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Friday, December 25, 2009

Chapter 15. You Better, You Bet

by Bob Andelman

"We need something to gamble on. And since you've got money on football, you might as well watch it."
Bruce Kessler
North Brunswick, N.J.

The gambling aspect of football is huge. It cannot be ignored. Go to college or pro games -- or sports bars, even -- you'll see people lined up at pay phones to call in their bets. And if it's not so widespread, why do the sports sections of most major dailies print Las Vegas-style betting odds for football games?

ESPN Monday Night Football logoImage via Wikipedia
Football is the nation's most popular sport. The best reason for gambling on it is that's it's a regularly scheduled, weekly event with fewer games than any other major professional sport. Take the 162-game baseball season and divide by 1/10. The amount of money bet on baseball might then be equal to football, but it's unlikely.

Scoring rules the line. Whereas baseball is a low-scoring sport in which games commonly end 4-2, 2-1, a relative football score would be 28-14 or 14-3. The way points are counted also makes football a little more attuned to gambling.

"People make a lot of the 'line,' " Chicago Bear Report managing editor Larry Mayer says. "Even people who aren't bettors, it's a nice thing to be able to toss around, 'Do you think they'll cover?' "

Mike North became interested in football because he gambled. A lot.

"My opinion is, if there was no gambling , football would be America's third sport, behind baseball and basketball," he says. "There's billions of dollars gambled annually on football. You go to any sports book and they're packed on Saturdays and Sundays. Look at office pools. Billions!"

It's easy to understand the appeal: unlike horse racing, bettors start with a 50/50 chance. You can then complicate a bet with over/under point spreads. In the Super Bowl, you can bet anything -- even the coin toss.

North, a Chicago radio personality at WSCR, describes himself as a "Kool-aid drinking, Jim Jones Bears fan." He doesn't place wagers on gridiron games anymore. But it was fun while it lasted.

"I quit when I got the job here. It's a federal offense; there's no sense jeopardizing your job for it," he says. "I love the game for the hitting, the violence, the spread. I don't enjoy the game as much as I did when I bet on it. I started gambling on football when I was 17. It's illegal in Chicago but there's a bookie on every other corner. Monday Night Football still draws a major audience because people have money on it. Otherwise, it would have gone the way of My Mother the Car."

In North's experience, if he's watching a game with six guys, at least three of them have money riding on the outcome.

Gambling may be something that heightens pleasure for men. Lots of people do extreme things to heighten sexuality and orgasms. Sometimes gambling becomes the main thing for men, not football.

"I can remember going to a game in Kansas City," Dr. D. Stanley Eitzen says. "Kansas City was way ahead and all of a sudden, late in the game, somebody was punting and people started booing. I didn't catch on. It had to do with the point spread. Instead of punting they should have tried to go for the first down because they could have kicked a field goal later on that would have affected the spread."

Gambling is endemic to football. Contrary to what some may say, "everybody" isn't betting on games, but far more men do it than talk about it.

"Why do I bet on football? I'm a gambler by nature," Joe DiRaffaele says. "I go to Vegas occasionally. I bet basketball games. But I don't bet on football to increase the excitement of the game. It's strictly for profit or loss. It's not some driven need. I bet on football because sometimes I can't believe how some of the oddsmakers will set a line and favor a team. I will bet occasionally on a football game. But I only bet on my 'lock' picks. I do have rules. I won't bet Dolphins games because I don't bet with my heart -- I only bet with my head. I will occasionally bet on the Jets. But, you know something? I'm great at picking them -- up to the Super Bowl. Then I get annihilated. I actually picked Buffalo in '93 -- I said, 'Hey, they've got a chance!'"

The appeal of gambling on football is easy to pinpoint. The odds are easy, in a sense, because you're picking one team over the other, not one in eight at the track or jai-alai. (Betting the spread will complicate your day.) And the game is unpredictable.

You're never certain of the outcome until the game is well under way. The suspense turns men on and makes it easy for sports to be linked to gambling -- the element of uncertainty and the seeming attempt by people to predict an outcome. The business of predicting the unpredictable and seeing whether it will come true is fun. Watching the drama unfold to see what will be the outcome is very gripping and suspense-filled. If you care about the teams that are involved it will hold your attention.

Larry Selvin bets one game a year -- the Super Bowl. "And I usually do well at it," he says. "There's been 27 Super Bowls and I've won nearly every time."

There is an addictive element to football gambling, not unlike drugs or alcohol. Some people, like Selvin, can do it once a year and move on. Others get started and can't stop.

"There may be a classification of people called 'addictive personalities'," Dr. Thomas A. Tutko says. "It may very well be inherited, biological or genetic but they do find that there are people that have this adrenalin rush from betting money and getting the results. There becomes a point where you can't control it. You just get carried away by it."

Tutko says gamblers and football fans fall in that category.

"I would suspect with the true gambler, however, it's the gambling that is far more important than the game because they are so addicted that football simply becomes the medium for their betting," he says.

It gets back to feeling special and feeling you know how to pick 'em or you know better than the other guy. It gives some men the feeling of being more involved in the game.

"You have a bigger stake," Dr. Stanley H. Teitelbaum says. "No pun intended. You feel more a part of it. It's illegal but zillions of people seem to find a way to do it and they enjoy it."

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