2020 betting in review: Bad beats, crazy parlays and the most-bet event (it wasn't the Super Bowl)

Frank Schwab
·6-min read

Sports betting became legal in Colorado this May. There was more than $25 million bet on sports the first month, and the most bet-on sport was ... table tennis. There was about $6.6 million bet on ping pong, almost four times more than any other sport.

We all know 2020 was weird, and it was in the sports betting world too. Thanks to games going away due to coronavirus, we learned about Bundesliga, handicapped table tennis and made Korean baseball a thing. Sportsbooks even had a losing month, which almost never happens.

It was ironic: Sports betting was available to more people than ever before thanks to states voting to legalize it, and there was nothing to bet on. Sports did come back, and we adjusted to things like no fans in the stands and teams being forced to play a practice-squad receiver at quarterback due to players going on the COVID-19 reserve list.

It was odd but there were still highlights. Let’s look at some of the biggest moments during a crazy year in sports betting.

Sports betting was available in more states than ever in 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Sports betting was available in more states than ever in 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The event that took the most bets wasn’t the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is always a betting holiday, and this year’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers was a fun one. Bettors even scored big on Patrick Mahomes winning the first player to score prop.

However, that Super Bowl wasn’t the most bet-on event of the year at BetMGM. That was the Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury boxing match on Feb. 22. Fury scored an upset on a TKO. Don’t tell bettors that boxing is dead. The next three highest-bet games of the year were all NFL regular-season games, and one had a ridiculous beat that we’ll get to in a bit.

The biggest wins of the year

Someone out there will be an Iowa State football fan for life.

One of the two biggest wins on a straight wager at BetMGM the entire season on a game was on the Cyclones. A bettor put $550,000 to win $522,500 on Iowa State to beat Texas on Nov. 27 at -105 odds. And that bettor had a sweat for the ages. The Longhorns led until 1:28 left when Iowa State scored. The Cyclones won 23-20 when a last-second field goal attempt by Texas missed.

There was another winning bet of $550,000 to win $522,500, on Kansas State-Baylor over 44.5 on Nov. 28.

The biggest NFL win was crazy too. A bettor put $500,000 to win $510,000 on the Minnesota Vikings at -0.5 over the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 29. The Vikings fell behind due to the Panthers scoring on fumble recoveries on consecutive plays. A muffed punt late in the game seemed to put the game away. But Minnesota held to a field goal, and Kirk Cousins led a drive that ended with Chad Beebe scoring his first NFL touchdown with 46 seconds left for a 28-27 win. That story will be told many times over the years.

Here were the biggest single-bet wins in other sports at BetMGM in 2020:

NBA: $71,881 to win $165,327 on Nuggets +230 vs. Clippers, Sept. 15
MLB: $164,309 to win $427,203 on Los Angeles Angels vs. Astros +260, Sept. 6
College basketball: $440K to win $462K on Gonzaga -16 vs. Auburn

Iowa State Cyclones players and coaches run onto the field after the tying field goal was missed by the Texas Longhorns. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Iowa State Cyclones players and coaches run onto the field after the tying field goal was missed by the Texas Longhorns. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The best parlay of the year

We’ll split this award between two crazy parlays that paid off. One was a build-a-bet parlay at BetMGM on the Houston Rockets-Portland Trail Blazers game on Dec. 27. Every one of the 10 legs was a player prop. They all hit, turning a $10 bet into a $15,000 win:

  • Damian Lillard over 8.5 assists

  • James Harden over 10.5 assists

  • Christian Wood over 22.5pts

  • C.J. McCollum over 18.5pts

  • Danuel House Jr. over 9.5pts

  • Lillard over 30.5pts

  • Harden 40+pts

  • Wood over 11.5 rebounds

  • Derrick Jones Jr. over 4.5 rebounds

  • P.J. Tucker over 6.5 rebounds

There was another parlay at BetMGM that turned $9 into a $139,543 win. All nine of these legs hit on Sept. 12: Arkansas State +450, App State under 59.5, Coastal Carolina +185, Duke +20.5, Georgia Tech +325, North Carolina under 65.5, Iowa State under 56.5, UTSA +200. Unbelievable.

The biggest win for the book

Bettors have had their moments this season, including some hot streaks on the NFL. But the books are going to win too.

The biggest in in any game for the books this year came on Nov. 15 when the Baltimore Ravens faced the New England Patriots. That was the fourth biggest game of the entire year in any sport, in terms of the amount of money bet on it. Most of the action was on the Ravens, who struggled in the rain and fell 23-17. The Patriots have been bad this season but came through for the sportsbooks that night.

The worst beat of the year

The second biggest win of the year for the book was a bad beat for the ages. After the Wilder-Fury fight and the Super Bowl, the third most-bet game of the year was the Seattle Seahawks at the Philadelphia Eagles game on Nov. 30. The line moved through the week but it landed on Seattle -6.5.

The Seahawks had that bet wrapped up all night. Or so it seemed.

With 12 seconds left, the Eagles scored on a desperation pass that was batted back to Richard Rodgers, who made a crazy one-handed grab in the end zone. The Eagles trailed 23-15 after that touchdown, and an extra point wouldn’t affect bettors.

That’s not what happened. Doug Pederson went for the 2-point conversion, stunning bettors. Miles Sanders ran through a disinterested Seahawks defense for the easy conversion, and the Eagles lost 23-17. That ruined all Seahawks -6.5 tickets. It was an unbelievable bad beat.

But hey, at least there were games to bet on.