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Gambling and the Super Bowl: An American Tradition

It’s time again for the big game: the Super Bowl.

It’s a day when record numbers of Americans tune in. Super Bowl XLVI last year garnered more than 111 million viewers. And for many of these viewers, three items must be included in the festivities: beer, burgers and betting.

Some groups just want to make friendly wagers – perhaps a pool at work – but in other places the stakes are higher and more personal.

Experts project Americans will bet more than $10 billion on Super Bowl XLVII, when the San Francisco 49ers take on the Baltimore Ravens.

Only about 10 percent of the betting takes place in Nevada — the only state where Super Bowl bets are legal — which means 90 percent is being wagered elsewhere (and illegally).

Sports betting is mostly illegal in the United States, and yet finding the odds to any sporting event is incredibly easy. Just about every newspaper has a daily list of point spreads, and of course there’s a range of places to find them on the Internet. (In the United States, online sports betting is also illegal.)

As of this morning, the point spread for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans has the 49ers favored by 4 points.

Now, here are a few facts about gambling and the Super Bowl.

Bet on This

If you desire, you still have time to place your bets. Some 80 percent of Super Bowl wagers are placed in the few days leading up to the game.

But unlike most NFL games, betting on Super Bowl Sunday is less about the game and more about everything else about the game. In fact, only about half of this year’s total bets will directly relate to the game’s outcome, like forecasting the winner, point spread or final score.

The other half of the bets will involve less traditional predictions. Here are just a few of the creative events you can bet on:

  • Winner of the coin toss
  • Length of Alicia Keys’ national anthem performance
  • Style of Beyonce’s hair during the halftime show
  • Average number of tweets per second during the game

Gambling and Taxes

Be aware that if you win any bets, no matter how silly, you may end up owing the government. Gambling winnings are considered taxable income whether they’re obtained legally or otherwise.

While casual gamblers and small winners tend to ignore this law, all winnings are supposed to be reported as “other income” on your federal 1040 form.   If you have some losses in the mix, you can claim them as deductions.

However, losses must be itemized and documented, and you cannot claim more losses than the amount of winnings you report.

Don’t Bet the Farm

The best bet is probably no bet at all. If you’re not comfortable with the possibility of losing money — and essentially breaking the law — don’t do it.

This goes especially for the 6 million Americans with gambling addictions who often find Super Bowl Sunday to be the most tempting day of the year. Gambling addiction hotlines prepare for the Super Bowl every year. The National Council on Problem Gambling states that hotlines receive an influx of calls leading up to the Super Bowl and immediately after it, with about half the post-game calls coming from concerned family members.

If you want in on the fun without losing a penny, you can still enjoy the game – and the betting. Rather than betting money, try wagering cleanup duties, favors or small gifts.

And if you’re still trying to decide what to bet on, try asking Princess, a New Jersey camel credited with correctly predicting the winners of six of the past seven Super Bowls.

Katherine Pilnick is a writer for She educates readers about their various personal finance options. She is a graduate of New York University.

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