Ah, February: the shortest month of the year. Historians might tell you that February’s diminished length is due to the Romans, who shortchanged the month in order to ensure that no other month would have an even number of days (which they considered to be unlucky). That certainly seems reasonable, but perhaps there is a different explanation. Perhaps February is shorter because it hosts one of the most important days in American culture, an event whose cultural gravity is so strong that it can pull entire days off the calendar. That day is Super Bowl Sunday, the biggest day in American football and thus American sports.
As much a national holiday as it is a football match, the Super Bowl is the greatest time of year for advertising agencies, snack food companies, and, perhaps not surprisingly, gamblers. Super Bowl Sunday is the apex of American sports betting, with experts estimating that over $4.2 billion in bets will be wagered for the game on February 7. So powerful is the pull of the Super Bowl that even Americans who have never played a hand of poker in their life find themselves throwing a few dollars down on the outcome of the game. The vast majority of that betting will take place not in the cigarette smoke-filled haze of Las Vegas casinos, but online, in the many privately owned sportsbooks operating out of countries like Costa Rica.
The world of online gambling is a fascinating subject, both because of its popularity and the legal issues associated. Throughout much of the U.S., online gambling is frowned upon, with state governments in particular frowning upon it. The exact legal status of online sports betting is also complicated, with federal agencies offering shifting views. Sports betting is definitely illegal in the U.S. outside of certain areas such as Nevada, however the non-physical nature of the Internet muddies the waters. Further complicating matters is the rise of fantasy sports, with companies like DraftKings claiming that theirs is a game of skill, not chance. Anyone interested in betting on the Super Bowl online should keep these legal issues in mind, but also note that no individual has been arrested for placing a bet online. Consider the following information purely educational, and not a recommendation to bet.
So how exactly does one go about placing a Super Bowl bet? The first step is to find a reputable sportsbook. As with any illicit enterprise, reputation is important; nobody wants to give their money to a bookie known for stiffing clients. There are a lot of online sportsbooks located around the world. Among the most popular and well regarded are:
Notably, all of these domains are based in Europe. Making an account at any of these sites is a straightforward process. Most sites will require typical user information such as name, email address, phone number, etc.
In order to place a bet, most sites will require a credit card (generally Visa or MasterCard). Additionally, they will typically require photo ID to go with the card. With a profile set up, all that remains is to start betting.
For any individual game, sites will typically have you fill out a bet slip, with each individual bet you want to make. In the case of Bovada, one clicks on the various items they want to bet on, entering the money they will risk. The site will automatically say how much a bettor will win on each item if they are correct. For those unfamiliar with sports betting, there are a few things worth knowing.
Various regions of the world have their own ways of presenting odds. American bookies generally use something called a moneyline, which indicates which team is expected to win, which is expected to lose, and the payout for either choice. A money line will always be either a positive or negative number, indicated by a +/- sign, with positive indicating the underdog and negative indicating the favored team. The positive number also indicates how much money a bettor will make if they bet $100, while the negative number is the amount one must bet in order to win $100.
In a preview for the upcoming Super Bowl, for example, the Carolina Panthers have been assigned a moneyline of -210. This means that if one bets $210 on the Panthers to win the game, they will win $100 in addition to receiving their original bet back, for a total of $310. The Broncos, meanwhile, have a moneyline of +175. If one were to bet $100 that the Broncos win and they do, that bettor would walk away with $275.
The spread refers to the expected difference in score between the teams, and it is possible to bet on whether or not a team will “cover the spread.” Like the moneyline, this figure is given as either a positive or a negative value, with an additional number in parentheses indicating the payout for that bet. If the Panthers are given a spread of -6 (-115), that means that they must win by more than six points (so, at least seven) in order to cover the spread. For example, a bettor places $115 on the Carolina spread. The Panthers then win the game 25-10. Carolina has won by more than six, so the bettor wins back their bet plus an additional $100, as per the moneyline.
On the other hand, the Broncos have a spread of +6, meaning that if they lose by fewer than six points, or even win the game, the bettor will win the spread. So, if the Denver spread is +6(105), and the Panthers win with a final score of 25-20, a person who bet on the Denver spread wins. On a $100 wager, they would win their bet back and an additional $105 as per the moneyline attached the spread, for a total of $205.
Betting on who will win is the simplest way to play, but more serious football fans may want something that tests their knowledge of the game. Prop (short for proposition) bets are wagers on various aspects of the game other than the final outcome. For example, one might place a bet that the first score of the game will be a safety, as famously happened when the Seahawks played the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. One might also bet on who will win MVP, or which team will record more first downs, or even who will win the coin toss. There are many outcomes on which to place a prop bet, some of them incredibly granular.
The legality of online sports betting: a real sticky wicket
The Internet tends to make all forms of commerce easier; this is as true of gambling as it is of ordering things on Amazon. Getting started in online sports betting is a fairly easy process, however it should be noted that it is also a legally gray one. Betting on sports is, in general, illegal in the U.S. Moreover, many states have laws regulating gambling in general, however these laws get a bit complicated when it comes to the Internet. This is largely due to Article I of the Constitution, specifically the Commerce Clause which grants the power to regulate interstate commerce exclusively to the Federal government.
What exactly is the Federal government’s stance on online sports betting? That it is illegal. The FBI, for example, makes its views on the matter particularly clear. However, as with any situation where law and the Internet collide, Federal regulation of online gambling is complicated. Federal agencies are more concerned with the big picture when it comes to online gambling; the potential for money laundering, for example, and the banks and other large organizations that could be involved. As of the date of publication, no individual has been arrested for placing a bet on a sporting event. Instead, the government targets the sportsbooks themselves. Many of the most popular sites for sports betting are based outside of the U.S., further complicating matters.
It is important to note that, even though no bettor will likely ever be arrested for betting on the Super Bowl, there are still dangers. In the event that the government goes after a site, they have the power to freeze or seize any assets in that company’s possession, including any bets users have tied up in the site. The most famous example of this was an event dubbed “Black Friday” by online poker players, the day when the Justice Department cracked down on the biggest online poker sites. While nobody was arrested for playing poker online, millions of dollars stored in players’ accounts evaporated overnight, lost to the digital void. When you bet online, you aren’t only betting against the house.