Tired of Super Bowl bets? They've got a proposition

The Baltimore Sun

Gamblers, rejoice.

If the Super Bowl weren't occasionally deadly dull, you probably wouldn't be able to bet today on which will be greater, the number of passes caught by Marvin Harrison against the Chicago Bears in Miami or the number of free throws made by LeBron James against the Detroit Pistons in Cleveland.

Or whether Bears Coach Lovie Smith or the Indianapolis Colts' Tony Dungy will slam his headset, what color the players' sports drinks will be or whether Prince will split his pants open during the halftime show.

Side bets, known in casino parlance as "propositions" or "props" and encompassing just about anything under the sun, have grown so wildly popular that they rival more traditional wagers made on the Super Bowl, Las Vegas sports book operators say.

"They're a huge piece of the Super Bowl pie," said Robert Walker, sports director at the MGM and nine other properties on the Las Vegas Strip, who guessed that props would account for about 30 percent of the bets placed at most sports books.

No matter the score, props keep bettors engaged from the national anthem - wagers are being taken on how many seconds it will take Billy Joel to get through it today - to the awards ceremony, when the correct Most-Valuable-Player choice could send a gambler home a winner.

Which is why props have been so heartily embraced, of course.

The number of props offered has mushroomed, bookmakers said, because a string of lopsided Super Bowl results left bettors searching for something new.

"These games were so boring, always blowouts," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the race and sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton. "If you were to look through the sports book, maybe halfway or three-quarters of the way through the game, people had left because they were bored with the game."

This year, Las Vegas sports books are offering as many as 300 props, many of which are shunned by professional gamblers and dismissed as "sucker bets," and offshore betting sites are offering more than 1,000 over the Internet.

The props range from the traditional - Which team will win the coin toss? Will the game go into overtime? Will the first player to score be wearing an odd- or even-numbered jersey? - to the more exotic.

An example of the latter: Which will be greater today, the number of passing yards racked up by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning or the number of combined points scored by the four Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference college basketball teams - Canisius, St. Peter's, Niagara and Siena - playing that day?

"We get a fair amount of people who are interested in more than the over/under" - the total number of points scored by both teams - "and the point spread," said Reed Richards, a spokesman for the gambling website, http:--www.betus.com. "They're interested in a variety of different things, from who will be the first team to score to how many times Peyton Manning will be sacked."

Props are not limited to the game. The halftime show also is in play. Through betus.com, bettors can wager whether Prince will suffer a wardrobe malfunction, make an obscene gesture or announce plans to run for president.

Just about anything and everything, it seems, is fair game.

"I bet more on the fun ones than on the actual, 'Who's going to win the game?' " said Brad Randolph, a 26-year-old graphic design artist from Austin, Texas, who correctly wagered last year that the Rolling Stones would open their halftime performance with "Start Me Up" and this year is betting on a Prince wardrobe malfunction.

"It just makes the game more interesting - all aspects of it. If it's 28-0 at halftime, normally I wouldn't watch the rest of the game, but if I'm wagering on touchdown celebrations, I've got to stay tuned," he said.

"The most popular prop is the first player to score," said Walker, the MGM sports betting director. "It might be the most boring prop, but the first player to score is always paramount. I think everybody puts $5 to $10 down on that one."

"Props make the game a lot more enjoyable," said Walker.

But the popularity of some props, he noted, defies logic.

"Every year people bet that the final score will be 4-2," he said. "Sure, you can get great odds on that, but I marvel at that because, is that a game you'd really want to see? Is that a game you would even want to watch?"

Odds are, probably not - unless you factor in the props.

Jerry Crowe writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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