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Oh, say can you see: I obviously couldn't

9 February 2004

Dear Mark,
A few years ago, you recommended in your column that at least once we should make the pilgrimage to Nevada and watch the Super Bowl in a sportsbook. I had the pleasure of doing that this year in Reno. I never had so much fun watching the game, and I ended up a winner betting Carolina and getting the points (7). Anyhow, one thing I had no idea of was that you could make different types of bets, like, a wager who would win the coin toss. Have you ever made any of these wagers? I didn't make one; but what is the cost (casino take) of such a bet? Ty G.

Ah yes, Ty, I have been known to dabble (squander hard-earned money) on a few "proposition" bets as they're called. With so many proposition bets to choose from — I saw one website offering 618 of the little darlin's — and so little money, I decided this year to make just one wager inspired by a 1931 Act of Congress.
I bet that Beyoncé Knowles would sing the National Anthem in under 1:50. And why would I do that?

Well, I found in my local library seven recordings of the National Anthem all timing out at well under 1:50. I also reckoned that they choreographed the aircraft flyover for a precise time: just as Knowles would finish "O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!" "Got 'em by the short hairs," I figured, and laid down what looked like the proverbial "lock" bet.

What I did not handicap was that the retractable roof at Reliant Stadium happened to be closed for inclement weather. I also overlooked Jose Feliciano's unorthodox rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner when he strummed a slow, bluesy rendition of the national anthem before Game 5 of the World Series between Detroit and St. Louis that rambled on for what seemed like 15 minutes. No, he didn't sing all four verses — yep, there are four — but the minor concert was so long that it threw Detroit's starting pitcher Mickey Lolich pregame preparations completely off. Miss Knowles, aka Speedy, brought it home in a scorching 2:08:12. Another losing ticket for my collection.

I'll bet if a honed handicapper had gone to the film library and timed preceding Super Bowl National Anthem performers like Diana Ross, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Whitney Houston, Harry Connick, Jr., Garth Brooks, Natalie Cole, Vanessa Williams, Luther Vandross, Jewel, Cher, Faith Hill, the Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey and last year's group the Dixie Chicks, most, if not all of them, would be more than 1:50.

Generally, Ty, when you place a proposition wager, you lay 11 to win 10, though the stretch can be even higher. That means for you to win $100, you have to wager $110, no matter which side of the coin toss you are betting on. If you bet tails and it is tails, you collect $210 — your $110 initial wager plus your $100 winnings. This 10% commission, also called a vigorish (aka vig), is the compensation taken by the house on every proposition bet wagered.

My biggest score, i.e. greenbacks moving my way, was when a 300-pound lineman (small by today's standards) named Refrigerator Perry scored a touchdown for the Chicago Bears in Superbowl XX. Yay! though my lifetime record for proposition betting is as follows: I win some, lose more.

Gambling quote of the week: "When you're in a hole, stop digging." —Anonymous

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.