By Jared Max
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Gambling on the Super Bowl reminds me of boozing on New Year’s Eve. Even those who don’t partake the other 364 days tend to grant themselves an evening pass from purity. A box in a Super Bowl pool is like a shot of sweet, cinnamon whiskey on December 31. The same aunt or uncle who never takes a swig but consumes four jello shots before the ball drops in Times Square is probably the same person who, at around 7:30 on Sunday night, will ask, “Did I win the first quarter because I have a four for the Patriots and seven for the Seahawks?”
While the men’s NCAA basketball tournament holds the honor for creating more gambling addicts than any other American sporting event, the Super Bowl hoists the trophy for generating our most decadent, single-day betting bonanza.
The American Gaming Association estimated this month that Americans will make $3.8 billion in illegal Super Bowl bets. This figure reflects not only wagers made with bookies, but includes every bet that isn’t placed through a sanctioned gambling site — in Vegas or in cyberspace.
“Hey, Uncle Neal, I’ll take the Seahawks and one point for 50 bucks. We on?” Even this bet is illegal; our government is denied a cut. Yeah, I know. My heart bleeds for them, too — like it did for New York City’s budget during the recent police slowdown.
While the winners of the majority of Super Bowl bets will be determined by the final score — either through point spreads or over/under totals — a substantial number of wagers on Sunday’s game will be decided in goofier fashion: through propositional bets.
At Bovada.lv, gamblers can put their money where their mouths are to say whether or not Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will throw for more yards than the total number of cents the U.S. national average gas price will be on Monday, February 2 — the morning after Super Bowl XLIX.
We can bet “yes” or “no” to this question about the Super Bowl XLIX television play-by-play announcer: “Will Al Michaels refer to the point spread, total, odds on who wins the game or any prop bet?” This seems to be a no-brainer; Michaels weaves gambling storylines into his football broadcasts the way I make references to Rush and Seinfeld. But is it a sucker’s bet?
While this proposition seems to offer gamblers a better advantage at handicapping than choosing heads or tails for the opening coin toss, it comes with a potential catch. It is more like betting on jai alai than the lotto? When a Super Bowl prop bet is created based on an announcer’s prior in-broadcast gambling references, I have to assume that this announcer may bet on or against himself. While there is still a 50/50 chance for gamblers to win, there is a human element that could alter the odds. It is almost like betting on the Reds in 1987, not knowing if then-Cincinnati manager Pete Rose had doubled down on his team that night.
Whenever in doubt regarding a point spread, I refer to my “Vegas always knows” theory. The job of the oddsmaker is to create a line that will attract the greatest amount of action from both sides. When a proposed bet appears easy and too good to be true, usually it is. Conventional wisdom says that Michaels will mention gambling on Sunday. This is where the devil hikes the deflated ball under an illusion that it is properly inflated.
In this case, Vegas is begging us to bet that Michaels will go gambling gaga. Based on its current line, Bovada.lv will pay one-sixth the amount to winning bettors who wager against Michaels mentioning gambling — compared to those enticed by 2:1 odds that Michaels will inform us of the point spread, over/under line or how long it takes Idina Menzel to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Do you believe in miracles? Yes! Maybe Michaels won’t mention gambling.
Incidentally, I think that Seattle is going to win the Super Bowl by 10 to 20 points. My crystal ball (which is inflated to 12.5 psi) tells me that the Patriots will grab the lead early. I foresee a first-quarter lead of 10-3 or 14-7. But by late in the second quarter, I believe momentum will shift to the side of the reigning Super Bowl champions. I like the Seahawks over the Patriots on Sunday because I believe they are younger, stronger, faster and hungrier. They have been less distracted by “Deflate-gate” than their opponents. They might not be a dynasty like the Patriots were, but the Seahawks won on the largest stage a year ago and are unlikely to be overwhelmed playing in the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Seahawks 38, Patriots 20
Prediction: Marshawn Lynch will be the MVP and will become suddenly vocal during his postgame interview.
Prediction: As more sports people like Phil Jackson and former quarterback Jeff Blake discuss longstanding, widespread practice of deflating air from official game balls, the wind from Deflate-gate will subside, and the NFL will assume ball control.
Prediction: The winner of the 2016 U.S. presidential election will be he or she whose platform calls for every Monday following Super Bowl Sunday to become a national holiday.
By the way, if you want to modernize your Super Bowl gambling habits, create a box pool based on fantasy football. Instead of drawing 10 numbers (0-9) for each team’s point totals, pick 20 names from a hat. If your randomly select the coordinates that align with the names Lynch, Wilson, Brady or Gronkowski, you could win big.
Remember to be careful about what you share publicly regarding your Super Bowl gambling exploits. Oh, and unless you bet through a legalized sports book or casino, there are no dollars involved. It’s all about points. And, like my brother and I used to write atop the NFL parlay cards we ran in high school, it’s “For Amusement Only.”
Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.