By Rick Murphy
There will be more money wagered on Sunday than any other day of the year. The uninitiated might think this is a relatively uncomplicated process -- pick the team you think will win. Not so.
Most people are aware there's a point spread involved -- that means you have to "give" points if you like the favorite, which at the moment is San Francisco (3.5 points). The so-called "over/under" is also popular -- predict the total number of points that will be scored in the game, and bet against the official line, which is 47.5 points. In other words, if the final score is 24-23 you lose; if its 27-21 you win.
But there's a lot of money out there, and gaming houses -- and the mob -- never cease to figure out ways to separate a fool from his money. Consider the average gambler has 16 or so games to wager on in any given week, but come Sunday there is only one. In other words, betters are starved for action.
It starts with the opening coin toss. Really. It may be a nonsensical bet on the surface, but think again. Pick the right one and Papa John's will give you a free pizza -- just sign up at the website before midnight Saturday. For the record, it has been 23 heads and 23 tails so far, with "heads" coming up the last four years.
As with all bets, the bookie doesn't care what comes up — you pay $55 on a losing bet but only win $50, and that extra is known as the vig, and that's why gambling houses get rich -- they are assured five percent of the total take. With brothers Jack and Jim Harbaugh the opposing head coaches, Las Vegas has devised numerous bets to take advantage of this, the first time siblings have gone head to head. You can bet on which coach's name will be said more, on how many times the television announcers will call it the "Har Bowl," and how many times the name "Harbaugh" will be said over the air -- the under/over is 20.5.
Of course, there are scores of game-related bets; who will score the first touchdown (Frank Gore is the favorite), which team will score first, how many field goals will there be, and a host of others. My personal favorite: how many times will Ray Lewis mention "God" or "Lord" if he is interviewed (the over/under is three).
Here are some of the more ridiculous "prop" bets you can make on the Super Bowl: it's 3/2 that Alicia Keys will forget at least one word of the National Anthem; you can bet on what color Beyoncé will be wearing when she comes out for her halftime show (black is a 9/4 favorite).
In all, about $10 billion will be wagered on the Super Bowl. Most of the smart money wagered in Vegas comes in within 48 hours of the game. That should tell you professional betters are watching the teams carefully, looking to see if players are hiding injuries during practices, trying to get a feel for which team has the momentum going in.
On the other hand, the betting line changes. If you love a team now, lock in your bet if you feel the number favors you (in the interest of full disclosure, this writer is hopping on the 49ers and giving 3.5 points before it gets any higher).
Remember to get into some office pools or perhaps make a small wager to keep things interesting, even if your friendly bookie is affiliated with a major crime family.