From Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's first play to the color of Gatorade poured on the winning coach, sports fans are betting big bucks on just about everything to do with Sunday's matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
And much of that money is wagered through the Internet -- even though online gambling is illegal in the United States.
Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for online sports books, with an estimated $500 million expected to be wagered through offshore Web sites and call centers, according to the Off Shore Gaming Association. That's a jump from between $350 million and $400 million last year, OSGA President Jim Quinn said.
An estimated 60 million people worldwide will bet on the game online through about 1,800 foreign-based Web sites, Quinn said. Though Internet gambling is illegal in the United States -- much to the chagrin of casinos that would love to extend their businesses -- about 85 percent of the customers at sites based in the Caribbean are American.
At OSGA-endorsed sites like Betmaker, based in Costa Rica, the annual event is the Super Bowl as well. Silvia Vasquez, general manager of Betmaker, said that last year the site received more than $500,000 in wagers for the Super Bowl. As of this morning, it had already surpassed that.
In addition, Betmaker received 5,000 wagers total for the game -- about the same as a regular season Sunday when 15 or 16 games are played. Vasquez estimated that about 90 percent of the site's active football bettors bet on the Super Bowl. "It's a hell of a lot," Vasquez said. "It's everyone's busiest day of the year."
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The site's minimum bet is $1, and the majority of those for the Super Bowl are straight bets on who will win (as of early today, most of the money was on the Steelers.) Betmaker also offers real-time, play-by-play betting. People who log on during the game can wager on the next interception or next touchdown.
In addition, there are 832 different proposition bets -- things such as who will score the first touchdown, total receptions, will Roethlisberger throw an intercepted pass, or will running back Jerome Bettis have more than 38½ rushing yards? Today, money was already placed on each of the 832 propositions. "It's a fun type of bet," Vasquez said. "People always associate the Super Bowl with proposition bets."
While the bets are fun for fans -- and even non-fans who want to have a stake in the game -- they also protect the sports books. "It's not like $250 million is bet on the Steelers and $250 million is bet on the Seahawks," said Quinn of the OSGA. "These proposition bets are out there because the sports book doesn't want to have all this money bet on one decision."
With the Steelers being heavily favored by bettors, these other wagers can offset losses the sites incur. In fact, Vasquez said, the house doesn't always win. "Last Super Bowl was not a winning day for us. We didn't make money."
Skirting the Law
The U.S. government cannot regulate the online gaming industry because it is based in other countries, though some large American banks, such as Bank of America, will not permit credit-card charges that show a gaming code.
Not to worry. While the sites accept credit cards, Quinn said, they also allow users to wager using e-checks that come right out of individuals' bank accounts and through Internet money transfer companies like Neteller and FirePay.com.
Online gaming has grown exponentially from the handful of sites that existed in 1998 when the OSGA began keeping track. And the Super Bowl is the perfect event for even novice gamblers.
"Really, the game itself is a lot of fun," Vasquez said. "Having a bet, even just for $5 or $10, makes it more fun."