While the Philistines battled the Israelites, as written in the Old Testament, some bystander probably looked at the giant Goliath, looked at the diminutive David, and saw an opportunity.
Sure, there was money to be made in a straight-up wager on the underdog, David, but what if you could put a few extra shekels down on a slingshot being the weapon causing the knockout? That’s where the real money could be made.
While this wasn’t how the prop bet was born, it might as well be. For a bunch of people in this country, betting on anything but the final outcome has been a religious experience. And the NCAA basketball tournament is one of the holy seasons.
A proposition bet, known as a prop, is essentially a wager on something other than the winner or loser of a game. For the Super Bowl, bettors could try and guess the first touchdown scorer, the MVP, whatever — as long as an accurate and official measurement is provided. That’s the Nevada state regulation.
Head to some corners of the internet where the regulations are more lax and you can bet on the length of the national anthem, the halftime performer’s outfit and the color of the Gatorade poured on the winning coach’s head.
At MGM’s 12 Las Vegas resorts, prop bets generated about 30 percent of the total wagered on the Super Bowl. At the Las Vegas Hotel’s famed SuperBook, that number was more than half.
“People are getting more comfortable betting propositions,” said Jay Kornegay, the Las Vegas Hotel’s vice president of the SuperBook.
The country first widely became aware of the option during the 1986 Super Bowl, when the Vegas books offered bets on whether or not defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry would score a touchdown.
“That’s pretty much when the boon started. That was the first one that was really put up on the board, embraced by the media and talked about,” said Jay Rood, MGM Resorts vice president of race and sports.
“All the other props — there have been props that have been out there forever, like in baseball, total runs, hits and errors by both teams. But that’s not very sexy. Having a gigantic man that’s meant to play defense carrying the ball and scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl, that’s a story everybody wants to talk about.”
From there, prop bets gained even more popularity during a string of blowout Super Bowls in the ’90s, as bookmakers searched for ways to keep people engaged and betting even if the final result was a foregone conclusion.
A generation later and “heads or tails” is just as bettable as “win or lose,” and with the NCAA tournament coming up, a new round of props are hitting the market.
There are the obvious ones — how the No. 1 seeds will fare, over/unders for total wins per conference, the number of overtime games. And, there are the less obvious, like at MGM, where people can just bet on the first team to score 15 points.
“We’re looking for bets that will generally appeal to the public,” Rood said. “… One, it’s got to be something that can be easily followed, they can kind of keep track of in their head.
“They don’t have to go back and forth to a box score or something like that. … Or, something that keeps them in the game despite what’s happening in the actual game itself.”
It’s a creative process that Las Vegas’ bookmakers say is time consuming — and one that might benefit from some fresh ideas. A few suggestions for NCAA tournament props:
How many NBA players will Lonzo Ball’s dad, LaVar, call out?
Stephen Curry already caught the Ball patriarch’s fire, and a deep UCLA run would probably put LeBron, Michael, Kareem and every other player good enough to only go by one name on LaVar Ball’s radar.
What instrument will the crying band member be playing in this year’s meme?
This happens every year, and for some reason the woodwinds always seem like the most emotional.
While none of these will be offered in Vegas this March — and that’s the real madness — there will be plenty of money changing hands over things other than the final score.
“You just try to let your imagination go,” Kornegay said.
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