Your Bowl Betting OptionsThe Super Bowl, America’s biggest unofficial holiday, is the perfect antidote for the winter blahs which permeates most of the country during the sun-shortened days of January.
But even as Super Sunday is an excuse to party hearty, it also represents the greatest amount of action betting on any single sporting event on the bookmaker’s calendar.
In Nevada, where sports gambling is legal, sportsbooks handled a record $77.3 million on the Super Bowl in 1998, but that handle has dipped each succeeding year since.
Now, billions of dollars are diverted from Nevada’s books to licensed offshore sportsbooks, and to illegal underground U.S. bookmakers.
While three decades of betting the big game have steadily increased our appetites for action, most bettors are no longer content playing a side or a total. Even the wiseguys look for exotic wagers where they can squeeze out an advantage.
With the public demanding more diversified action, the books have stepped up to the plate, big time. Today a plethora of proposition bets are offered in Vegas and offshore that tickles the public’s fancy as well as challenges sharp punters during the days leading up to the Super Bowl and throughout the regular season.
These props run the gamut from bets keyed to one-on-one competition between marquee players at skill positions, to off-the-wall brain teasers, or crossovers that link S.B. action to other sports: Will Shaquille O’Neal score more points than the winning team? Will Tiger Woods be more strokes under par than the number of completions by one of the quarterbacks?
The propositions offered to the public are limited only by the substance-enhanced imaginations of the oddsmakers who dream them up.
Competition is fierce, and the books view these props as genuine money makers with a hold as high as 50 percent. Some bet shops offer propositions with a 30 or 40 cent line, locking in a juicy profit for the house.
But despite the bookmakers’ machinations, there are still value opportunities for shrewd bettors, as well as casual/recreational players. We’ll break down the major categories of prop bets, and what to look for to get an edge.
Super Bowl props fall into three categories:
(1) Dumb luck plays that cannot be handicapped and require only guesswork, and/or a rooting interest on the part of the player.
Although the house has a big advantage, who cares if you get entertainment value from your action? Winning is a bonus.
But don’t settle for the same old, same old. Surf the Internet, going only to reputable, old line shops or well funded newer books. One way of judging a book is by the quality of its site and amount of advertising it does. It doesn’t take much of a budget to market via the Internet, so if you’re undecided about where to play, look at the books that take out print ads.
Signing up for a new account during the Super Bowl hype can be worthwhile since many books offer outrageous incentives to get your business.
Check out these typical offers from last year’s Super Bowl marketing frenzy at offshore books. One book offered: 50% bonus on first deposit; deposit $100, get $50 match play bonus free; deposit $200, get $100 match play bonus free.
This is from another shop: Pick 10 out of 10 correctly and win $20,000. Pick 0 out of 10 correctly and win $1,000 (and take a break from handicapping for a while).
Here’s an example of a promotion that one bookie ran that would not entice the smart money, and that should be avoided when betting props:
Both teams will have the lead in the second half … yes, +160.
Both teams will have the lead in the second half … no, -220.
That prop has a 60 cent line, which is simply unbettable at that price. By shopping you can find that, and many similar wagers, with more reasonable vig of 20 cents to 40 cents.
(2) Plays that can be handicapped.
These should be bet as soon as they go up, because the lines will move, and the advantages to a sharp bettor will disappear.
These bets either match two players vs. each other, with a handicap – such as total passing yardage, Brady +40 yards -110, Warner -40 yards -110 – or simply an over/under such as total rushing yardage: Marshall Faulk 112½ yards, over -110, under -110.
These props are frequently put together hastily and by shopping around you will find variations – which reflect the bias of the oddsmakers at different books – that give you an edge, or maybe even an opportunity for a middle.
The assiduous shopper will inevitably find some juicy mistakes made by the books. Here’s a play we pounded at a sleepy book in the 2000 Super Bowl between the Giants and Baltimore: A prop on Tiki Barber had an over/under on his combined rushing and receiving yardage of somewhere in the 90s. This was a reasonable number, given his regular season performance standards. EXCEPT, he had an injured forearm, and the coach had stated publicly that Barber would not be his usual integral part of the offense.
I made several limit bets on this easy winner, spacing them out and being careful not to be so greedy as to alert the book to its blunder.
Prop bets are usually available by Wednesday for games being played on the following Sunday. When you see something you like, pull the trigger. Chances are it won’t be there two hours later.
(3) Correlated parlays.
Books have known about these for years, and do not permit obviously correlated parlays to be made. For instance, betting an underdog on the money line (odds instead of points) and parlaying it with the same team taking points is not allowed. If you win the first bet, the second one also wins.
In recent years, bettors have gotten more sophisticated and have discovered correlated parlays that go in under the bookmakers’ radar screens. In these parlays, if the first bet goes according to prediction, the second bet is either guaranteed to win or has an extremely high probability of winning.
A few years ago, I made a bet, and was told later by a very sharp bookmaker that I had made a correlated parlay and his shop would not have accepted it. Here was the bet. In 2000, the S.B. conference championships matched Oakland vs. Baltimore (AFC) and Minnesota vs. NY Giants (NFC). Oakland and Minnesota were the favorites. With that in mind, existing Super Bowl odds reflected a potential matchup between the Raiders and Vikings.
Consequently, the Super Bowl line at that time assumed a total in the high 40s. I don’t recall the number on the side, but I parlayed Baltimore vs. Minny in the AFC title game, to the under in the Super Bowl, figuring that if the Ravens got to the big game, the total would be a lot lower.
Sure enough, Baltimore won, as did the Giants, and the total for the title game was around 32. I didn’t just sit on my good play, which won easily as the final score was Ravens 34-7 over New York. I also bet over on the new total and collected there as well.
Professional blackjack player Stanford Wong describes a correlated parlay in his book, “Sharp Sports Betting”. Using deductive logic, in a recent Super Bowl he parlayed the first team to kick a field goal with the team to kick the longest field goal.
His rationale was that the first field goal could easily be the only field goal of the game, and end up being the longest one. In order to cover himself, he also bet first FG with shortest FG. Although the payoff wasn’t exactly the standard 13-5, due to the higher vig charged by the book, it was still a profitable play.
The books are catching up to advantage players and are making it tough for us to bet correlated parlays. But if you see an edge in two props that seem correlated, it is worth taking a shot. All the book can do is say no.