It’s late in Super Bowl LIII this Sunday. The driving New England Patriots, favoured by a field goal, have a three-point lead in the game.
Hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide ride on whether the Los Angeles Rams can keep them out of the end zone or whether quarterback Tom Brady will push it in for a dagger shot to the under-three bettors.
Millions more ride on Brady being named most valuable player of the game.
And no one will say a word about it.
Yes, it’s Super Bowl week and every fan wants to know: How long will it take Gladys Knight to sing The Stars Spangled Banner (+/- 1:50)? Will one of the Pips join her onstage? (Yes +300, no -500) ? Will she wear a pant suit or a dress? (Dress/skirt -200, pants/shorts +150)
Will Adam Levine of Maroon 5 wear a hat as he appears in the halftime show? (Yes +200/no -300) What colour shoes will Levine wear? (White 6/5, black 3/1, brown 7/1, blue 10/1, red 10/1, orange 12/1, yellow 12/1, purple 20/1, pink 25/1)
Yes, ’tis the season of proposition betting. Or props, as they’re known in the trade. Props have been around for a number of years. The public is by now familiar with questions like “How often will Gisele Bundchen appear on camera during the game?” or “Will her husband Tom Brady be shown on camera swearing?” They attract the non-non-football fans and rake in big money.
What makes this year’s Super Bowl props significant is that they appear widely for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for states other than Nevada to legalize sports betting. Until now, American bettors had to visit Nevada to make a legal bet or to employ the services of an illegal bookmaker. Online betting has been prohibited until now.
In Canada, we’ve had the limited Sport Select Pro-Line betting for a number of years. Canadians also can access offshore websites to place bets.
As Canadians discovered when marijuana sales were legalized, the U.S. Supreme Court decision didn’t mean instant betting everywhere for Americans. So far, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and, this week, New York state have legalized sports betting.
With the New Jersey handle touching at over $1 billion in the Super Bowl month of February, it’s clear that betting is a godsend for cash-strapped states.
It’s about to become a case of get with it or get left behind. That’s what happened to New York, which saw bordering states Pennsylvania and New Jersey snapping up betting revenues that should have been theirs. No brainer. Meanwhile, much of Las Vegas’s riches come from neighbouring California. It’s only a matter of time until the domino effect sweeps the United States.
Okay, Europe has had legalized sports betting for decades and the wheels are still on. So what’s unique in North America?
First, for Canada, border states like New York offering full-services betting are going to make Canada’s puny system antiquated overnight. Using both in-person sales at casinos and race tracks, plus online apps, the new Americans outlets stand to take a large chunk of Canada’s betting revenues.
How will Canadian governments deal with the competition?
Citizens who resent carbon taxes will allow sin taxes. But if they disappear, what takes their place? Or does Canada adopt the American full-on rules?
So far, no Canadian policy-maker has spotlighted this issue.
The second implication for legalized betting can be seen in the disastrous pass interference non-call in last week’s National Football Conference championship game. The failure to fire a flag has resulted in lawsuits from New Orleans fans and calls to fire National Football League administrators. To call it a black eye is to diminish black eyes.
The bookmakers, too, were put in the uncomfortable position of denying bets on what they knew to be a wrong call. (One book offered credits to seething Saints fans but they were the only house to do so.) Tying themselves to a league that can’t get it right impugns the integrity of their product, too. Especially when that league is opening up live betting in its stadiums.
While leagues aren’t going to share in the handle from betting on their games, they’re rushing to make lucrative promotional deals with casinos and resorts that feature betting on them. Now instead of fans angry at the NFL and its wayward refereeing standards, we’ll have the customer mad at the partner of that league that just swallowed up his money.
It was fine for the ancient gentlemen’s club that runs the NFL to have people mad at them. They’re rich. No one likes them to start with.
But for them to cast shade on their partners because they can’t administer the game properly is another matter. Controversy sells for the TV networks, but MGM Resorts International is not in the business of angry clients.
Finally, the greater dissemination of public information about point spreads, over/unders, teasers and parlays is going to challenge broadcasters. With billions now being bet legally on sports in establishments they partner with, the simple outcome of the game will no longer be the only story.
We get back to the scenario at the top of this column. With millions riding on late scores or goal-line stands, will networks play the dummy? How will they monitor the action of their partners in the betting industry?
For conventional media, the first response will be silence (CBS has announced it will not discuss the odds during Sunday’s telecast until more states get involved).
But someone is going to acknowledge the elephant in the stadium soon. The dam will break, probably with NBC broadcaster Al Michaels. Integrating betting into the broadcast will become a de rigueur sponsorship opportunity.
So enjoy play-by-play man Jim Nantz pretending he can’t see the obvious this Sunday. It may be the last time a Super Bowl treats bettors like streakers. Seen and not heard.
Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.