Introduction to Proposition Bets
The term proposition bet – or prop bets as they are commonly known – usually refers to a wager on an aspect of an event unrelated to the event’s outcome (Barnwell January 30, 2012). While proposition bets can be made about virtually anything, common proposition bets involve sporting events, entertainment and political events, and even craps games.
Proposition bets in sports are differentiated from the general bets for or against a particular team or regarding the total number of points scored (Barnwell January 30, 2012). Traditionally, proposition bets can be made on outcomes such as the number of strikeouts a pitcher will accumulate in a baseball game, whether a non-offensive player will score in an American football game, or which team will score the first points of the game (Maddux Sports 2013).
Different types of Proposition bets
Some less traditional proposition bets – also known as exotic bets – allow wagering on the color of the Gatorade dumped on a couch at the end of a game, how long the singing of the national anthem before the Super Bowl will last, and even the length of the customary post-game handshake (Brinson January 27, 2013).
Non-sports prop bets are less common but would include items like the location of a satellite’s eventual crash or the ending of a popular television show (McIntire January 31, 2013). Other than sports betting, the most common venue for proposition bets may be craps. Some casinos allow gamblers to wagering on specific combinations of the dice within the broader game of craps (Pulcini 2013). These bets can take the form of a single proposition in which a wager is laid on the appearance of a specific number or multiple propositions that involve rolling two or more numbers (Pulcini 2013).
Another type of proposition bet in craps is a Hardaway in which a gambler bets that a specific double – 8 (double fours), 6 (double threes), or 4 (double twos) – will be rolled before either a seven or a non-double variation of the number (Hick 2013). The craps proposition bets with the highest payout are one-roll bets (Hick 2013). Unlike Hardaway, in a one-roll bet, the desired number combination must be rolled in a single turn rather than any time before a seven or non-double combination (Pulcini 2013).
Second Usage of Proposition bet
There is also a secondary usage in which a proposition bet is essentially a dare that the party that accepts the wager must complete in order to win the bet (Bradley 2007). A legendary example of this type of prop bet is a wager made between the wealthy Englishman Harry Bensley and a financier from New York – John Pierpont Morgan (Rennell January 2, 2008).
According to popular accounts, Morgan bet Bensley $100,000 that it was not possible to walk around the world without being identified (Rennell January 2, 2008). Bensley accepted and took off on a journey to circumnavigate the globe while wearing a knight’s helmet. After nearly seven years, Morgan died and Bensley called off the bet after reaching a settlement with his estate for $20,000 (Rennell January 2, 2008).
A famous literary example of this type of proposition bet can be found in Jules Verne’s classic Around the World in Eighty Days. More recently, professional poker player Phil Ivey and others bet a fellow player – Erick Lindgren – that he could not complete four rounds of golf in a single day while playing from the professional tees and carrying his own clubs (Bradley 2007). Despite the bet taking place in Las Vegas during the middle of summer, Lindgren completed all four rounds with a score of less than 100 and collected the $340,000 (Bradley 2007).
The story of Prop Betting and Sonny Reizner’s involvments
The history of proposition betting is somewhat murky. According to Sonny Reizner – a pioneer of Vegas’s involvement with prop betting – the practice was born during baseball games at Fenway Park (Mendelsohn 2007). Despite signs explicitly prohibiting gambling, spectators would exchange bets over whether the next pitch would be a strike or a ball, whether the batter would get a hit, or whether the batter would receive a walk (McIntire January 31, 2013).
While proposition betting may have been born in Boston, it was popularized by Vegas. For decades, legal sports betting centered around the results based on the money line, the points spread and the total number of points scored in a game (McIntire January 31, 2013).
When Reizner came to Vegas in the 1970s, he worked to convince casinos that these new prop bets represented a potential source of profit (McIntire January 31, 2013). In a famous early example, Reizner’s sportsbook created a proposition bet around the season finale of the popular television show “Dallas” allowing bettors to wager on who they believed killed J.R. – a central character in the show (McIntire January 31, 2013). While the wagers were eventually canceled by the Nevada Gaming Commission, the event highlighted the appeal of proposition bets to casual gamblers who otherwise would not engage in gambling (McIntire January 31, 2013).
