Prop bets were born for two reasons, the same two reasons that just about every idea has ever been hatched: a simultaneous need to cure boredom and make money.
Let me take you back more than a generation, to the Bears-Patriots Super Bowl following the 1985 season. That was the year William "The Refrigerator" Perry became a charming, modern marvel. Here was a jolly fellow who could maul three blockers, sell groceries, appear on the cover of magazines, be the lead blocker out of the backfield, catch screens, score touchdowns, rap, shuffle, wear sunglasses, do commercials and, man, he could dunk! (Nowadays I would ask to see if that was actually the case. Can't get Kekua'd).
He had become such a phenomenon that enterprising bookmakers such as Jimmy Vaccaro thought, hmm, maybe I can get the schmucks coming out for the Super Bowl to bet on just the Fridge, since that might be the only thing they know about the game. At that point, bookmakers were putting up only a handful of Super Bowl Sunday props as an added bonus for regulars. The game had not yet become the betting holiday that it is today.
I remember Jimmy telling me for a column a few years ago that he posted odds on the Fridge to score a touchdown in that game at 40-1. The media picked up on it, this being a verifiable fact, and wrote about the enterprising bookmakers feeding the fans what they want. And they did want it. By game time, the odds on the Fridge scoring in the Super Bowl had dropped from 40-1 to 2-1. And then, in what was simultaneously the low point and high point of Da Coach's career, Mike Ditka gave the Fridge the call near the goal line instead of Walter Payton. An American mascot scored for the greatest team capping maybe the greatest season in NFL history. But the greatest rusher who defined the franchise did not. I know Ditka regrets it but, nearly 30 years later, I am still pissed. So pissed in fact I once considered making my name in the Las Vegas Hotel SuperContest "Payton's Revenge." Then I realized I stink up the contest so much I would have done even more harm.
Anyway, the Fridge scored, and the books got killed. Vaccaro told me he lost 40K on that prop alone. But bookmakers knew they were onto something. In a volume-dependent business, they had created the perfect vehicle for attracting a new clientele. Pretty soon the Fridge prop bet gave way to the who-will-score-more-points prop: Michael Jordan or Team X? By the early '90s Jay Kornegay, now boss bookmaker at the Las Vegas Hotel but back then the kingpin at the Imperial Palace, started offering three figures worth of props. The games were consistently blowouts; he needed a reason to keep people interested.
The truth is, props are a pain in the ass to bookmakers. I know the LVH guys turn it into a 48-hour crash, sucking down beers and pizza at someone's house as they crunch numbers on how many yards every receiver will catch passes for and back will rush for and quarterback will throw for. Not to mention who will score first, will there be a safety (always a bookmaker killer) or will the first score be a field goal or touchdown. The LVH probably will have more than 300 props this year. And it's not just the mental workload -- some poor guy has to type every one of those props onto the board. That can take the whole freakin' day.
Don't cry for these fellas. Props are going to account for more than 50 percent of their Super Bowl handle. It's worth the money. But if you were inclined to feel even a little badly, here's how you can help alleviate some of the burden, at least for one bookmaker:
Enter my annual Get-Your-Prop-Up-In-Vegas contest!
That's right you, just some dude reading this column with nothing more than $20 sitting in a Bovada account, can literally leave your mark on Vegas -- without ever leaving your couch. For the past few years The Orleans bookmaker Bob Scucci and I have offered readers a chance to get a prop put on the big board at The Orleans. The bet will go up the Friday before the Super Bowl; the winner will be announced in this column that morning. It's chosen by Scooch, with an assist from me. And by assist I mean I send him all the entries and he tells me which one he wants to do. It's fun and the entries are a mix of mundane, thoughtful, creative and heartwarming.
A few years ago, the first guy won with this suggestion: "Does game time, from kickoff, including halftime, until the final whistle as time runs out, go over or under 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 59½ seconds? (You can change the time if you think this one's way off.)"
Last year's winner, Susan White, offered this genius idea: "Will the average jersey number of all the players who score in the Super Bowl be higher or lower than 47.47?"
And Scooch still uses the prop suggested by 2011's winner, Michael Donovan: "How many Scrabble points will the last name of the first TD scorer be worth?"
So, how can you win? These are the characteristics Scooch is looking for:
1. Be thought-provoking and stimulate conversation.
2. Be original.
3. Be something he thinks he can draw action on.
4. And, most important, it has to be a bet that is decided on the field of play and can be verified by the box score. This is per Nevada's gaming regulations. Which means, no cutaways or what color will the Gatorade be that is poured on the winning coach.
Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or tweet me (@chadmillman) your entries. I am closing the contest down on Monday afternoon. We, well Scooch, looks forward to being wowed.
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