaina, a well-known Vegas oddsmaker who was tutored by the legendary Roxy Roxborough. “That’s the game when everyone has an opinion – whether it’s your grandmother, your neighbor or your uncle.

“Everyone wants to know, ‘So who are you taking in the Super Bowl?’ “

So, who are you taking in the Super Bowl? It’s a fine question. But what does it mean? After all, even if you’re “taking” the Eagles, you’re not necessarily picking them to win. That’s probably the biggest misperception about the line.

“We’re not predicting the outcome,” Sinisi said. “We’re trying to balance the action. We’re trying to even out two teams that might not already be even.”

It’s an oddsmaker’s job to make sure neither team is an obvious winner when the line is factored in. Oddsmakers want to make sure there’s the same amount of money bet on each “side” of the line.

“You have to put out a number that everyone thinks is the right number,” Robaina said. “You want it to be tough for someone to bet on either team. At the same time – it seems silly – but you don’t want to pick the exact number.”

Picking the exact number means the book ends up refunding a majority of the bets, a nightmare for a sportsbook. That’s what happened in the 2000 Super Bowl, when St. Louis defeated Tennessee 23-16 in a game the Rams were favored to win by 7.

So, how do the oddsmakers come up with the line, this all-important number? How do they decide how the public will gamble and which team will cover what spread? Surprisingly, it’s not as technical as you might think. The decision took less than 30 minutes at the LVSC offices.

“It’s not like you’re starting the first week of a college football season, where you have incoming freshmen and there’s a lot of unknowns on a team,” Sinisi said. “That can be a little stressful. But by this point in the NFL season, we have a solid idea of the strengths and weaknesses of these teams.”

Here’s how it happens: The LVSC has five oddsmakers devoted strictly to developing odds for NFL games. Before Sunday’s championship games began, the group already had created lines for each of the four potential Super Bowl matchups.

As it became clear Sunday that New England and Philadelphia would meet Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, each of the oddsmakers independently came up with their final line based on statistical analysis, historical significance and, yes, gut feeling.

Dan O’Brien, one of the five deciding oddsmakers, picked New England to win by 6. White, the boss of the crew, chose the Patriots to win by 3. Another picked New England by 6, another chose 6 1/2 and the final oddsmaker was torn between 5 1/2 and 6.

White then considered all of the input to create a final number – Pats by 6 – which was distributed to the clients.

O’Brien said he decided to pick New England by 6 because he felt Philadelphia is a stronger team than Carolina, New England’s opponent in last season’s Super Bowl. New England was favored by 7 in that game but failed to cover.

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