A few years ago, my favorite elderly aunt called me to ask me how betting on the Super Bowl works with an online sportsbook.
She’d gone to the betting site expecting to place a bet and only have to pay if she lost.
In other words, she was surprised that she had to make a deposit before being allowed to make a bet.
That seems naïve, but if you’re new to betting on sports – especially online – it’s an easy, understandable mistake to make.
For people who don’t already understand it, here’s how Super Bowl betting works:
A Bet on the Super Bowl Is Just a Bet on a Pro Football Game – You’re Usually Spread Betting
If you’re placing a bet on the Super Bowl, you’re just placing a bet on another pro football game. This doesn’t mean there aren’t differences. After all, the Super Bowl is the biggest pro game of the year.
Most people who bet on football “bet the spread.” This accounts for which team is the favorite and by how many points.
When you look at the list of possible bets available for the Super Bowl, you’ll see both teams’ names. One of those teams will have a negative number listed next to it. That team is the favorite.
If you bet on the favorite, you’ll subtract the number they’re favored by (the spread) before determining who won, at least for purposes of winning your bet.
If the Dallas Cowboys are a 1- point favorite over the Redskins, the listing will look like this:
Dallas Cowboys (-1) vs. Washington Redskins
If the Cowboys win 14 – 7, you’ll win your bet, because 14-1 is 13, which still wins against a point total of 7.
But if the Cowboys win 14 – 13, you have a tie when accounting for the spread. In that case, the result is a push, and you get no winnings.
And if the Redskins score more than the Cowboys, obviously, a bet on the Cowboys would lose.
The Over/Under Bet in the Super Bowl
The bet listing won’t just include the information above. There’s an additional piece of information following the game listing. It’s the over/under.
So, the listing would actually look like this:
Dallas Cowboys (-1) vs. Washington Redskins, O/U 55
The “55” in that example is the number of points that both teams are expected to score in aggregate.
You can bet that the total will be more than 55 by taking the over.
Or you can bet that the total will be less than 55 by taking the under.
And if the total is exactly 55, you’re in another push situation.
If the final score of the game has the Cowboys winning 28 to 7, the total score was 35 (28+7). A bet on the over would win, and a bet on the under would lose.
Over/under bets are also often called totals.
How the Vig Works When Placing a Super Bowl Bet
Most sportsbooks require you to risk $110 to win $100. They’ll usually list this as -110.
Some books require you to risk $120 to win $100, and others offer a lower vig and only charge $105 to win $100.
Since the point spread is supposed to give you a 50% probability of winning, it’s easy to see how the book makes a profit.
If half the bettors wager on one side, and the other half wagers on the other, the book uses the losers’ bets to pay off the winners.
They get to keep the extra, though. They’re paying off $100 bets with the other side’s $110 bets.
The vig is comparable to the house edge in a casino game or the rake in a poker game. It’s how the business handling the gambling action makes its profit.
If you can find an individual to bet with who’ll do straight-up bets, you can avoid the vig entirely.
Also, don’t think you’re required to wager in increments of $110 just because that’s how it’s listed. It just represents the ratio.
You could bet $55 to win $50 and have the same ratio.
Live Betting During the Super Bowl
When you place a bet on a game that’s in progress, you’re “live betting.” The Super Bowl offers some of the best live betting action in sports. As the game progresses, the odds change, which means that the spreads and the totals get updated as the game goes on.
Most of the time, you’ll track the live betting opportunities via a sportsbook app on your mobile phone.
Most sportsbooks also make new bets available at halftime, so you’ll have a whole new set of options to choose from while you’re grabbing some nachos and a beer.
You can bet on who’s going to win the 2nd half, for example, or you can bet on who’s going to score first.
More Super Bowl Prop Bets
I mentioned prop bets already, but those aren’t just available during live betting. You can place prop bets before the game, too.
A prop bet can literally be a bet on anything. Some books make 100+ different props available, too.
You could, for example, bet on something that might happen during the broadcast on television. You could bet on what’s going to happened during the halftime show.
A common available bet relates to how long the national anthem will go. You can often also bet on whether the singer will forget a word during the song.
You can probably find at least 10 different prop bets related to the national anthem during the Super Bowl.
How Can You Increase Your Probability of Winning Your Super Bowl Bets?
The first thing you can do to improve your odds of winning your Super Bowl bets is to stick with the basic bets and skip the prop bets. The odds are always lousy on the prop bets.
This means betting on the money line and betting on the over/under.
Some people might wonder if you can get an edge by looking at historic results and seeing whether the underdog or the favorite wins more often.
This won’t help.
For one thing, the nature of pro football has changed over the last 5 decades. Those early results are skewed by the changes in the game.
For another thing, the winners are close to evenly split. About half the time, the underdog wins, and the other half of the time, the favorite wins.
You can find a historical recap of previous Super Bowls on ESPN.
You might think you could get some guidance related to the over/under by looking at historical results there, but again, you’ll find that the over wins about half the time and the under wins about half the time.
In fact, trying to predict what’s going to happen based on what’s happened historically is a fool’s errand anyway. It has no predictive value.
Super Bowl Futures
I want to point out one other way to bet on the Super Bowl, and you can place this kind of bet even before the two teams are known.
Super Bowl futures.
A future is a proposition bet on something far in the future. You can literally bet on which team will win the Super Bowl before the season even gets started.
The odds for these kinds of bets are different, because the odds of winning are much lower.
Here are some examples of the odds that were set for a previous Super Bowl futures bets:
- Kansas City Chiefs 9/2
- Baltimore Ravens 7/1
- San Francisco 49ers 8/1
- New Orleans Saints 12/1
- New York Giants 80/1
- New York Jets 100/1
- Washington Redskins 200/1
These are ratios that indicate how much you would win if you placed one of these bets.
For example, if you had bet $200 on the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, you would win $900.
If you bet $100 on the Redskins to win the Super Bowl, you would win $20,000.
As you can see, every team is a longshot at this point, because you never know how the season’s going to play out.
But some teams have a much longer shot than others.
That’s how Super Bowl betting works.
It’s not much different from betting on any other kind of NFL game, although the futures and multiple available prop bets add some spice to Super Bowl betting that isn’t really there when just betting on games during the NFL season.