Will Idina Menzel go over or under? If you have an opinion on whether the Tony Award-winning singer will take longer than 121 seconds to belt out the Star Spangled Banner before the Super Bowl, you could be a winner. The Super Bowl is, literally, the Super Bowl of gambling events. You can bet practically anything about the game that’s sports-related, and just about anything that isn’t, such as the length of the national anthem, the color of Katy Perry’s hair during the halftime performance, or which company has the first commercial broadcast after the kickoff. These are called proposition bets, and the ones along entertainment lines have become quite popular over the last three decades. But prop bets requiring actual sports knowledge and instinct are alluring to the more serious bettor, too.
Not Likely to Lead to Addiction
Betting on whether Katy Perry wears a skirt, shorts or pants to begin the halftime show probably isn’t going to lead to a gambling addiction, according to Stuart Milan, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Brandon, Miss.-based COPAC, a treatment center specializing in compulsive gambling, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and sexual compulsivity. “It rarely leads to problem gambling,” Milan said. “I would compare people who would bet on this to the person who bets a horse because of its name or number.“ Although Milan says most people who develop gambling problems are casino gamblers and those who play video games and slots, every problem requires a first step. Kevin Bradley, sports book manager at Bovada.lv, said through OddsShark.com that his online betting site takes pride in proposition bets—or props, as they are known in the business—and offers them year-round, and in entertainment, politics and business as well. “For 30 percent of our new clients who sign up leading to the Super Bowl, their first bet ever is on some sort of prop, so it shows the significance props play in our business,” Bradley said. And their business is big. It’s estimated that online gambling worldwide generates about $30 billion in revenue annually, about $4 billion of that from Americans. Prop bets were virtually non-existent prior to Super Bowl XX between Chicago and New England. Las Vegas oddsmaker Michael Roxborough took advantage of rookie William “The Refrigerator” Perry’s popularity—and the fact the oversized defensive lineman had rushed for two touchdowns and caught a pass for another as a running back during the regular season. Roxy, as he was known, gave 15/1 odds on Perry scoring a touchdown, and bettors put so much money on him that the odds dropped to 5/2. Walter Payton, the legendary running back for the Bears, didn’t score in the 46-10 blowout, but Perry did, and prop bets exploded like Perry’s waistline. “There were very few props back in those days — it’s not like you had a whole board of them,” said Johnny Avello, executive director of Race and Sports Operations at Wynn Las Vegas. “Now, every place has a couple hundred props. Back then, it was just a few to try to enhance the betting. But now, it’s snowballed into a monster.”
Peak Season for Gambling Addicts
For a gambling addict, there are two monsters during the year. One is the Super Bowl, the other is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament which begins in March. “These are higher-risk situations for people early on in their recovery,” Milan said. “I encourage people in early recovery to either avoid watching these events or do some relapse prevention work and planning to make it safely through this season. I come from the viewpoint that total abstinence is the solution to a gambling addiction. The first bet is the one to avoid.” And that’s why the Super Bowl and the NCAA tournament are such dangerous times. It’s easy to bet through online sources, and sports books have done a great job of making it entertaining and alluring. (Predicting how many times the quarterback’s wife will be shown on TV, for example, takes no skill at all.) But for the compulsive gambler, “small moments lead to big moments,” said Uberto Mondolfi, a national certified gambling counselor at Lucida Treatment Center in Lantana, Fla. “The prop bets allow the addicted gambler to get their fix, and it’s very dangerous. If they win, they feel this sense of empowerment. The more they win, the more empowered they are.” And if they lose, they “chase” the next bet trying to get even, to prove they are right—which is the compelling reason they bet in the first place. It’s not just about the money, Mondolfi said. Another advantage to prop bets is they don’t always require a four-hour wait for the final result. The national anthem and coin flip can provide a pregame adrenaline rush. Whether Tom Brady’s first pass is complete, incomplete or intercepted will likely be determined in the first quarter. Betting the number of times Katy Perry is mentioned will get you to halftime. Betting the over/under for points scored through three quarters is another option. If you’ve got the money, the Super Bowl can be like four hours at the blackjack table where nearly any play could make you a winner or loser. There are also props that carry the rush even beyond the postgame celebration, such as betting the winner and whether the Dow Jones will go up or down the following day, or if Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow. Bradley says he has done many prop bets over the years, but his favorite of all time still hasn’t established a winner. “One that always stands out was, after the (Tim) Tebow era, we had props on him: What will he do first, throw another TD pass in the NFL or admit to having sexual intercourse,” Bradley said. “Maybe that’s a bit offside, but I still laugh at that one when I see it in our system since we are still waiting to grade it.”
Gamblers Don’t Stop On Their Own
Gamblers tend to be an optimistic lot, always figuring they can win back their losses and their sense of esteem: The more betting options, the more opportunities to avenge earlier defeats—and debt “Usually, people don’t stop gambling on their own,” Milan said. “They generally need to get in trouble with work, family or the law. Women seek help quicker than men. The earlier a person starts gambling, the more prone they are to develop a problem.” Milan said the average “problem gambler” has $40,000 in gambling debt. Most people are social gamblers, but even they should be aware that in the course of making even a silly small bet—what color liquid will be thrown on the winning coach?—reaching the point of craving that next opportunity could signal a problem. “People who have other addictions, suffer from chronic medical conditions, or have psychiatric illness, are all prone to higher rates of gambling problems than the average population,” Milan said. There’s also another real threat to gamblers. Based on surveys at the time of entrance into treatment centers, Mondolfi said that among addicts, it’s gamblers who are the ones with the highest suicide rates, with suicide thoughts occurring in about 80 percent of them and attempts at about 40 percent. “If what you’re seeking is to be right, it will be very hard for your ego or your self to seek help because it’s going to be very hard to admit you were wrong,” Mondolfi said. “You’ll be so insulted and so guilty, the only way out is to take your life. When a gambler seeks help, he’s in very bad shape.” Fortunately, most never reach that point, and Super Sunday remains an unofficial holiday with hundreds of ways to win and lose your money. “I think there are a lot of people who are ‘one-and-done’ bettors on the Super Bowl, sort of like the Kentucky Derby where even casual horse fans want to have a little action on the big race,” said Mike Pickett, NFL analyst for OddsShark.com, which provides odds for Yahoo and Fox Sports. “It’s just one of those events that is so pervasive in American society and there are so many creative ways to lay that first bet.”