Gamblers Gear Up For Super Bowl Sunday

The Super Bowl is this Sunday in Indianapolis, and there's a lot of wagering to be done before kickoff. The New England Patriots are favored to beat the New York Giants.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

OK, so Nevada may be looking beyond betting, but perhaps not this particular weekend. Sunday is Super Bowl, and there's a lot of wagering to be done before the big game. To discuss the bets, NPR's Mike Pesca joins us on the line from Indianapolis, where the Super Bowl kicks off Sunday at 6:30 Eastern time. And good morning.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.

MONTAGNE: So it's the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Which is the favorite?

PESCA: Well, the Giants are the underdog. The Patriots are the favorite, but it's a little wrinkle that makes it pretty interesting. So to be very basic, when you bet in football, there's something called the point spread. And that means they give the underdog - the people who make the line or make the points spread assigns the underdog a point or two, or sometimes a lot if they're a big underdog.

So if you wanted to bet on the Giants - at the beginning of the week, at least - you could get three-and-a-half points added to the Giants' final score and then compare that to what the Patriots have and see if you won your bet.

The problem is when Las Vegas did, in fact, make the Giants three-and-a-half-point underdogs, everyone who - not everyone, but almost everyone who bets liked that so much, that the betting on the Giants was so heavy, that Las Vegas said oh, no. We have to adjust our number. And so the Giants became only a three-point underdog.

And then it became apparent that even at that number, more people wanted to bet on the Giants than the Patriots. But Las Vegas, the line-makers were very resistant to move the Giants down to a two-and-a-half-point underdog.

MONTAGNE: And why resist to revise that point spread if there seems to have been a mistake?

PESCA: Right. So that number, three points, a field goal, that's a very important fulcrum of this point-spread teeter-totter, because look at it this way. Let's say the Patriots do win by three points. If you had the Giants plus three and a half, and the Patriots win by three, well, you won your bet on the Giants.

But if you have the Patriots minus two and a half, well, then you also won your bet on the Patriots. So there is a point by which people could have bet on different teams and still won their bet. In gambling, that's called middling. And if you're in that situation, you don't even have to know what the term risk arbitrage means. It's an excellent situation for a gambler to be in.

It basically means, at that one particular total, a better cannot lose. And I'll give you another fact. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls, and they've always won by three points. So there is a precedent to argue that the gamblers of the world could be in a situation where they can't lose their bets. Guess what? Las Vegas doesn't like that situation.

MONTAGNE: (unintelligible) Yeah.

PESCA: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: Well, OK. There are other bets besides who will win the big game. You can bet on the coin toss. You can bet on what Madonna will wear at half time. What's behind all these bets?

PESCA: Well, what's behind all these bets is the fact that unlike that bet that we were talking about, the big bet of the point spread, they're kind of sucker bets. These are called prop bets, and they've got very popular in recent years. The Las Vegas Hilton - what used to be called the Hilton, now it's the Las Vegas Hotel - had 400 different prop bets.

Some of the bets on entertainment - like will Kelly Clarkson's national anthem go longer than a minute, 31 seconds - you can't actually bet that in Las Vegas, because you can't bet on entertainment. But online, they have all sorts of wagering.

But the thing is that if you add the odds that Las Vegas offers the gambler, they don't really wind up in the gambler's favor. So please, take as many bets on who's going to have more points in the first quarter. Go ahead, Las Vegas is saying.

MONTAGNE: And Mike, you want to make any quick predictions yourself?

PESCA: Very quickly, I would say if there is a three-point point spread that your friend is offering you for entertainment purposes only, I would probably jump on the Giants at that number, just because Las Vegas is telling you with everything they know that the Giants should probably only be a two-and-a-half-point underdog.

MONTAGNE: NPR's sports correspondent Mike Pesca is speaking to us from Indianapolis. Thanks very much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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