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NFL Football Lottery
by Lawrence W. Hill

Several states, including Delaware, Oregon, and Kentucky, have considered the possibility of offering lotteries based on the results of National Football League games, and Oregon actually put such a lottery into operation. But these moves have elicited vigorous protests, and even some legal action, from the NFL itself. Let’s take a look into such lotteries, and see if maybe there isn’t some way that’s more acceptable to all concerned.

In the Oregon NFL lottery, the player attempted to pick from four to fourteen winners against the listed point spreads — typically, if the player attempts four games, and is correct on all four, he wins an $8 prize per $1 ticket, or if the player attempts all fourteen games, and is correct on all fourteen, he wins about $8,000, depending on how many other people were successful in their similar attempts.

With regard to such lotteries based on the results of NFL football games, one of the attendant undesirable scenarios foreseen by the NFL can be envisioned as follows: The home team is a three-point favorite, and leads in the actual game by a single point with only seconds remaining on the clock. They have the ball on the opponents’ five-yard line, and they elect to do the smart thing — they run the clock out to secure their one-point victory — and the “loyal” fans at the stadium “BOOO” the home team lustily for not attempting at least a field goal to beat the three-point point spread, thus spoiling and detracting from the thrill of winning a close game. Or the home team, a three-point point spread underdog, trailing by five points late in the game, drives the ball down close to the opponents’ goal line, and then, on fourth down, fails on a pass attempt into the end zone, instead of kicking a field goal that would beat the point spread, but would fall short of winning the actual football game. Again there is a chorus of “BOOOs” from the bettors in the stands. And a broader and more insidious phenomenon feared even more by the NFL is the suspicions of collusion, point-shaving, game-fixing, etc. that would inevitably fall upon players, coaches, and even the guys in the green eyeshades who concoct the official point spreads. The integrity of the game, real and perceived, is all-important to the continued success of the NFL, and must be safeguarded in all ways at all times.

The NFL is not just a bunch of “hidebound old fogies,” their concerns in this are probably well founded. So, can there be a solution, another way, a way for football and football lotteries to co-exist and prosper in their separate endeavors, without the latter tarnishing the vital credibility and image of the former? Well, to devise a solution, the first thing one must usually do is to identify the problem. And a major part of the problem here is the point spread! The bettor is trying to beat the point spread, but the players on the field are trying to win the actual football game — not always the same thing, and the likely source of most of the undesirable side-effects of government-sanctioned football betting. Solution: eliminate the point spread.

But how can you bet on football without the point spread? If such a question popped into your mind, it’s indicative of how ingrained the point spread is in our thinking on football betting. But the point spread is not gospel — it’s nothing more than an artificial means to facilitate even-money betting on a contest in which the two sides are not evenly matched. And it’s just that the folks running the Oregon lottery were not clever enough to see the point spread as the non-essential artificial thing that it is. What follows is just one suggestion for something better.

The football lottery could be set up so that the lottery player attempts to pick the winners of all the weekly NFL football games — the winners of the football games — no point spreads! The lottery prize pool would be divided appropriately, pari-mutuel style, among the winning lottery players. And in addition to eliminating the problems outlined above, this alternative way also would give the bettor some choices relating to his own chances for success, and to the size of the prize he can win. That is, he could opt for better chances to win a smaller prize by picking all favorites, for which the prize might be as low as a couple hundred dollars, or he could go with lesser chances but for a larger prize by picking some heavy underdogs, for which the prize could exceed $100,000. More meaningful choices like these can only make the lottery more attractive to players.

What about other kinds of bets, other than picking the winners of all fourteen games? A football lottery could offer bets on individual games, bets where the player attempts to predict the exact final score of the game. For example, Washington Redskins 27 to New York Giants 20. The prize for a correct pick would be a pari-mutuel share of the prize pool. The lottery card for such single game bets would require the player simply to “X” boxes for the scores of the two teams. And for the scores, there could be fifty choices, from zero to fifty points (except for one point, which is not possible as a final score). A choice of “fifty” would cover any score of fifty or more points by a team. And how much might typical prizes for this be? Well, that’s difficult to figure with much exactitude, but as a rough estimate, prizes might average around $100 for a $1 bet, but it would vary widely, perhaps down around $10 if the favored team wins by an ordinary score like 24-17, or way up over $10,000 for an underdog winning by a strange score like 32-11.

Another feature of this proposed NFL football lottery alternative that would be advantageous to both the lottery players and to the states would be that such lottery plays could be made farther in advance. As it is now with a point spread-based football lottery, plays cannot be made on the Sunday games until the preceding Tuesday, when the official point spreads come out — and the Thanksgiving day games are another problem there too. But in this proposed non-point spread-based alternative, players could make their plays for any week of the season as soon as the NFL schedule for the season is announced. If a lottery player is going to be out of the state for periods of time, then that player could make his plays in advance for those particular weeks, or if you wanted to make a gift of a football lottery play to someone, (especially if you wanted to send such a gift by mail), then you could do your gift buying well ahead of game day, etc. These are some of the kinds of ticket purchases that otherwise would not be made.

What do you think of something like this? Let Gambling Times know your opinion and, through us, the state lottery administrators and the NFL.

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