Super Bowl 2024: Vegas legend Billy Walters sizes up the big game for you

Billy Walters loves the Super Bowl. Loves it.

“I don’t know if there’s any better source of entertainment,” the renowned gambler and Vegas icon says, “even if you’re not a bettor.”

Oh, but if you are a bettor? It’s nirvana.

“If you’re a professional gambler,” Walters told Yahoo Sports this week from Radio Row, “it’s the best opportunity in the world. You can bet a lot of money, there’s an enormous market and the lines rarely move.”

Walters, a Vegas fixture, has spent a lifetime watching lines, calculating odds and making plays, and he’s done exceptionally well doing so. He claims a 57 percent win rate on regular-season NFL games, and in the Super Bowl, he’s fared even better. Why? Well, let him share some of his advice.

“I make it real simple,” Walters says of Super Bowl betting. “I look at the quarterback, the defense and the kicker, in that order.”

So let’s have him break it down.

1. Quarterback: Mahomes > Purdy

“Quarterback is undoubtedly the most important [factor] of all,” Walters says. “I don’t remember many Super Bowls like this, where you’ve got the experience [Patrick] Mahomes has got, but Brock Purdy has never been on a stage like this. I think he’s going to be a little like a deer in the headlights.”

2. Defense: Go with the data

“[San Francisco’s Kyle] Shanahan and [Kansas City’s Andy] Reid may be even, but defensive coordinators are night and day,” Walters says. “Frisco has a guy in his first year [with San Francisco, Steve Wilks] who’s average at best … Kansas City’s defense is not as good as Baltimore’s but it’s pretty damn good.”

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3. Kicker: Avoid the rookie

“Kickers — in the regular season they’re important, in the Super Bowl, they’re super important,” Walters says. “KC has one of the best kickers [Harrison Butker] in the game. Frisco’s got a rookie [Jake Moody] who’s shaky at best. … I’d hate to have him lined up for my money.”

All these factors, to Walters’ mind, make Kansas City a better than 2-point favorite, a contrast to the prevailing lines, which have San Francisco as a 2-point favorite. “In a regular-season game, I could make Frisco a 2-point favorite,” he says, “but in the Super Bowl, I look at things a little bit differently.”

In his book “Gambler,” a deep dive into the often-harrowing, often-exhilarating life of a professional gambler, Walters documents the intensive preparation that goes into setting his own personal line for each Super Bowl, from assessing injuries to judging coaches to considering the field to assessing the moment to a thousand other variables. He devises a series of ratings to predict his own spread, and then wagers the prevailing lines accordingly. (He generally avoids prop bets, calling them “a smorgasbord of … sucker plays.”)

And oh, has he suffered in the Super Bowl trenches. He once had a $4.2 million swing — going from losing $2.2 million to winning $2 million — on a single play, and you can probably guess which one it was: the Malcolm Butler interception to seal Super Bowl XLIX against the Seahawks. (He cuts then-Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll a break, too. “New England had Vince Wilfork in the middle. It wasn’t any cinch that Marshawn Lynch was going to score.”)

His worst bad beat? Walters doesn’t hesitate. “When Arizona played Pittsburgh,” he says, referring to Super Bowl XLIII. He’d wagered $850,000 on Arizona +4 to end the first half, and the Cardinals were down 10-7 but on the Steelers’ 1-yard line with 18 seconds left in the half. The Cardinals could score, kick a field goal, or even do nothing at all, and Walters was set to win the bet.

Super Bowl historians know what happened next. Pittsburgh’s James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner’s pass on the goal line and rumbled the length of the field to put the Steelers up 17-7 as time expired on the half. Bet: lost, in the most painful way possible.

Pittsburgh's James Harrison runs a 100-yard interception for a touchdown to score as time ran out in the first half as the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, Sunday, February 1, 2009.  (Photo by Terry Gilliam/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Pittsburgh's James Harrison runs a 100-yard interception for a touchdown to score as time ran out in the first half of Super Bowl XLIII in 2009. (Photo by Terry Gilliam/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“I still have nightmares about that,” Walters says with a laugh.

Walters has the bankroll, and the connections, to make six- and seven-figure bets. Your average visitor to a sportsbook likely doesn’t have that kind of juice. Every year when Super Bowl week wraps up and the weekend rolls around, sportsbooks begin releasing data on huge bets placed on one team or another. Walters encourages a bit of skepticism before believing every million-dollar bet you see on social media. “So many of these things out there are exaggerated or not true,” he says.

For amateur gamblers like the millions expected to throw down money on Sunday, whether with a sports book, a casino or a family-room Super Bowl party, Walters offers the same advice he’s taking himself: “K.C. Take the points or take the money line. That’s a great bet.”