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Prop bets popular for Super Bowl, but NFL wants them gone

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Betting odds are shown for sporting events at a casino sportsbook. (File photo by Getty Images)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Many Americans in places where sports betting is legal for the first time are beginning to make wagers on the Super Bowl, including some bets on the performances of individual athletes.

But if the National Football League had its way, bets on things like passing touchdowns for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady or rushing yards for Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley would be restricted — or even outlawed as too risky and vulnerable to manipulation or cheating.

Proposition bets — also known as prop bets — are less popular during the regular season but gain steam during the Super Bowl each year as a way to bet on the outcome of more than one thing at a moment the sports world is intensely focused on a single game.

In testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives committee on Sept. 27, NFL Executive Vice President Jocelyn Moore asked Congress to let professional sports leagues and gambling regulators ban prop bets that involve the performance of individual athletes over the course of a game.

“Examples might range from the number of passing yards by a quarterback in a football game or the number of points or rebounds by a team during a quarter of a basketball game, to the number of ‘throw-ins’ in a soccer match, or even how many flags a referee might throw in a contest,” she testified. “These types of bets are significantly more susceptible to match-fixing efforts, and are therefore a source of concern to sports leagues, individual teams, and the athletes who compete.

“To address concerns regarding risky betting fixtures, we encourage Congress to allow professional and amateur sports organizations to identify which types of bets simply pose too significant a risk to the integrity of sports and to work with regulators not to authorize them,” she said.

An NFL spokesman said last week there has been no change in the league’s position since the September testimony.

Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US, the American arm of the British bookmaker that runs several sportsbooks in this country, said the league’s request is a solution in search of a problem.

“We’ve been doing this for many years, and this issue is way overblown,” he said. “With the exception of the Super Bowl, player props are a tiny portion of the business — a fingernail on the world’s biggest man.”

He acknowledged such bets will make up a bigger proportion of Super Bowl gambling.

“Prop betting on the Super Bowl is quite popular and keeps people engaged throughout the game, even if it’s a blowout,” he said. “We’ve never seen evidence of a player prop being manipulated.”

Most sportsbooks also limit the amount of money that can be bet on player props to lessen the likelihood that cheaters would try to make a huge profit by conspiring with a player or referee to manipulate the outcome of such a bet.

Asher said William Hill’s limits vary, but typically restrict such bets to no more than $500 or $1,000.

In the conference championship games, prop bets offered by William Hill included bets on who would score the first touchdown of the game, ranging from 6-1 odds for Sony Michel of the Patriots (he did score first) and Damien Williams of the Chiefs, to 60-1 on Gehrig Dieter, a backup wide receiver for Kansas City.

Bets were taken on whether Brady would pass for more or less than 291 yards (he had 348); whether Michel would get more or less than 79 rushing yards (he had 113); whether Julian Edelman would have more or less than six receptions (he had seven); whether Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes would have more than 315 passing yards (he had 295); whether KC tight end Travis Kelce would exceed six receptions (he had three), and whether Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill would exceed 84 receiving yards (he had 42).

Similar bets were taken on whether Saints quarterback Drew Brees would complete more than 25 passes (he completed 26); whether Saints running back Alvin Kamara would tally more than 107 combined rushing and receiving yards ( he had 111), and whether the Rams’ Todd Gurley would rush for more than 71 yards (he gained just 10).

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