Super Bowl proposition gambling: It’s about more than just the game

Prop bets grow wider than the ‘Refrigerator’

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Whether you believe it will snow at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday night or Renee Fleming will wear black gloves while singing the national anthem or blue Gatorade will be poured on the winning coach at the conclusion of the game, there’s a bet for that.

As Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos nears, the proliferation of unusual bets, known as props, available to the betting public has increased. They have brought a different dimension to betting on the game, especially for those whose hunches carry far past the outcome or the point margin.


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Proposition bets can be traced back to Super Bowl XX, when, in 1986, the MGM Grand asked bettors whether William “The Refrigerator” Perry would score a touchdown in the game. The Chicago Bears and coach Mike Ditka had been using the 6-foot-2, 335-pound defensive lineman as a lead blocker on occasion during the season, and though he was unsuccessful in his first goal-line appearance in the first quarter against the New England Patriots, he ran 1 yard for a touchdown with 11:38 to play in the third quarter.

The sports book got hammered on the bet, which opened at 40-1 odds but moved to 5-1 before kickoff. The frenzy that resulted from Perry’s touchdown, and the casino’s loss, popularized the offbeat style of betting, which returned the following year and has grown ever since.

The LVH SuperBook has pioneered prop bets over the better part of the past three decades and has crafted more than 350 unique bets for Sunday’s game, including whether a team will score four consecutive times, whether Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin will run the ball or whether the jersey number of the first player to score a touchdown in the game is higher or lower than 79.5.

Because of Nevada gambling regulations, Las Vegas sports books aren’t able to take bets on Super Bowl periphery, including wagers tied to halftime performances or remarks by television broadcasters.

That’s where offshore sports books step in. Bovada, an online book licensed through the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec, has posted more than 500 prop bets for Sunday, allowing people to place bets on things as simple as the temperature at kickoff or which hit single halftime performer Bruno Mars will play first or how many times Archie Manning, the father of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, will be shown on the Fox broadcast.

“Aside from that, what’s getting a lot of attention this year is, being an outdoor venue, we posted, ‘Will it snow during the game?’” said Bovada head oddsmaker Pat Morrow, who spoke by telephone this week from the Caribbean island of Antigua. “That’s been an interesting one for us, because that’s something we’ve really had to pay attention to each day with the long-term weather forecast, and as we get closer to the game, those weather forecasts become more and more accurate, so we’ve been able to raise our limit as we get closer to kickoff on Sunday and the forecasts become a little bit more reliable.”


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Morrow and six others began crafting the list of prop bets Monday, the day after the conference championships, before making wagers live later that day. The sports book doesn’t limit itself to the unusual; bettors also can make traditional wagers on the game itself, with the Broncos listed as three-point favorites and the over/under for combined points set at 47.

A properly set line is crucial for sports books to be able to make their cut of the money, and that can be tough with an evenly matched game such as the one expected Sunday. Many sports books opened the day after the conference championships with the Seahawks favored by one, or even two, points; the line shifting the other way over the past 10 days indicates that much of the money has been wagered on Denver.

Because Bovada caters more to the general public looking to make a casual bet than the hard-core bettors, or sharps, Morrow didn’t put a line on the game itself until late Monday — well after many other sports books posted theirs.

The Super Bowl is one of few events that cause even casual sports fans to place wagers. Brian Lytle, a 46-year-old information technology consultant from Allentown, Pa., has run a pool over the past decade for the big events: the Super Bowl, the NCAA tournament, even the college bowl season.

The list of prop bets available online still hasn’t enticed Lytle, who has never bet with a sports book and organizes the pools for only an extended group of friends in order to add a degree of appeal to the game.

“You’re not winning any big money or anything,” said Lytle, who again will organize a Super Bowl squares pool, which relies heavily on random chance. “It’s more just for fun, and kind of just for the camaraderie and throwing jabs at each other. It makes the game more interesting.”

Regardless of the outcome of the game, the sports books often end up as the big winners. Morrow projects Bovada to take in an amount “in the low seven figures” because of all the action on the prop bets. That’s just a fraction of the amount of money expected to be wagered worldwide on Sunday’s game. According to The Linemakers, a website devoted to covering sports betting, a record $98 million was bet on the Super Bowl through Las Vegas sports books last year.

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