Super Bowl 51: Betting on More Than the Spread

For many, sports are about watching games they love played by teams they love. But, for millions more, it could mean wagers involving serious amounts of cash.

Sports gambling is a big business in the United States. Over the years, Americans have thrown more and more money into what has become a goliath of an industry.

Americans went from spending approximately $1.8 billion on sports gambling in 1992 to approximately $4.5 billion in 2016, according to the UNLV Center for Gaming Research,. These are the numbers they presented for bets made in Las Vegas, Nevada, where gambling is legal.

While that amount may seem staggering to some, it pales in comparison to the amounts of money being gambled off the books. Taking Super Bowl 51 for example: the illegal money from gambling on the NFL’s premier game is astronomical.

According to the American Gaming Association, Americans will spend $4.7 billion betting on Super Bowl 51, but 97 percent of those bets, approximately $4.5 billion, will be illegal. The AGA also states, by kickoff time on Sunday, approximately $132 million will be put down in sports books in Nevada, but that does not include the amount of money that will be trading hands Super Bowl weekend.

As for Texas, the law prohibits gambling, but there are ways people get around this. For instance, the law allows for social gambling such as a wager among friends, fantasy football leagues or football squares done amongst co-workers.

Cody Combest, a Lubbock native and casual gambler, said this is how he mainly gambles. He said he played in three fantasy football leagues this past season and spent $150 in total for entry into those leagues, but he makes individual bets throughout the season as well.

“When there is a game on and I’ve placed a bet on it, it makes me more invested in the game,” Combest said. “Makes me actually care if a certain team wins or not, when I might not otherwise be invested.”

Combest said he thinks gambling should be legalized because people should be allowed to spend money the way they see fit, especially fantasy football. He said there is a lot more skill involved as opposed to a game like Blackjack, but gambling in general makes sports more fun to watch.

While state law allows for this type of gambling, some Texas gamblers go to even further lengths to place bets on teams as common as the contenders for the Super Bowl, to more obscure teams like international hockey squads or low level college basketball teams.

Derrick Holland, doctoral candidate in Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication, said he did a practice ethnography about online illegal gambling and gambling in general in the central Texas region for his master’s course work.

Holland said he interviewed individuals who agreed to speak to him under the promise of anonymity, which was acceptable because ethnographies are done with anonymous sources. Of the individuals he spoke with, he said he learned about a couple of ways people gamble off the books: websites and out of country.

He said one individual would go down to Juarez, Mexico to place bets, but a couple of the others would use websites constructed by bookies in Las Vegas, who will take the bet off the website and go put it down in the actual casino. He said gambling across state lines is definitely illegal, but in many cases it is difficult to catch.

“A lot of these aren’t mainstream websites,” Holland said. “I mean a person creates a small little website and that’s how they put their bets in.”

Wiley, a Texas Tech student and former gambler who asked to be identified by his first name only, said these websites will allow you to bet on almost any aspect of the game including who wins the coin toss all the way to what type of Gatorade will be thrown onto the coach after the game. But, a word to the wise, he said there are no sure things in these bets.

“As far as winning goes, I would say close your eyes and pick one,” Wiley said. “Because that’s about the odds they are every time.”

About Joseph Marcades

Joseph is the Graduate Managing Director for The Hub@TTU. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Tech University and is currently pursuing his master's in mass communication. Has been with The Hub@TTU for one year. He loves his wife, football, golf, movies, Texas, and telling good stories.

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