When the Arizona Cardinals scored two points on a safety in the Super Bowl, the play figured to resonate with gamblers, especially bettors who focus on propositions, or “props” — the sometimes offbeat wagers on various facets of the game.
After all, betting for or against a Super Bowl safety is a perennial favorite of prop players.
Gamblers betting that a safety will occur are enticed by the “juicy” payoff, often in the range of 8-1 or so.
On the other side, some self-styled wise guys preach that if any value exists in the prop, it’s on the other side. Statistics indicate you’re better off taking the “bridge jumper” route and laying 10-1 that no safety will occur.
Suffice it to say a Super Bowl safety will always carry more meaning in Las Vegas than elsewhere.
It was a bit of a surprise that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ensuing safety kick would cause so much Sturm und Drang.
The sticking point was whether the kick, which Arizona’s Steve Breaston returned for nine yards, counted as a kickoff. The result of a separate proposition widely available in Las Vegas sports books — the over/under on the total number of kickoffs — hinged on the answer.
It turns out the most common over/under line on total kickoffs was 9.5. If the safety kick counted as a kickoff, then there were 10 kickoffs and the “over” was the winner. If the safety kick did not count as a kickoff, then there were nine and “under” tickets cashed.
Many sports books, including those at the Las Vegas Hilton and all Station Casinos properties, graded the prop at 10 kickoffs and paid “over” bettors.
Others, such as the Lucky’s sports book group (at the Plaza and Terrible’s in Las Vegas) and one major offshore book, graded it at nine, ruling the safety kick was not a kickoff and making the “under” the winner.
The official NFL box score listed 10 kickoffs. The NFL’s own rule on kickoffs is murky, however, and appears to make a case for not counting the safety kick as a kickoff: “In addition to a kickoff, the other free kick is a kick after a safety (safety kick). A punt may be used (a punt may not be used on a kickoff). On a safety kick, the team scored upon puts ball in play by a punt, drop kick, or placekick without tee. No score can be made on a free kick following a safety, even if a series of penalties places team in position.”
That explanation seems to support classifying a safety kick as a unique animal separate from kickoffs — especially when you consider a tee is typically used for kickoffs.
Some newspaper and wire service box scores listed the number of kickoff returns at nine. That actually supports the contention there were 10 kickoffs, however, because there was no kickoff after the Steelers’ touchdown that ended the first half and another resulted in a touchback.
According to Las Vegas gaming analyst Michael Shackleford, the offshore book Pinnacle Sports, which ended up cashing bets on both sides of the prop, addressed the issue in a note to bettors:
“Please be advised that the ‘over/under on kickoffs’ prop for the Super Bowl has resulted in some confusion. Because of the confusion regarding this issue we are grading all bets as winners ...
“There is a category on the box score which gives kickoff returns (total of nine for this Super Bowl). Presumably for there to be a kickoff return, there must be a kickoff. Using this logic, we see that the NFL is including the kickoff return after the safety as a ‘kickoff return.’ Thus, 10 kickoffs. One at the start of the first half, one at the start of the second, one after the safety, and seven after scores. One of the eight scores (six TDs and two FGs) occurred at the end of the first half with no time remaining, and there was no ensuing kickoff.”
The fact you can make precisely the same wager at separate sports books and win at one place while losing at another does not indicate any nefarious activity is occurring. Still, it could certainly be harmful to the image of legal, regulated sports gambling.
This year, books should follow Pinnacle’s lead, grade both sides the winner and pay off all bets.
Next year, place an asterisk by the kickoff prop along with a note in the fine print, or even the not-so-fine print, such as: “A free kick after a safety counts as a kickoff for this prop.” Or, “A free kick after a safety does not count as a kickoff.” Either way, get rid of the confusion.
Las Vegas Sun, Feb. 12, 2009