Gamblers is a podcast about men and women who live by their wits and wagers. People who bet big on themselves, and won. From golf and chess hustlers to a Super Bowl handicapper, Season 2 focuses on the fascinating lives of professional underground gamblers and how they make their money.
In Las Vegas, Rufus Peabody is nothing short of a legend. For the last week, ever since the odds on Super Bowl LVI prop bets went live, Rufus, his brother Tom, and the rest of his team have been hammering every sportsbook they can get a bet with across Vegas and around the world. And now the big day is finally here. A hallowed day. An American tradition.
All over the country, family and friends gather for friendly Super Bowl parties. In Los Angeles, where the Rams will face off against the Bengals, 70,000 lucky and/or rich fans will make their way to SoFi stadium. And in Las Vegas casinos, where people flock to make bets on the game—bedlam.
Tom and I are at the Westgate SuperBook again, and it’s as crowded as I’ve ever seen it. It feels like Mardi Gras, with live bands, people in costumes, the whole place vibrating with excitement.
The lines to bet are long. Like, Space Mountain long. But unlike on props day when everyone could make only two bets and then had to go to the back of the line, on Super Bowl Sunday guys like Tom don’t have to wait in line at all. VIPs—and really anyone with two-hundred large in their backpack willing to bet it all qualify as VIPs—are allowed to skip the line.
Today is game day, and today is going to be different. It has to be, because when it comes to Super Bowl props, game day might be the most important betting day of all.
Most of what Rufus and his team want to bet are unders, meaning players will get fewer yards or tackles or points than the totals set by the bookmakers. The public, however, typically hates unders. We don’t want to bet that something won’t happen. We want to bet that something will happen. We like to bet overs. Which means that by game day, and really the closer to the game the better, the bookmakers will move the lines ever so slightly up, to try to attract some action on the unders.
For people who want to bet overs, Rufus says bet early. If you want to bet unders, wait as long as you can.
But waiting until the last minute creates a real pressure-cooker situation, which is heightened when you’re in a chaotic Vegas sportsbook or in the middle of the desert, with spotty cell service, trying to bet on your phone while directing an international team of hundreds of people, and all before your laptop battery reaches zero percent.
Four hours later at kickoff, the team has made hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional bets, pushing the total to over $2 million.
Before the game even begins, several prop bets have already been won or lost. There were props offered on how long the national anthem would be, the color of the performer’s dress, and—of course—the result of the opening coin toss. You don’t need a computer model to know the true odds of a coin toss, or that the vig makes it a bad bet. As you might guess, bets like this are not a part of Rufus’s portfolio. But year after year, the coin toss is one of the most popular props in Las Vegas.
The team reassembles on the top floor of Rufus’s building, which he has rented out to host his team and all their friends for a watch party. Aside from the breathtaking view of the sunset over the Las Vegas Strip and the Spring Mountains, the setup is a fairly modest and typical Super Bowl party complete with pizza, chips, dips, and booze.
But from the opening kickoff, it’s clear this is no typical Super Bowl party.
The opening kick resulting in a touchback nets Rufus $10,000—the first play out of 130 different plays that the Rams and Bengals would run during the game, each of which will net a win or a loss for Rufus and his team. Despite the win, Rufus does not relax.
“I basically want nothing to happen,” Rufus says. “But at the same time, I still need there to be more than nine points in the first quarter. I don’t want field goals, but I don’t want the game to be tied again afterward, and I don’t want both teams to lead in the first half. It’s basically like … the whole game bad things are happening, even if you win.”
There are still hours left of this football game. And every single play—and I do mean every single play—has something riding on it.
To hear the full Rufus Peabody story, click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2. The excerpt above is from Part 2. And be sure to follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new Gamblers episodes. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.