Should Specials be Taken Seriously by Bettors?

By Martin Green03 June 2018
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Thousands of people agonize over how long a singer will take to complete the national anthem every time the Super Bowl rolls around. Others analyze what color Gatorade might be poured over the winning coach, how many times Donald Trump will Tweet during the game and other weird and wonderful options. This is referred to as prop bet fever in the United States, and these special bets remain popular throughout the year. Yet Europe has never quite been gripped by this phenomenon.

The upcoming World Cup throws it into sharp focus. The specials bets being offered by bookmakers are very sensible: top scorer, Golden Ball winner, most clean sheets, top African team, winning continent. Nobody is betting on whether Cristiano Ronaldo will dye his hair or what color Lionel Messi’s boots will be.

One exception came at the last World Cup, when bookmaker Betsson offered odds of 175/1 that Uruguay striker Luis Suarez would bite someone. The Liverpool forward, now at Barcelona, bit Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic on the arm the previous year, and in 2010 he had bitten PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder while playing for Ajax. He was known therefore to get a bit champy, but few expected him to lose his cool so spectacularly on the biggest stage of all. Yet Suarez tussled with Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini and lo and behold he sank his teeth into the defender.

Optician Specsavers responded quickly by taking out full-page ads in the newspapers the following day, featuring a picture of Chiellini and another of a delicious looking plate of cannelloni, insisting Suarez should have gone to Specsavers in order to not get the two confused. How we all chuckled. But the people really laughing were the ones that had backed Suarez at 175/1, as Betsson ended up paying out £44,000, split between 167 punters, with the largest paying being £2,000.

Special bets may be silly, but they can be highly lucrative. Our colleague Jeff Nadu, a k a Big Man On Campus, calls prop bets “a goldmine” when betting on U.S. sports. Of course, specials betting is huge in football. First goalscorer, anytime goalscorer, half-time betting, total goals, both teams to score, Asian handicap, these sort of options are a crucial part of the mix as we try to advise our readers on the best way to end the season in profit. It is also massive in plenty of other sports: round betting in boxing, games handicap in tennis, to name a couple. But these are sensible bets that are tied in with the result.

It could be interesting to look out for some more weird and wonderful options. The bookmakers are likely to offer more novelty options to keep things interesting as the World Cup rumbles on. Last time around you could bet on whether Roy Hodgson would get a Neymar haircut or whether Wayne Rooney would cry during the tournament. There is nothing currently doing the rounds to match that silliness, but it will happen. The World Cup final will certain yield a few options, and they are certainly worth taking a look at.

A few more sensible special bets already stand out: Mexico to be the top North American team (1/2 with William Hill), Brazil to be the top South American team (evens with Bet365), David De Gea to win the Golden Glove (4/1 with Sky Bet). But it is worth looking out for bets on red and yellow cards and penalties and whatnot as the tournament rumbles on. Bookmakers like Ladbrokes offer “request a bet” options, so do not be afraid to ask for a price on something bizarre if you think it will happen.

You will never be able to stake a massive sum, but you could make a couple of grand, like the people predicting the Suarez bite did.

Away from the World Cup, right now you can bet on who will be the next James Bond and the name of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s first child. People do get involved in a pretty big way (Tom Hardy and the name Mary are currently attracting a lot of attention), but these are probably best avoided. You can only stake a small amount, you have to wait ages to find out whether or not you have won and it really is just a novelty. The same applies to talent shows and betting on the next character to be killed off in "The Walking Dead." But political betting can be great fun. Punters betting on Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor leadership bid, Brexit and a Conservative majority have made a killing in recent years. And if you can gain tips about local areas – a hotly contested local election where you know a candidate, for example – it can be exceptionally lucrative.

Should you take special bets seriously? Yes and no. Ignore the ridiculous ones, stick to what you know and focus on the bets that offer strong odds on markets that will be settled quickly and you could find your own goldmine.