The Pros Behind the Prop Bet

The No. 1 appeal of props is instant gratification,” explains CG Technology Sportsbooks analyst William Bernanke

Weeknight revelry in Las Vegas rarely carries the same energy brought by the Friday-Saturday crowds, but this is Stanley Cup Playoffs season, and on this Tuesday night, the hometown crowd at the CG Technology Sportsbook at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is hanging on every pass, every goal, and every skirmish as the seconds tick away.

Although the game has not been officially decided, many of these fans are already victorious, having won their props bets early in the contest.

Years ago, Las Vegas’ bookmaking industry and its customers were forced to wait until the outcome to determine a winner or loser, but the proliferation of props has changed both sides’ approach to betting and widened its appeal beyond the seasoned gambler. 

Director of Risk Management Tony DiTommaso

The Thrill of [Early] Victory

“The No. 1 appeal of props is instant gratification,” explains CG Technology Sportsbooks analyst William Bernanke. “So many props pay off right away — some in the first 10 minutes — so you don’t have to wait three hours for a game to be completed.”

The outcome of most props can be decided “without controversy,” Bernanke says; and in many cases, they allow for bettors to rally around a favorite player, adding an emotional element to the game.

“[Props] create alternative ways to look at the game,” he says. “It plays into that fantasy aspect, where a bettor may not be interested in winning or losing, but interested in how well their player performs.”

Sportsbook Analyst William Bernanke

When Props Became Popular

The earliest prop bets emerged in the mid-1980s, according to CG Technology Sportsbooks Director of Risk Management Tony DiTommaso, who famously recalls the “Will ‘The Fridge’ score a touchdown?” prop during the Chicago Bears Super Bowl XX victory in 1986.

“The ‘Fridge’ prop was very cute,” DiTommaso says, “But for me, it’s more about which props are going to do some decent business.”

Much of that business, he adds, is done during the Super Bowl, which carries one of the smallest betting windows of the year – “Five days, maybe 10 if you get the props up early. It’s a limited time frame.”

But within that short window, bettors race to lay their bankrolls on the some of the season’s most famous props – everything from the coin toss outcome to MVP and “Will Player X score a touchdown?”

In 2019, roughly “40 to 45 percent” of the action taken at CG Technology Sportsbooks during Super Bowl LIII came from prop bettors, according to DiTommaso.  

“The year before we handled about 30 percent in props,” he says. “It actually went up quite a bit this year.”

Better Access for Bettors

DiTommaso credits ESPN and other cable sports outlets for exposing players to prop betting in the early days.

Now, it’s mobile betting that’s changing the game.

As newcomers are exposed to props through the CG Sportsbook app and others, the market is expanding beyond the “sharps” that already know how the game is played, DiTommaso says.

A player of any experience level who has the app on his/her phone can log in from anywhere in Nevada, view the props of the day, and place their bets.

“Having access to the app means they don’t have to go to the window,” Bernanke adds. “Technology goes hand in hand with the popularity of prop betting”

Creating the Perfect Props

The types of props available have gotten crazier in recent years – “How many plays will Tony Romo correctly predict?” was a real Super Bowl LIII prop – but sports books don’t employ a team of creative types whose only job is to come up with the most random outcomes or plays.

Like everything else in bookmaking, there’s a science behind the process.  

“You do a lot of math,” explains CG Technology Risk Supervisor Dave Sharapan. “For a ‘sacks’ prop, let’s say, you’re looking at teams that are similar offensively, how they performed against inferior teams, how many sacks did the teams average per game, etc.

“It’s like working in a restaurant and knowing how something is made but knowing that no one else wants to know, they just want it to taste good.”

And while props are getting more complex, the most popular ones are still the simplest.

“We laugh every year, but ‘Heads or Tails?’ is by far the most popular,” Sharapan says. “It’s an instantaneous result and requires no research, so anyone can play.”