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Big game cashes in big bucks as popularity of gambling rises

January 31, 2006

This year's Super Bowl in Detroit is Super Bowl XL, and if you plan on attending the game, your wallet better be XL, too.

That's because the price of a ticket to attend the 60-minute football game can run into the thousands of dollars.

The NFL offers a 1,000-ticket drawing to the public, and the winners get the opportunity to purchase a ticket for the Feb. 5 game at face value for $600 or $700. If you're not lucky enough to secure one of these tickets and still want to go to the game, you'll probably be stuck buying a ticket from one of the many ticket brokers and scalpers.

The NFL's ticket distribution policy allots 17.5 percent of the tickets to each of the two Super Bowl teams, 5 percent to the Detroit Lions as the host team, 1.2 percent each to the remaining 29 teams and the final 25.2 percent to the NFL for licensees, charities, networks and other league affiliates.

While ticket sources for brokers is a murky area, most of them are believed to come from NFL players and fans. Most teams distribute some of their ticket allotment to season-ticket holders, and NFL players and coaches also have the opportunity to purchase Super Bowl tickets — but must sign a release saying they will not resell the ticket above face value.

Last season, then-Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice admitted to scalping Super Bowl tickets and was fined $100,000.

"What happens is the teams will distribute their portions of tickets to the fans," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

"We believe many of those tickets in fans' hands are resold and get in the hands of ticket brokers. We don't sell directly to ticket brokers."

As of Monday afternoon, eBay had two seats at the 50-yard line available for $14,999, quite a bit more than the $12 ticket price for Super Bowls I-III. One online broker is offering a 42-person suite for $205,000.

According to Michigan law, it is illegal to "establish an agency or suboffice" to sell tickets at a greater price than the box office price or advertised price. A person found violating this law is subject to a misdemeanor with a penalty of 90 days in jail and a $100 fine.

But Super Bowl ticket scalping has become more than just standing in front of the stadium with a ticket in hand. The Internet era has created a whole new world of Web sites devoted to selling tickets, often at prices above face value.

"I can't believe you'd be able to go to all these Web sites and control these people selling these tickets," East Lansing police Sgt. Carl Nowak said.

But forking over big sums of money for a ticket isn't the only Super Bowl tradition that involves a lot of cash. The big game also brings in big money in gambling wagers.

Last year's Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., generated $81.2 million in legal wagers in Nevada's sports books. Combine that with the multitude of illegal wagers and online gambling bets, and the Super Bowl is the biggest betting day of the year.

"Sports gambling and betting online has become more popular to do and has become more mainstream," BetUS.com spokesman Matthew Ross said. "(The Super Bowl) is definitely the biggest day of the year by far for our business."

The Super Bowl also creates more wagering options than just picking the winner or playing the line of the game. It's possible to bet on everything from which team will win the coin toss to which coach will challenge a play first to whether either team will score in the first six and a half minutes.

"The funniest one people are taking to is what's going to be the first song The Rolling Stones will play at the halftime show," Ross said. "The most popular one right now for them to start the show is 'Going To A Go Go.'"

Small pools and wagers also are popular Super Bowl bets among friends who don't want to wager huge sums of money in Las Vegas or online but still want a stake in the outcome.

"Any time you're going to watch a game you're going to want to make it more exciting," Ross said. "It's an ego thing. It's a fun thing and it's an entertainment thing."

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