The Wacky World of Proposition Betting

Super Bowl proposition wagering has become huge business. As difficult as it is to believe, there were literally billions of dollars bet on each Super Bowl on such things as the coin toss, the halftime performer’s set list, and how long it takes to sing the national anthem.

Whereas the Super Bowl is the pinnacle of proposition betting, it has not always been that way. In fact, sports proposition betting probably originated in baseball back in the 1870s. Baseball betting was popular in those days, as the owners were known to be bettors who bet on their teams. That carried over to the spectators, as well, who could often meet in the bleachers directly under the “No Gambling” sign and could wager on the outcome of the game, as well if the next batter could reach base, balls and strikes, so on.

Sonny Reizner, the man most often given credit to starting the proposition wagering craze in Las Vegas, readily admitted his betting career began in the bleachers of Fenway Park in the 1930s.

In 1960, a man named David Threlfall came to William Hill and wagered 10 British Sterling pounds that a man could set foot on the moon before Jan. 1, 1970. Hill offered 1,000-to-1 odds that such an event would happen, and when Apollo 11 set foot on the moon in July of 1969, Threlfall was 10,000 pounds richer. Unluckily, Threlfall died when he crashed the sports car he purchased with his winnings.

In 1979, Jackie Vaughan, the owner of the El Cortez Hotel in Las Vegas, drew attention when he posted odds on where Skylab could land when it crashed. Vaughan offered different odds on various locations, including 10,000-to-1 odds that it would land on the El Cortez. Those who bet Skylab would land on Australia were awarded at 30-to-1 odds.

But maybe the most famous proposition bet of all time happened in 1980, when Reizner offered odds on the most essential question of the year, “Who shot J.R.?”

Reizner knew he was in danger with the Nevada Gaming Control Board by providing such a wager, and tried to pass it off as a sports bet by including Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry as a suspect, but the GCB was not buying it and he was ordered to refund all bets.

The Gaming Control Board pretty much drew the line afterward, saying only sports related bets would be allowed, as Johnny Quinn, sportsbook manager at the Union Plaza found out when he posted odds on whose body would be seen in the grave of Lee Harvey Oswald. Odds could be seen on whether the grave would contain Oswald, Jack Ruby, a Soviet agent, or nobody. The wager was quickly shut down.

Some other famous tales of proposition bets float around, like the story of William Hill providing a Glaskow postman odds of 20 million-to-1 if Elvis crashed a UFO on top of the Loch Ness Monster.

People can also see some degree of convenience in proposition bets. When astronomers stated there was a 1-in-909,000 possibility that the world would end in 2014 because of being hit by an asteroid, William Hill oddsmakers said those odds were about as possible as Elvis reappearing and marrying Madonna or the Loch Ness Monster being seen on the first manned Mars expedition.

Super Bowl Prop Madness Begins

The 1985 Chicago Bears caught the attention of the nation, as a dominating defense, an outspoken quarterback, and a soft spoken Hall of Fame running back began the season with 12 straight victories before losing its first game of the season.

As the wins began to mount, so did the attention on another player, a big defensive lineman by the name of William Perry, better known to football fans as “The Refrigerator.”

Perry was used in the Bears’ backfield on occasion, mainly as a blocking back, but did see the ball on occasion and scored three touchdowns during the regular season.

After the Bears advanced to the Super Bowl, sportsbooks set odds of 20-to-1 that Perry could score a touchdown and a flood of money came in on Perry scoring, although Bears coach Mike Ditka said he would not use Perry in the backfield. Perry did indeed score and sportsbooks lost a fortune on that proposition, however, the Super Bowl proposition boom was born.

Now, gamblers have hundreds of various Super Bowl propositions to select. While sportsbooks in Nevada are restricted to offering sports wagers only, offshore sportsbooks are under no such limits and there were wagers offered regarding the number of songs Bruce Springsteen could perform at halftime of Super Bowl XVIII, if Springsteen or if any members of the E Street Band would have a “wardrobe malfunction,” and countless others.

Jay Kornegay, sportsbook manager of the Las Vegas Hilton, says that more than half of his bets on the game are in the form of proposition wagers. Whereas that figure is definitely higher than the average sportsbook, if just 10-percent of the money bet on the game is done through proposition wagering, we are talking about $1 billion to $1.2 billion being bet on props. However you look at it, that is not chump change.

Even if you do not like the point spread or the total on this year’s big game, it is a safe bet that you can find at least one proposition to place a wager on.


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