Forget who wins. Now you can wager on play calls, even the anthem.
When the Indianapolis
Colts battle the Chicago Bears in Miami this weekend, an estimated 60 million people (a similar number of Americans voted George W. Bush into the White House) will have as much as US$6 billion riding on the outcome. That's more than the gross domestic product of at least 77 countries.
Without question, Super Bowl Sunday is the most popular sports betting day of the year. Legal bets in the U.S., using sports books in Nevada, totalled US$94-5 million last year. That’s about 1.6 per cent of all wagers. Another US$500 million was bet online (most Internet gambling sites operate offshore to get around strict U.S. betting laws). And the rest was through bookies, in office pools or between friends over a bottle of Bud Light (if the experts are right, all those little $5 and $10 bets really add up).
Bill Thompson, author of Gambling in America, says about 90 per cent of Super Bowl bets are based on the point spread (Indy is favoured by seven) and the over/under (will the Colts and Bears score more, or less, than 48.5 points combined?). Side bets—known in the gaming business as proposition, or prop bets—make up a large portion of the rest. These focus on very specific events, on and off the field, that are not directly related to the final score. They keep the game exciting for everyone—from the average fan to the hard-core gambler looking for ways to diversify and multiply his winnings.
Many of the side bets—available through sports betting websites and Nevada casinos—are football-related: which team will win the coin toss? (It’s been reported that Janet Jones Gretzky wagered US$5,000 on the flip one year.) Will the first play of the game be a pass or a run? Which coach will call the first time out? Will the first botched field goal (if there is one) miss left or right?
Other prop bets are downright absurd. They range from the colour of the Gatorade poured on the winning coach’s head to whether Indy’s QB Peyton Manning will have more rushing attempts than the Dixie Chicks will win Grammy Awards this year. A couple of years ago one website had an over/under on how long it would take Beyoncé to sing the Star-Spangled Banner (those who bet under 2 minutes and 37 seconds walked away with thicker wallets). Last year, the Rolling Stones’ decision to begin their halftime show with Start Me Up paid 35 to 1 (Brown Sugar
had been the 10 to one favourite). “This year, they could do, ‘Will Prince play with his genitals during the halftime show?’ ” says Thompson, a professor of public administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, odds on a wardrobe malfunction during halftime make most online lists.
While prop bets have been available in
THE ROLLING STONES’ DECISION TO OPEN THEIR HALFTIME SHOW WITH ‘START ME UP’ PAID OUT 35 TO 1
Vegas for years, they’ve exploded in popu-
larity with the rise of Internet gambling. (There were only a few dozen sites a decade ago. Now there are more than 2,000.) In Canada, where it is illegal to accept a bet on a single game, hundreds of millions a year
are wagered legally on sports through provincially run sports lotteries like Pro-Line. Online prop betting is a bit of a grey area, but experts say that isn’t stopping Canadians from taking part.
Since most prop bets don’t require a great deal of football knowledge, Thompson considers it a game for the foolish. “The serious bettor is not in a guessing game,” he says. “They’re in a calculating game.” Not so, says John Avello, director of race and sports operations at the Wynn Las Vegas casino resort. “Some serious bettors shop around town for
the weak spots,” says Avello, whose team generated 150 prop bets for the big game. “They look for bookmakers who have put up something too silly, or, in their opinion, who just made a mistake.”
Avello says the most famous prop bet dates back to Super Bowl XX in 1986. Casinos gave great odds (Caesars Palace was offering 20 to l) to anyone willing to bet that the Bears’ 326-lb. defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry would score a touchdown against New England. Sure enough, late in the third quarter, with the Bears up 37 to 3, Perry was sent out with the short-yardage team and blasted through the defence for the one-yard score. The TD cost the Vegas strip an estimated US$100,000, and Perry became the heaviest player to score a Super Bowl touchdown. Odds are, nobody placed a bet on that. M
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