The NFL Superbowl is huge across the pond photo: via

May the odds be ever in your favour

Edward Clark reviews the UK student’s experience of gambling on the Superbowl

“We can have Manning for MVP at 2.8, and if we place on a Seahawks-Seahawks ten point lead and victory we can have fours. Ed, do you want a piece? A tenner on the winning margin being less than 11.5 points?”

Call me unappreciative of foreign sports, but I didn’t even know you could score half a point in the NFL. Yet such was the impenetrable mix of American Football know-how and gambling terminology that overtook my house on Sunday evening. Our resident American has, to my mind, infected the rest of my housemates with an obsession for the world’s slowest moving game, and in true U.S. of A fashion we were having a Superbowl party. The Seattle Seahawks took on the Denver Broncos in what was billed as ‘the biggest world event since last year’s Superbowl’.
“Remind me what a ‘first and seven’ is again, please”, I ask for what will be the first of many times in the night. Coupled with such insightful observations as “so actually they never even touch the ball down” or “that’s not a proper scrum”, the other seven members of the party would surely have had reason to ask me to leave, were it not my house and all. Oh yes, and the fact that they were more concerned with the hundreds of pounds of spread bets they had on the game. Now, I don’t intend to paint a picture of me in complete innocence, abstaining manfully against the debilitating world of gambling; even though my father has called any form of a flutter “a mug’s game” each time the topic has come up in my twenty years on Earth. No, I enjoy a wager as much as the next man. Just not if the next man was someone else at that party. For whilst I was buzzing from the pure adrenaline released by a ten pound bet on the Seahawks to win (I was intrigued, having never seen a sea hawk before – turns out it’s an osprey, but the ‘Seattle Ospreys’? Please.), my friends set to work on spreading bets wider than Manny Ramirez’s pass to Peyton Manning after twelve seconds (zing).
The bets placed ranged (to my luddite mind at least) from the normality of result and score, through the intricacy of total completed passes or yards made by individuals, to the frankly bizarre of how many times ol’ Peyton would say “Omaha” in his team’s huddle. Apparently it refers to an offensive play by the Broncos, not Manning asking whether any of his teammates want to play cards after the game. Once the bets veered away from the throwing and catching of an odd-shaped ball, then gamblers madness really had descended on Leamington. The national anthem, apparently, was a certainty to be sung in over 2 minutes 25 seconds, and anyone not placing money on such a patently incalculable occurrence was barely worth being included in the joint bet being run on whether or not Anthony Kiedis would be performing with or without a shirt. The sartorial choices of the Red Hot Chili Peppers aside, Barack Obama was guaranteed to be a Broncos fan. Or was it Seahawks? I forget. One of the tensest moments of the entire night came when Joe Namath tossed the coin to decide ends for the start. One housemate is enthralled. “Come on, tails! Tails never fails!” he bellows at the screen. And despite the maths disagreeing with him, tails it is, netting him the princely sum of two pounds. The room erupts.
The game itself barely lived up to billing of any sort. Even I could tell that when you have to perform a sort of touchdown in your own goal area within a few seconds of the match starting, things aren’t going to go your way. The Broncos were brushed aside by the Seahawks (hooray for my tenner), and hardly any bets came in for those who had wagered on the Broncos. Even Peyton Manning, star of the season, failed to bring in the cash for my housemates or their buddies. In fact, I was surprised that all bets weren’t off when he started throwing the ball directly to the opposition. The living room was split then, once the five-hour TV marathon of ‘English commentators showing barely more knowledge than me on the subject of the Superbowl’ was over, between winners and losers. Or rather, those ‘up’ or ‘down’. That phraseology has always been intriguing to me, for it suggests that, even though events might not have gone the gambler’s way tonight, tomorrow he’ll be bouncing back, for he’s heard of an absolute guaranteed result in the NBA, or on the football pitch, or anywhere in fact. Forget the money lost today, tomorrow it’s coming back with interest. It’s the endless and boundless optimism of those who constantly try to beat the odds; always down, but never out. For me, the whole experience was summed up by a housemate turning to me, eyes burning with the gleam of a man who has found ‘an edge’.
“I can get odds on who the MVP will mention first in his post-match speech”, he cries, “and God’s at three to one!”
Perhaps Owen Feltham was right, even four hundred years ago, when he reminded us that the things we lose through gaming are “our time and treasure: two things most precious to the life of man”. Under the excitement and anticipation of fractions (whatever happened to proper odds?) being traded across the room, behind the veneer of expertise on yards, passes and potential unnecessary roughness (what a name for punching someone), lies the old truism that gambling is destructive. Dress it up on the internet, hand out free bets, entice the uncorrupted into the world of few highs and many lows. But just walk into any bookies in the country, and wince at the sight of yourself in thirty years.
Not that I have too much time to worry about that. One of Resident American’s friends has introduced us to a new card game called ‘gootz’. I presume it to be of Germanic origin, until everyone else points out that it’s called ‘guts’, making me racist against northern accents. I am mortified. To make up for it, I continue to play cards well into the night (including, as Peyton Manning would approve of) Omaha. In fact, I won’t sleep until Tuesday morning, and when the cards are put away, I seem to have lost a load of money. Oh well, I’ll make it back tomorrow, I think. I might be down, but I’m certainly not out.


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