EXPLAINER: Here's how to bet legally on the Super Bowl

Here are some basics on how betting on the Super Bowl works

Wayne Parry
Saturday 10 February 2024 11:00 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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More people in the U.S. than ever before are expected to bet on this year's Super Bowl, including novice bettors attracted to the game due to the possible attendance of pop idol Taylor Swift, whose boyfriend Travis Kelce will be among the players.

With sports betting ads blitzing the airwaves with come-ons and promotions, things might be a bit confusing, especially for first-time bettors or those who don’t fully understand how things work.

Here is a guide to betting on the big game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. We will deal here only with legal options from sportsbooks approved and regulated by government authorities in the U.S. This includes making bets in person at a casino or racetrack (call before you go; not every casino or track offers sports betting), or setting up an account from a computer or smartphone with online bookmakers.

And please keep in mind that this is supposed to be a fun form of entertainment, so only bet what you can afford to lose. Information about help with a gambling problem is included below.

WHAT IS A POINT SPREAD? OVER/UNDER WHAT?

Two of the most popular bets are on the point spread (the number of points by which a team must win the game in order for the bet to be a winner) and the total, also known as the over/under (the total number of points scored by both teams).

Contrary to popular belief, the point spread is not a consensus on how many points oddsmakers think one team will win by. Rather, it is a number designed to generate as close to an equal number of bets on both sides as possible. That way, the oddsmakers are guaranteed a profit through a cut of the action, called the vigorish, or “vig.” (Many books call it “the price.”) Most sportsbooks will keep 10% or more of a winning bet before paying you the rest, but they keep 100% of all losing bets. Prices on Super Bowl bets can vary significantly, so it pays to shop around to get the lowest price you can before making a bet.

Beating the spread is known as “covering.” For the favored 49ers to cover their spread of 2.5 points, they must win the game by 3 or more points. Conversely, underdog Kansas City can cover by either winning the game outright, or losing by less than 3 points. (Odds and point totals are as of Friday from FanDuel Sportsbook, the official odds provider for The Associated Press. They could change before game time.)

Don’t want to bother with points and just pick the winner? That’s called the money line. A bet on the 49ers to just win the game, regardless of the score comes with less of a prize. You will have to bet $130 of your own money just to win $100. (Of course you get your original $130 back as part of the $230 payout.) A money line bet on Kansas City, however, will win $110 on a $100 bet, for a total payout of $210.

If you believe the game will be a high-scoring affair, you might want to make a bet on the total, currently 47.5 points. That means if you bet the over, both teams combined must score at least 48 points for your bet to win. If it doesn’t, people who bet the under will win.

CAN I MAKE MY OWN ODDS?

Yes. There are alternatives, but they can be costly. You can pick your own spread or total to improve your chance of winning, but the farther your pick deviates from the sportsbook’s number, the less it will pay if you win. You also can choose a harder-to-reach number for a higher potential payout, such as betting that the 49ers will win by 20 points, but that’s a very risky strategy.

Sportsbooks are also aggressively pushing combination bets, known as parlays, in which two or more outcomes must be accurately predicted. This can include the point spread, the total points scored, and whether a particular player reaches or falls short of a statistical milestone. The payouts for parlays are bigger, but for good reason: they're riskier bets. Every element of a parlay has to win or else the entire bet is a loser. It's not surprising that parlay bets are among sportsbooks' biggest money makers.

WHAT ELSE CAN I BET ON?

If this sounds like a lot to take in, there are much simpler ways to bet on the game, including some aimed at the casual fan or even someone who knows nothing at all about football. A perennial favorite is betting on the coin flip at the start of the game to determine which team can choose to get the ball first. There are only two choices: heads or tails, and it comes before the game even starts for those impatient to know whether their bet is a winner. You can even bet on which color of Gatorade the winning coach will be doused in at the game’s conclusion.

This is what’s called a proposition or “prop” bet. It involves betting on whether a particular event will or won’t happen during the game, and there is a vast array to choose from. They can be disarmingly simple, such as guessing which team will get the ball first, whether the first score of the game will be a touchdown or a field goal, and whether or not the game will go into overtime.

Prop bets based on a particular player’s performance are always popular during the Super Bowl. You can bet on whether Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will pass for over or under 262.5 yards, how many catches his favorite target, tight end Kelce will have (over or under 6.5) and how many rushing yards 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey will gain (over or under 89.5).

CAN I BET WHILE THE GAME IS BEING PLAYED?

People with online sportsbook accounts can bet on ever-changing outcome odds as the game is being played; live-betting is the fastest-growing segment of sports betting. For instance, the game starts with the 49ers favored by 2.5 points, but say Kansas City scores two quick touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead. The in-game odds will change to reflect the current situation, and you can now bet on whether Kansas City will win by 14 or more points, or whether the 49ers will lose by less than that. Or say 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel is being shut down by Chiefs defenders, and appears unlikely to eclipse his pregame receiving yards total of 58.5 yards. Bettors can wager on whether he will or won’t eclipse a lower number.

A word of caution, though: The number of these in-game bets and the rapidity with which odds change can be dangerous for those with a gambling problem, and many experts fear they could even tip a casual gambler toward becoming one with a problem. Some good advice: Set a budget in advance of money you can afford to lose, and stick to it. Look at betting on the game as a form of entertainment and not as a way to gain money that you need. If things head south, don’t make additional bets to try to win back what you’ve lost. This is one of the quickest ways gamblers dig themselves a deep hole, and losses can rapidly pile up.

WHAT IF I THINK I MIGHT HAVE A GAMBLING PROBLEM?

Betting on the Super Bowl is supposed to be fun, and for most people, it is. But for others, compulsive gambling is a serious problem. For help, call 800-GAMBLER or visit www.gamblersanonymous.org.

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Follow Wayne Parry on X, formerly Twitter, at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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More AP Super Bowl coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/super-bowl

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