Reizner was involved in other notorious proposition bets, including a bet that allowed gamblers to pick where they thought the Skylab satellite would crash land, but the idea did not truly take off until Super Bowl XX in 1986 (Rovell January 26, 2009). Before the game, public attention centered around the Chicago Bears rookie defensive star – William “Refrigerator” Perry.
Capitalizing on that fact, several casinos began accepting bets on whether Perry would score a touchdown during the game (Vaccaro December 26, 2012). A word about the novel proposition bet spread rapidly and soon the casinos were inundated with action on both sides of the bet (McIntire January 31, 2013). When Perry scored a touchdown in the third quarter of the blowout win by the Bears, casinos lost hundreds of thousands of dollars (Vaccaro December 26, 2012). However, the phenomenon demonstrated once and for all that proposition bets meant big money.
The amount of money wagered on proposition bets during the Super Bowl has increased dramatically since then. Now, sportsbooks offer over 350 possible prop bets every year (Vaccaro December 26, 2012). In 2012, approximately $45 million of the total $94 million wagered on the Super Bowl involved prop bets (McIntire January 31, 2013). Proposition bets are also commonly associated with events like the annual NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament, but the Super Bowl remains the undisputed focus of the industry (Wittenstein January 29, 2008).
There are varying strategy approaches to proposition bets. Casinos have observed general tendencies such as betting yes on a yes/no bet and betting the over on an over/under the proposition, but recently the wealth of information available to bettors has reduced those trends (Kornegay 2013). Some professional handicappers seek to identify lines for which Vegas may have made a mistake when setting the odds (McIntire January 31, 2013). According to some, obscure proposition bets represent a much more lucrative opportunity than the usual line and total bets (Kulesa 2013).
These bettors typically rely on statistics programs that measure the historical probability of an even and compare that to the actual odds offered by a casino (Kulesa 2013). Such efforts are unlikely to deter casinos from offering prop bets in any case. Like any other bet, the casino makes its profit off the commission it charges for handling a bet (McIntire January 31, 2013). By balancing the amount of money bet on both sides, the casino receives a substantial cut regardless of the actual outcome proving the old adage that the house always wins.
- Barnwell, Bill. “All the Prop Bets Fit to Print.” ESPN Sports. January 30, 2012
- Bradley, Lance. “Erick Lindgren Prop Bet.” Bluff Magazine. September 2007.
- Brinson, Will. “2013 Super Bowl Prop Bet Guide.” CBS Sports. January 27, 2013
- Burek, Owen. “Is Matched Betting the Answer to Student Prayers?” Huffington Post UK. May 21, 2013
- The Guardian. “Free World Cup Bets Offer Chance to Beat the Bookies.” June 4, 2010
- Hick, Tomas. “Proposition Bets for Craps.” Craps.cd. Accessed November 4, 2013
- Kornegay, Jay. As cited by David McIntire in “When the Final Score Doesn’t Matter.” SB Nation. January 31, 2013
- Kulesa, Geoff. As cited by David McIntire in “When the Final Score Doesn’t Matter.” SB Nation. January 31, 2013
- Maddux Sports. “Prop Bets.” Accessed November 1, 2013
- McIntire, David. “When the Final Score Doesn’t Matter.” SB Nation. January 31, 2013
- Mendelsohn, Martin. The Best of Sonny Reizner. GBC Press, 2007
- Murray-West, Rosie. “Is This a Bet You Can’t Lose?” UK Telegraph. December 6, 2010
- Pulcini Entertainment. “Craps: Advanced One Roll Bets.” Accessed November 1, 2013
- Rennell, Tony. “What IS the Truth about the Man in the Iron Mask?” Daily Mail. January 2, 2008
- Rovell, Darren. “Super Bowl Prop Bets Explained.” CNBC Sports. January 26, 2009
- Shearer, Jason. “Free Bets Mean You Can Clean up as Bookies Meet their Match.” The Guardian. July 23, 2010
- Vaccaro, Jimmy. “History of Sports Betting, Part VIII.” Linemakers SportingNews. December 26, 2012
- Wittenstein, Barry. “Wacky World of Super Bowl ‘Prop Bets’.” SportsNet New York. January 29, 2008