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February 3, 2007: All Bets Are On
February 3, 2007: All Bets Are On
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Super Bowl XLIII
Super Bowl XLV
February 3, 2007: All Bets Are On
Tue, Sep 11 2007 2:30 PM
All Bets Are On
When It Comes to Super Bowl Wagers, Guys Know the Score
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, February 3, 2007; Page C01
Guys are supposed to know things. Nobody really knows how, or even why half the time, but you're supposed to know.
Like, guys know how to change a tire. Guys know how to use a ratchet and what you do with a fungo. Guys know that a good bridge in pool involves your index finger looped over the cue. Guys know you never need to ask for directions, because if you just keep driving up a block, you'll find it, and if you'd just pipe down, honey, we'd be there by now.
And the one thing that guys are supposed to know, above all: the Super Bowl, and how to bet on it.
This is nonnegotiable. This is the core element of guydom. It is the most bet-upon single sporting event on the planet, and any sports book will tell you that about 90, 95 percent of sports bettors are men. More than $94 million was bet legally in Las Vegas on the Super Bowl last year, and everyone agrees that the total amount bet on the Internet, on offshore gambling sites based in Costa Rica or the Caribbean, and among friends, neighbors and fans goes into the billions.
This year, the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning take on the Chicago Bears and quarterback Rex Grossman. The New Orleans Saints are not playing because they managed to fumble four times in one game two weeks ago and because the referees were all but wearing skirts and waving pompoms for Chicago. Not that we're sore about it or anything.
"It's almost an American thing, not just a guy thing, putting a little something on the Super Bowl," says Michael Konik, a guy who wrote a book called "The Smart Money: How the World's Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Millions."
You know guys came up with this football betting thing, because it involves something called the point spre ad, which is a completely made-up way your team can win the game but you lose the bet. Isn't that great? So to win the bet, not just the game, requires intricate, completely artificial knowledge about a totally meaningless event, and guys can't get enough of that kind of action. Billions? Did we mention the billions?
So of course you have to know how to talk intelligently about placing a wager on the nation's premier sporting event, except that a Real Guy would never say it that way. Not that we'd encourage any sort of gambling, legal or not, but a Real Guy, he comes into the men's, one urinal down from you, and, looking straight ahead, this guy says:
"So you figure Grossman'll cover the spread?"
"Grossman? Nah. Peyton's year. Early line was what, 6 1/2 , 7? Peyton'll blow that out by recess."
"Yeah, they got Vinatieri, and they not even gonna need 'im."
"I got a dime on it, the Colts to cover."
* * *
First, let's observe that Guys are not Gentlemen. They are Guys. The definition of a guy is a male of the species who does guy things. Note: Guydom is not inherent. It is achieved.
Defining by difference:
Gentlemen know how to tie a four-in-hand, mix a martini, order off the menu, lace the wingtips so there are no crossover threads. They know a good New York hotel and the right single-barrel bourbon. They have an understanding that romance is not what it used to be, and are on first-name basis with a reputable tailor.
Guys parallel-park on the first shot.
There are rich guys, big guys, gay guys and regular guys. You can have girl guys, too, but only if they can sit on a bar stool and say stuff like "The Bears? The Bears ? They haven't had a team since Sweetness left town."
Sports betting (or at least the talk thereof) unites all, and the Super Bowl is the center of the knot. Here you get separation from men who are not guys. Hoswarth Peabody IX is not going to be telling you that he took da Bears at minus 3 in Chicago in the playoffs, but respects it if you took the 'Aints, what with Brees and Bush and that kid Colston.
Let's go to the videotape:
"Sports betting seems directly tied to their self-esteem, to their manhood, their macho," writes J.R. Miller, speaking of guys, in "How Professional Gamblers Beat the Pro Football Pointspread." Konik: "I get the sense that most men would rather admit they are lousy in bed than they don't know that much about sports and betting."
RJ Bell, president of Pregame.com, a sports betting tip site: "There's a real male ego issue with picks."
So in the interest of good Super Bowl parties and better barroom smack talk everywhere, we hereby offer to destroy some key myths about guydom and the Super Bowl wager. Also, we offer a cheat sheet of sorts if you just want to fake it.
Myth 1: It matters who wins the game.
Fact: HAHAHAHAHAHA!! What a notion!
What matters is who "covers the spread." Or who takes the "over/under."
