By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Las Vegas casinos are the latest to see the New England Patriots as villains since their share of what is expected to be a record-setting year for Super Bowl wagers will increase if the Atlanta Falcons prevail.
An upset victory by the Falcons, who are a three-point underdog for Sunday's game, would be much more favorable for the house than if the Patriots were to claim their fifth Super Bowl title since the bulk of bets are backing New England.
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"Most of the time we are going to need the underdog in this game and this year is no different, especially since it's the Patriots versus a Falcons team that doesn't really have a traditional huge fan base," Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sport operations at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, told Reuters.
"I know that there is this love-hate relationship that we have with New England but most of the general public will bet on the perceived better team and in this case it's New England."
The Patriots are a perennial contender and led by one of the NFL's all-time greatest quarterbacks in Tom Brady but a constant cloud seems to hang over them given a spotty past that includes scandals popularly known as Deflategate and Spygate.
Sports bettors wagered a record $132.5 million in Nevada on last year's Super Bowl, easily surpassing the previous high of $119.4 million set in 2014.
"It's an event that really sells itself. It really doesn't matter who's involved in it," said Kornegay. "Sports betting is more popular than ever and topping that list is betting pro football and we expect a new record this year even though that was quite a spike that we saw last year."
The American Gaming Association (AGA) expects Americans to bet $4.7 billion on the Super Bowl, up 11 percent from last year. Nearly 97 percent of those bets, or $4.5 billion, will be wagered illegally, according to the AGA.
While billions will be wagered on the Super Bowl, only a portion of the funds will be devoted to the actual winner or on the game itself.
Aside from more traditional bets, gamblers can take a chance at proposition bets, like deciding which team will score first and what color liquid will be poured on the winning coach.
Among some of the more unique proposition bets are how many tweets U.S. President Donald Trump sends during the game and what color Lady Gaga's hair will be at the start of her halftime show performance.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)