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Top-10 facts to consider before placing your Super Bowl bet

26 January 2009

By Gary Trask

Watching (and betting on) the Super Bowl is an American tradition, right up there with baseball and apple pie. Actually, in my humble opinion, the Super Bowl soars past apple pie as an American tradition. In fact, I'd like to know who it was that made the claim that apple pie was so important to American culture. But, I digress.

The one good thing about reading this column is that it will save you time. Because instead of reading and watching all of the endless hype that the Super Bowl annually produces, we have gone back, looked at the history of the game, crunched the numbers and come up with 10 worthwhile facts about the game that may be of interest to you.

So, before you do your American duty this weekend as a sports fan and place your Super Bowl bet (legally, of course!) here are some things to keep in mind as well as a not-so-bold prediction on the game. Good luck!

10. The house usually wins

Last year's upset win by the N.Y. Giants was damaging to more than just Bill Belichick's legacy. Nevada sportsbooks lost money on last year's Super Bowl for the first time since 1995 and for just the second time since the state's Gaming Control Board began compiling Super Bowl-specific numbers in 1991. Figures released by the board showed a loss of $2,573,103 at the state's 174 sportsbooks, which dwarfed the amount the books lost in 1995 ($396,674) when San Francisco routed the San Diego, 49-26, as 19-point favorites.

As bad as last year was for the bookies, it paled in comparison to what occurred back in 1979 when Pittsburgh opened as a 3.5-favorite over Dallas. When a slew of money came in on the Steelers, the line went up to as high as five points, and that's when another huge sum of money was bet on the Cowboys plus the points. At game time, most outlets settled on the Steelers as a 4-point favorite, but when Pittsburgh ended up winning 35-31 the bookmakers got "middled." In other words all of those people who drove the line from 3.5 to 5 by betting the Steelers cashed their tickets, as did all of the late-comers who took the Cowboys plus the 5 points. I know, it's tough to shed a tear for the guys who usually end up doing OK against the public, but you gotta admit, that one had to hurt.

9. Prop bets are dangerous

The more than $92 million that was bet on last year's Super Bowl in Nevada ranked as the third-highest amount since the board began compiling the numbers. The 2006 game between Pittsburgh and Seattle is still the most heavily bet Super Bowl at $94,534,372 while second on the list is the 2007 game between Chicago and Indianapolis ($93,067,358). By comparison, $40,080,409 was wagered in 1991 when Bill Parcells and the Giants upset Buffalo. One of the main reasons for the increase in these betting figures over the years is the vast amount of prop bets that are increasingly offered each year.

On Sunday you will be able to wager on not only the teams plus or minus the points, but the coin toss, the number of first downs and whether or not there will be a safety. In addition, many outlets offer even more outrageous options. For instance, at Bodog you can bet on how many times Al Michaels and John Madden will call Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger "Big Ben," how many airplanes will be included in the pregame flyover and what color bow tie Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell will wear. Sure, these kinds of bets are fun and can make the day more interesting. But beware of how many you play and for how much. It's easy to get carried away and you don't want to be down half your weekly paycheck before the end of the first quarter. I realize that last year at this time I recommended a wager on the length of the national anthem, but if you read the column you saw that, not only was it written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but my research on that particular bet proved to be correct. The bottom line: You can find value and make money with prop bets (I like over 2 1/2 interceptions in this year's game at +150), but don't go crazy. It could be costly.

8. Favorites have the edge

In the past 42 Super Bowls, the underdog has won outright only 11 times. Against the spread, favorites are 24-16-2, if you count Super Bowls XXXI (Green Bay over New England) and XXXIV (St. Louis over Tennessee) as pushes.

Underdogs, however, are 5-2 against the spread the last seven years, including two of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history – New England (+14) over St. Louis, 20-17, in 2001 and the N.Y. Giants (+12) over New England, 17-14, last year. This year Pittsburgh opened as anywhere from a 6.5 to a 7-point favorite. As of this writing the line has remained at 7 in most spots and is expected to stay put.

7. The bye week helps the favorite

While it seems most football fans are vehemently against having a bye week in between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, I think it's a good idea. First off, the logistics of pulling off an event of these kinds of proportions almost requires a two-week break. And thanks to the terrorist attacks of 2001, the bye week is here to stay since the Department of Homeland Security designated the Super Bowl a National Special Security Event.

Secondly, with the stakes this high I think the teams should be as fresh and healthy as possible. The extra break usually ensures just that. With that said, favorites have done even better in the Super Bowl if you exclude the seven times when there was just a one-week delay. In those seven games, the underdog won five of them straight-up and went 5-1-1 against the spread. So if you take the Super Bowls with a one-week bye out of the equation, favorites have covered 68% of the time.

6. Super Bowl first-timers struggle

The Cardinal franchise will be making its first appearance in a Super Bowl this Sunday. (Attention trivia buffs: That leaves the Browns, Saints, Lions, Jaguars and Texans as the only teams that have never played on Super Sunday). As expected, first-time Super Bowl participants are 8-18 straight-up and just 9-17 against the spread. In the last 11 years we have had seven first-time Super Bowl teams with just two of them (Baltimore and Tampa Bay) winning the game.

This year's Pittsburgh team has 20 players with Super Bowl experience. The Cards have just five, although one of them is QB Kurt Warner, who will be playing in his third Super Bowl and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV.

5. The "under" has been the trend in recent years

After seeing the "over" cash 11 out of 15 years between 1985 and 1999, the "under" has prevailed in the Super Bowl six times this decade, including four years in a row. Arizona seems to be a team that could snap that streak since 13 of its 19 games this season have gone "over" the total and during the last three years 68% of the Cardinals' games have gone "over" the posted total. What's more, 12 of the Steelers' last 14 playoff games have gone "over."

4. Historically, it's been the favorite and the over…but not recently

Between the years 1982 and 2005, the favorite and the over was the most profitable parlay choice, coming in 10 times. During this same 24-year span, a parlay of the favorite and the under only cashed two times. But in the last three years, the favorite-under combo has cashed twice.

3. The magic number for Arizona is 27

Super Bowl teams that score 27 or more points are a very profitable 24-3-1 against the spread. Ironically, the Cardinals come into Sunday's game averaging 26.7 points per game. Before placing a bet on the Cardinals ask yourself: Can they score their season average against the vaunted Steeler defense?

2. The magic number for Pittsburgh is 20

Super Bowl teams that score 20 points or less are just 8-31-1 against the spread. The Steelers averaged 21.7 points per game this year. If you think the Steelers can score their season average on Sunday, history says they will be in position to both win and cover.

1. The pointspread isn't as important as you think

Blasphemy you say? Well, take a look at the numbers. The Super Bowl pointspread has only come into play seven times in the 42-year history of the game. In other words, only seven Super Bowl teams have won the game but failed to cover. And on two of those occasions the favorite pushed. So, when it comes right down to it, the best way to choose who to bet on Sunday is by taking the team you think will win the game. It's that simple. So, using that logic, I'm laying the points and taking the Steelers to win 27-12.

Enjoy the game!

Top-10 facts to consider before placing your Super Bowl bet is republished from
Gary Trask
Gary is an expert on all things gambling. The Boston native has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years, including a few at Casino City and was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's Media Committee.

No Limit Hold'em tournaments are a favorite of Gary's, but he also enjoys a night of dealer's choice with a variety of games like Seven-Card No Peek, Guts or Five-Card Draw with a qualifier. In addition to playing cards, another of Gary's interests is golf, a game that allows his two favorite hobbies to collide quite naturally.

Gary Trask Websites:!/casinocityGT