The point spread is a handicap for the better team, expressed in a number of points. In the Super Bowl, most handicappers have the Colts at "minus 7" (written as -7), which means they must win the game by more than seven points for you to win. If Indy wins by six, you lose! If Indy loses, you lose! On the other hand, if you take Chicago (it's "plus 7"), you start the game seven points ahead! If Chicago is getting thumped 20-0, and scores two late, meaningless touchdowns, the final is 20-14 -- and you win. Yay! (If the final margin is seven points, it's a "push bet" and nobody wins. Adding a half-point to the spread dodges that sort of kiss-your-sister outcome.) Also, the "over/under" bet, a standard wager, doesn't give a pip about the winner. It's just about the total number of points scored. At the moment, most handicappers have it at 48 for this game -- meaning you just bet, thumbs up or down, whether the two teams score more or less than that.
Who wins? Who cares?
Myth 2: You have to bet on the game.
Fact: Game? What game?
You can bet on whether Billy Joel will sing the national anthem in more or less than 1 minute 44 seconds. You can bet on whether the coin toss will be heads or tails. You can bet on whether LeBron James scores more in his basketball game that day than the Colts score on the field. You can bet on Prince having a wardrobe malfunction during the halftime show.
These are proposition bets, or "prop bets," and while they're usually for more informal parties ("I got $5 on the Colts scoring on this drive. Who wants it?"), you can also do it formally. However, we have to say that anybody who takes a heads/tails coin toss bet, and is willing to pay the bookie a 10 percent fee if you lose on that, well, just have some Cheetos and calm down.
Myth 3: It matters if you win your bet.
Fact: No, it doesn't (unless you're a "dime" player, betting $1,000 per game, and then it really, really matters). What matters for guydom is having a theory of the bet.
This is key. As long as you have a defensible theory, you're there. Note that a theory is not "I got a cousin in Chicago, so I'm cheering for the Bears." A theory is not "I like Peyton Manning's commercial, where he says, 'Rub some dirt on it!' "
Guys do not "cheer." Guys do not do "commercials."
Guys "take the Colts at minus 7" because of, say, the "Quarterback Mismatch Theory."
This was advanced last week by handicapper Matt Fargo on a sports betting Web site called covers sucks. Fargo's hypothesis looked at Super Bowls since 1980 in which one quarterback was clearly superior. (That is the case this year, with Manning all over Grossman.) Fargo reckoned there were seven such quarterback mismatches over the past 27 years, and the better quarterback had won six of seven.
Theory: Take the better QB, bet the Colts.
Or take the "History Don't Lie" Theory.
Bell, the handicapper, reports that no team with a scoring defense ranked lower than eighth in the NFL has ever won the Super Bowl. Chicago's defense is ranked No. 3. Indianapolis was 23rd.
Theory: Take 40 years of history, bet the Bears.
See? Any theory works.
Myth 4: Since the handicappers have the Colts as seven-point favorites, it means they're predicting Indianapolis will win by a touchdown.
Fact: Heavens! See Myths 1 and 3! Bookies do not "bet." Bookies do not "care" who "wins" or "loses." This is a business. Bookies don't care about anything but "profit."
The point spread exists to evenly divide the betting public. That's it. It's how bookies make money. See, when you lose a sports bet to any casino, bookie or offshore gambling Web site, you must pay an extra percentage, usually 10 percent. This is called "juice" or "the vig." So if you make a $100 bet and you lose, you pay $110. If you win, you get just $100.
So, if the guys running a sports book evenly divide the amount bet on either side, which they try very hard to do, they are guaranteed a 10 percent profit. If they don't come close to that, and they lose too often, they fall down and go boom.
So, remember: It doesn't matter who wins. It matters by how much they win.
Lastly: If you win your bet, don't get cocky. You are never, ever going to beat the bookies on a regular basis, no matter what any tout tells you.
Konik, the author and betting guru, points out that, over the long haul, you have to win 52.4 percent of your bets just to break even, to account for the extra money you pay when you lose.
And the point spread is so tough to beat consistently that "absolute genius is consistently hitting 59, 60 percent," says Damon Holowchak, a handicapper for Betus.com. Indeed, author and veteran handicapper Dan Gordon wrote "Beat the Sports Book: An Insider's Guide to Betting the NFL" after he hit on 60 percent of his picks one year, 59 percent the next. He had winning seasons seven out of nine years. The book explaining his system is 317 pages.
So, let's recap.
Break even: 52.4 percent. Genius: 59 percent.
You're not going to beat a system that narrow, not over and over again. So don't try. It's for suckers.
Real guys know that.
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