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The Weird Wild World of Super Bowl Betting

Will Bruno Mars rock a Fedora and the Chili Peppers go without shirts? Get your money out, playas. It’s time to keep score.

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26.3 million.

19.2 million.

8.16 million.

And last but certainly not least…

108.4 million.

The first three numbers represent 2013’s highest TV viewership during the NBA Finals (Game 7), World Series (Game 6) and Stanley Cup Finals (Game 6). The fourth number is the audience for last year’s Super Bowl between the 49ers and Ravens.

So what makes the Super Bowl the television behemoth it has become? For context, just remember… the first Super Bowl (Packers-Chiefs, 1967) was broadcast on two networks (CBS and NBC) well before cable existed, leaving maybe three or four other channels available as options at home. And it still only attracted 51 million viewers… or less than half of last year’s game.

Speed, unpredictability and ferocity of the game are obvious factors that contribute to making the NFL our new national pastime by a country mile. But the personal investment many fans make in the sport is what really drives viewership and devotion off the charts. Personal investment, of course, in the form of gambling that varies from blatantly illegal (wagering with point spreads through human or online bookies) to legal (fantasy football and office pools).

Prop (proposition) bets, for example, which are becoming more outlandish and trendy with each passing year, are an increasingly popular aspect of the illegal variety. A good bookie will always tell you that the more options a bettor has to choose from, the most likely he or she will find a way to lose. Prop bets increase this likelihood by 5,000 percent.

Having said that, here are my Top 5 prop bets for Super Bowl XLVIII, an old AFC West matchup between the Broncos and Seahawks:

Will Renee Fleming wear gloves when she sings the National Anthem?

This is akin to that moment in Die Hard (the first one) when Hans and his henchmen open the Nakatomi vault for the first time and see the riches they worked so hard to steal sitting in front of them for the taking (temporarily, anyway). That said, there is absolutely NO WAY Fleming wears gloves during the anthem. Why? Fleming re-married in 2011 and has an impressive rock to show off to the world (and ex-husband). Temps will be above freezing, making gloves no longer a necessity. Go heavy on “no” to this yes or no wager.

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Which sideline reporter will appear on television first after kickoff: Erin Andrews or Pam Oliver?

No contest if there’s ever been one. Andrews is the reporter who landed the most famous postgame interview since Ali beat Liston in ’62 (“I must be the greatest!”) via the rant heard ‘round the world from Seattle’s Richard Sherman. Given the added notoriety received over the past ten days, how could Andrews not get the nod? Unless, of course, the entire Fox Sports control room is currently in Vegas betting their mortgages on Pam Oliver…

What will Bruno Mars be wearing on his head at the start of his halftime performance?

- Fedora - Fur hat - Tuque - No hat

Gotta go (lightly) no hat here. Mr. Mars (actual name: Peter Gene Hernandez) will want to offer up every ounce of his being—including his hair—to the biggest audience he’ll ever be exposed to. The wrong choice of Fedora, Fur hat or Tuque (transparency alert: I have no idea what this is) could lead to a fashion analysis the next day, which always end badly. No hat…but there’s little conviction behind this recommendation when compared to…

Will any member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers be shirtless during their performance?

We’ll keep this one brief: Absolutely. Put the tike’s college fund on this one. Flea will be your knight in shirtless armor.

How many times will New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (Peyton's brother) be shown on TV during the game?

- Over 1.5 - Under 1.5

Way, WAY over! Simple math here: Eli plays his home games at MetLife Stadium + Peyton having one less Super Bowl ring than his less-talented brother = Reality TV at its finest. The final number will be in the 5-6 range. Take out a third mortgage if needed.

Of course, you’ll either have to fly to Vegas or open an online betting account (which is against the law) in order to take advantage of the free money just bestowed upon you.

The Super Bowl is back for the 48th time this Sunday.

With respect to Apple, the NFL is arguably the most successful business in America right now.

The game itself is the most compelling reality show on the market.

But a boost in popularity—popularity defined by 110 million Americans tuned in—primarily comes from not who wins on the field, but who wins off it.