Vegas would like you to gamble on 5/2 odds that Beyoncé’s shoes at Super Bowl 50 will be brown, gold, or an indubitable shade of brownish gold. They also offer 10/1 odds of an earthquake interrupting the game, and 6/1 odds that Peyton Manning will cry at some point.
Experts say these kinds of wagers are rainmakers for Vegas.
Because they’re bad investments for everyone else.
If you’re contributing to the American Gaming Association’s estimated total of $4.2 billion in bets placed on America’s most lucrative sporting event this weekend, there’s a good chance you’re opting for the increasingly popular method of Super Bowl gambling: the prop bet.
The three most common wagers for the Super Bowl are on spread, total, and props or propositions. Spread is the estimated difference between the teams’ final scores. Total is the estimated number of total points scored by both teams. A prop is a random occurrence bookies hypothesized from thin air to line their pockets off of novice gamblers’ gossip and giggles.
Kevin “The Sports Geek” McClelland and his team of researchers spent the better part of the last decade doling out free sports betting advice. So have Peter Anadio and his team, who offer a money-back guarantee to subscribers who don’t win with his predictions. Neither of these advisers put their money on gimmicky prop bets for Super Bowl 50.
Here’s why they say you shouldn’t either:
1. The House Takes Bigger Commissions On Prop Bets
Vegas knows countless Super Bowl gamblers don’t follow football or even gambling and are therefore more likely to bet on what song Coldplay will play first or how long Lady Gaga’s national anthem will be. So they prey on the uninformed with outrageous bets by hiking their commission, also known as vig or juice.
Juice is what keeps the house making money, and it’s indicated in a way that keeps greenhorns confused. For bettors, the ideal juice on a total or spread wager is usually -110 on both sides of the bet, which means $100 go to every winning $110 gamble, while the house gets $10.
“But for the Super Bowl props, a lot of these books are going to throw out -120 on either side,” says McClelland. “You want to stay away from those completely.”
2. Prop Odds Are Often Arbitrary
The current spread has Carolina winning by 5.5 points. Denver may have 18 players with Super Bowl experience to Carolina’s seven, but Manning is more fragile than ever, and the Broncos have 10 injured players to Carolina’s three. There’s plenty more logic where that came from to justify the 5.5 spread.
The logic behind the prop bet on how many times the camera will point to John Elway, however, is anybody’s guess.
What if a player runs into him on the sidelines? What if he gets a case of the runs and has to leave? What if, in light of being asked to run for office, Elway wears a quasi-political tie that sparks a discussion over his Republican affiliations?
“They don’t really have a scientific way of setting the odds on the props,” McClelland says. “[Vegas] just kind of throws out a number knowing they’re going to make money on it regardless.”
Anadio gives the house more credit, saying there are “a million different variables on how they get these odds.” But both advisers agree that it doesn’t really matter, because...
3. Prop Outcomes Are Especially Impossible For You To Predict
The Super Bowl’s outlandish prop bets are designed to generate buzz as well as inspire gambling from people who otherwise don’t. In other words, they’re designed to suckle money from those who care more about Beyoncé’s stiletto collection than Manning’s inability to feel his fingertips since having multiple neck surgeries in 2011.
It’s by design that these bets are fun to talk about but also by design that understanding their likelihood is an exercise in futility.
“Prop bets are so farfetched and difficult to understand most of them, which is how Vegas makes money off of them,” Anadio says. “They want the players to feel like they have an edge, so [Vegas] puts up numbers that are A) nonrealistic and that people don’t understand, or B) something in the middle so they’ll win off the juice they charge.”
4. Odds Are Far Better On Total And Spread Bets
The best prop bet is a 50/50 shot that is purely a matter of chance, like the coin flip (unless you’re betting the prop on whether the Golden Gate Bridge will be shown during the San Francisco broadcast, because of course it will). The juice on these is low, and the bettor’s lack of research doesn’t matter.
But most of the buzzworthy props have multiple-choice answers that drastically diminish bettor odds. What color Gatorade will be poured on the winning coach? Who will the MVP mention first in his speech?
“People betting are on vacation and they see something funny that they like, but only 1 out of 5 people will actually win those,” Anadio says. “On the other hand, you got a 50% chance on the yes and no bets—the spreads and over/unders.”
5. The Experts Aren’t Putting Any Money On Prop Bets, So Neither Should You
Neither McClelland nor Anadio is betting on props for Super Bowl 2015, but each plans to put their money where their clients’ is with smarter wagers. The experts say it’s too early to lock anything in until the last minute, and that’s not the only thing they agree on.
Vegas’ current total is set at 44.5 points, which seems a little steep for two teams with top 10 defenses in the league. Plus, Super Bowl gamblers tend to bet the over because nobody wants to cheer for a low-scoring game.
That’s why, as of four days before the Super Bowl, both of these professional gamblers plan to bet the under.
But if you’re feeling lucky, go ahead and put money on Queen B showing up to the halftime show in apricot slippers. Apricot is within the realm of brown, gold, or brownish gold, right?