By the time today’s Super Bowl ends, experts estimate that more than $1 billion will change hands from wagers made on the game.
Only a small portion, an estimated $100 million of those bets, will be made legally in Nevada.
Most bets will be made in places where sports wagering is illegal, but continues to thrive. Places like South Mississippi.
“It’s going on all right,” said Gulfport police Detective Capt. Pat Pope. “It’s prevalent. They’re making big money. A lot of times places are getting anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“But the fine is woefully inadequate for the level of the operations. If you were selling cocaine and all you had to do was pay anywhere from $100 to $150 fine, it’s nothing. You’d pay it. As (the law) is now, it’s hardly a deterrent.”
Police know the bookmaking operations exist and have made several arrests in recent years. But officers in general say sports gambling, a misdemeanor in Mississippi, carries a much lower priority than felony crimes such as murder or rape.
“Do you go after the person selling meth or do we go after this?” Pope said. “We go after the drug dealer. We investigate (bookmaking operations) when we have time.”
The majority of wagers placed on today’s Super Bowl will be made online or through local bookies, and the magnitude of the game also attracts those who don’t usually gamble. For instance, some people will wager through office pools.
Today’s biggest wagers will likely be on whether the New England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles emerge as winners by a predetermined number of points, known as “the spread” or “the line.” In today’s game, the Patriots are favored by seven points. That means the Patriots have to win by at least eight points for their bettors to win their wagers.
Still others sports enthusiasts make proposition bets, one South Mississippi bookie said, wagering on such things as which team will win the coin toss or who will make the first touchdown or first catch. There are other options too, the bookie said, such as betting on whether a cheerleader will show some skin during the game or a streaker will dart across the playing field.
One bookie, who has worked in South Mississippi for the past 10 years, says he’ll get up to $3 million in wagers on a typical Super Bowl weekend.
But he’s not expecting to make much of a profit from this year’s game.
“What you want is to get an even amount of action on both sides so the bookmakers collect a lot of juice (money),” said the bookie. “We’ll do over $2 million this weekend. If you do $2 million, you get anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 (in profits). That’s if it’s even. It won’t be (today) cause everybody’s betting on the Patriots.”
The bookie adds: “Sports betting is just like drugs and prostitution. Whether or not it’s against the law, they are going to do it.”
Experts say the big bookies of today work online or at universities, where a student bookie starts taking wagers until he is running a retail operation and accepting bets from hundreds of college coeds.
“A student bookie will take bets from a lot of people,” said I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School in California and an expert on online gaming. “A professional bookmaker is going to want to take large bets from a few people. But the traditional bookies are less prominent. What has happened is that many illegal bookmakers have gone outside the country, like to Costa Rica, and are now running the sports bets on the Internet.”
Still, Rose said, there are few of these Internet operations that are charged with a crime.
“California has a clear stature saying it is illegal to accept or make a bet,” he said. “But nobody actually gets arrested for making a bet.”
South Mississippi law enforcement officials say they are doing what they can to crack down on illegal gambling. Some officials say the sports betting is prominent in their communities, while others say they get few reports about illegal gambling operations.
But they do exist.
In a recent Gulfport case, officers seized an estimated $2,000 in cash and made several arrests, with the alleged bookie and his son were charged with operating an illegal gambling establishment. One of the suspects, authorities said, has been in and out of Municipal Court since the late 1980s when he was first charged with gambling-related offenses.
Jackson County sheriff’s deputies made similar arrests in the past year at two different locations.
“We received a complaint about them and if we receive a complaint Sunday, certainly we’ll check it out,” Sheriff Mike Byrd said. “Gambling is a common thing. People are going to bet on football. There’s a lot of people who like to do it as pastime thing, but it is illegal and if we get a complaint on it, we are going to investigate.”
Moss Point police Chief Michael Ricks said his officers also investigate illegal gambling operations if they are reported. In the past four years, he said he’s received no reports of illegal gambling.
Ricks also pointed out that Super Bowl Sunday is not just a day for sports betting. It’s also a day when people party hard, and police officers spend a lot of their time that day trying to keep the drunken revelers off the streets.
The bottom line, according to law enforcement officials, is that sports betting is prevalent, especially on days like today.
“The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl of gambling,” Pope said. “A lot of people who don’t normally bet will bet.”
Rose said a recent survey on qiu qiu online sports betting asked participants if they saw various crimes being committed and they could report it without any harm to themselves, would they do it.
“About 97 percent said they would report a murder,” he said. “They said they would report gambling taking place about as much as they would report parking violations. People only care about illegal gambling if it’s their neighbors and they’re making too much noise. It’s just not a priority crime.”
So, the illegal gambling goes on. And it goes on every year, during football, basketball, baseball and other sports games.
“It’s big business,” Pope said. “It’s here. And there’s no one in the nation who is immune to it.”