In an office in Antigua in the Caribbean, a 29-year-old named Pat Morrow watches televised sports shows, follows some 400 Twitter accounts of sports writers (including this paper’s Bob Condotta) and is always online checking the latest sports news.
He’s the head oddsmaker for one of the more popular online betting sites, Bovada.lv.
These days, Morrow also is following the gossip site TMZ, watching YouTube videos of artists and following the New Jersey weather report.
That’s because one-third of Super Bowl betting isn’t about who wins, or how many points are scored, but “proposition,” or “prop” bets, some of which have nothing to do with sports.
They’re gimmick bets that keep growing in popularity, and Bovada offers more than 500 on the Super Bowl.
You don’t have to be a football expert to bet on whether the announcers will say the word “marijuana” during the game. But it helps to be good at math.
For example, the line on the marijuana bet, as determined by Morrow, is Yes, + 550 (5.5 to 1), No, -900 (1 to 9). That means that if you bet $100 on Yes, you collect $650 if you win. If you bet $100 on No and win, you collect $111.
“What with Colorado and Washington recently making it legal,” Morrow says about weed, “some people jokingly refer to it as the ‘Bong Bowl’ or ‘Pot Bowl.’”?
Morrow doesn’t think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants that kind of “branding with its product, even if the announcers in the booth were thinking of saying it.”
Hence the odds in favor of No.
Not surprisingly, there are lots of prop bets featuring Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, the media star of this Super Bowl.
You can bet on whether San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree will tweet about Sherman during the Super Bowl.
“He has an active Twitter account,” Morrow says about Crabtree. “We’ve seen him tweet during other NFL games. We’re thinking that if Sherman gets beat on a touchdown play, Crabtree will have something to say on that.”
Yes is +200, meaning that if you bet $100 and win, you would collect $300.
No is -300, meaning that if you bet $100 on No and win, you would collect $133.
You can even bet on whether Sherman will be interviewed by sideline reporter Erin Andrews after the game on the live FOX broadcast.
Andrews usually interviews somebody from the winning team, but, says Morrow, given the interest, “FOX would be wise to get that follow-up interview with Sherman” either way.
Yes is +150. No is -200.
You can bet on whether any members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who’ll join Bruno Mars for a halftime performance, will be shirtless during their show. The band is known for going topless.
“We’ve been looking back at past shows, going through YouTube, and trying to keep up with TMZ, People magazine,” says Morrow.
He placed the odds at Yes, even; No, -140.
“The bettors are hoping they’ll go shirtless. I don’t know if that’s the female influence or not,” says Morrow.
For Washington state residents, online gambling is a bit of a problem.
It’s illegal here, and penalties can range from a gross misdemeanor to a Class C felony, with a conviction getting you up to a year in jail.
But, acknowledges Susan Newer, spokeswoman for the state’s Gambling Commission, “I’m not aware” of any individuals being prosecuted for online gambling.
Bovada’s terms of service state that customers are “solely responsible” for complying with local regulations.
It has its license issued by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, located in the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, Canada. That puts it out of reach of U.S. authorities.
Overall online sports betting estimates are guesses.
The one accurate betting figure comes from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which says that $98.9 million was bet on the 2012 Super Bowl in that state’s 183 sports books, with a profit of $7.2 million. That state, by the way, only allows online betting for state residents.
From that figure, personal-finance site mint.com estimates that $8 billion was bet worldwide on the Super Bowl.
If you decide to be law-abiding, Bovada even lets you print out your own “party prop sheet ” for use at home with friends.
Morrow says he grew up in Canada, although he doesn’t disclose exactly where. He says he first began betting on hockey games in provincial lotteries at age 15, so “I could double-up my allowance.”
He went to college to become a teacher and then dropped out to become a gambler.
He filled out a job application at Bovada.
“You get interviewed, they talk shop, make sure you know sports, the math side,” says Morrow. “It’s a results-driven business. Working a sports book is like being a trader in New York City. If you lose your company money, you’re out pretty quick.”
Morrow says his bosses decided he’d work out of Antigua, where the weather forecast for Tuesday calls for a high 81, low of 73. Tough working conditions.
He would much rather make odds on such things as rushing yards or passing yards, Morrow says, for which he’s more assured. He can use past performance and mathematical analysis instead of TMZ.
But people want to bet on such things as whether Renée Fleming will forget or omit at least one word when singing the national anthem. The odds are Yes, +250; No, -400.
Morrow still remembers when Christina Aguilera botched the words to the anthem in the 2011 Super Bowl.
Bovada had a prop bet on how long she’d take to sing the anthem.
“She omitted a few words, and the over/under was so close that it pushed it under and we took a licking,” says Morrow.
More gimmick bets?
You can bet on what color Gatorade or liquid will be dumped on the head coach of the winning team.
That meant going through videos of previous games.
Clear is a 2-to-1 bet. The chanciest bet is green, at 10-to-1.
Finally, not so good news for Hawks fans on a straight-up bet on the game.
No gimmicks on this one, just a bet on whether Seattle or Denver wins.
Seattle comes in at +115, Denver at -135.
That means a winning $100 bet on the Hawks pays out $215. A $100 on Denver to win pays just $174.
“We just feel a little more confident about Denver. The odds reflect a 55 percent chance they’ll win,” says Morrow. “It’ll be a one-possession game.”