Keidel: Super Bowl Is Reminder It's Time To Legalize Sports Betting

Billions Were Wagered As Chiefs Beat 49ers On Sunday

Jason Keidel
February 03, 2020 - 1:33 pm

As we put the postmortems on Super Bowl LIV, we debate whether the Chiefs won it (kinda) or if the 49ers blew it (sorta). We wonder if Patrick Mahomes earned the MVP or if Damien Williams got robbed. We also lift Andy Reid on our symbolic shoulders as a good guy, and a great coach, who finally bagged his white whale - the Lombardi Trophy. 

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But the most fascinating headline from the Super Bowl had nothing to do with a punt, pass, or kick. Nor did it have any effect on the final score. 

A big-time bullet point under the final score tells us that Patrick Mahomes not only broke the Niners hearts when he took the final few knees in the victory formation; he also lightened many American wallets. 

Now that gambling has been legalized and pulled out of the shadows, you no longer have to place a clandestine call to "Carmine" from your local chapter of La Costra Nostra, we can openly chat about the worst kind of bad beats in a football game. Worse than a backdoor cover with 30 seconds left, more rare than a Hail Mary. 

One rather popular prop bet was on the number of rushing yards posted by Patrick Mahomes. The over/under opened at 27.5 yards. There was so much action on the over that the number mushroomed to 36.5 before kickoff. Around 70% of the wagers were placed on Mahomes going over, acording to William Hill U.S. Sportsbooks. When you consider the Kansas City QB's tap-dancing and tip-toeing prowess, including a sublime 30-yard touchdown run in the AFC title game, the public was bullish on Mahomes. 

Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

So, naturally, Mahomes ran for a tidy 44 yards entering the team's final drive to ice the Super Bowl. Gamblers were already thumbing through their cash, grinning at the greatness of their wager. Then a funny - or horrifying - thing happened. 

Mahomes took a knee to bleed the clock. Then he took another, and another. And thus, in the final 57 seconds Mahomes' robust rushing total shrank from 44 to 29. As the bettors hemorrhaged money, the casino's raked it in, to the tune of a six-figure swing, according Caesars Sportsbook. According to William Hill, more money was on Mahomes' legs than on any of the hundreds of prop bets offered, and literally twice the money was placed on the over than the under. 

PointsBet mercifully chose to refund all bets placed on the over when the number was 30.5 points. According to their Twitter account, they pardoned the bettors because "if there's been a worse beat on a prop bet than this one, feel free to let us know!"

The Super Bowl has long been a sports bettor's utopia. The IRS estimates that $6.8 billion was wagered on Super Bowl LIV (though they have more sinister reasons for researching such things). For decades, the NFL refused to admit it, but regular folks and rabid fans watch football for a myriad of reasons beyond the wholesome fun of football or the life lessons learned from it. If you weren't a Chiefs or Niners fan, and didn't tune in just for the opulent commercials or halftime gyrations from two hip-worthy women, you likely bet on the game. Especially the Super Bowl, which offers a cornucopia of bets and prop bets and parlays you never see in any other NFL game. You can drop a few quid on the coin toss, length of the national anthem, the number of turnovers, who scores first, last, or most often. 

It's about time these wagers migrate from the wrinkled pages of your local bookie to the bright lights of your smart phone. Illegal gambling has long been one of those appallingly myopic judgements made by people who protest simply because it sounds good, the logic stuck in the muck of the 19th Century. Let’s say the Chiefs and 49ers each had 10 million people rooting for them. That leaves another 80 million Americans watching just for fun, not for the team colors, but for the color of money. 

We've already sanctioned office pools, in which the cubicle king or queen snatches $10 or $0 from us on payday, gives us some numbers, and assures us that if our numbers come up at the end of a quarter or end of the game we cash in for a modest sum. It's gambling every bit as much as the bookmaker or sportsbook, but it's never been viewed through a puritanical prism since the thing is operated by employed, well-dressed - and thus well-intentioned - people. Now that New Jersey has jumped on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on legalized sports betting, we no longer must wink or nod when we discuss it on public forums. 

And naturally, the odds on next season's Super Bowl are already out. Vegas has already lathered its walls with the favored Chiefs 6-1, the Ravens at 7-1, the 49ers at 9-1, the Saints at 11-1 and Pats at an unfamiliar 14-1. It's never too early to bet on the NFL. And now Uncle Sam has learned it's never too late to look at sports betting as source of revenue, not the object of outdated scorn. 

You can follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel