Sunday Night Football Running Diary: A Newcomer’s Guide To In-Game Betting In Pennsylvania

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It is 8:15 p.m. on the opening Sunday of the NFL season and it has been nearly 45 minutes since the last football contest ended. I am thirsting for action.

I am craving the start of in-game sports betting on the Steelers-Patriots game. Sure, I could get in some pre-game wagers on the point spread and total, but that’s so 20th century — my dad was doing that in our living room by phone back when moon landings and Vietnam war protests were a big deal.

The modern world of betting at the push of a button on a phone, tablet, or other device, with gaming companies’ computers constantly updating odds and offering new options, has changed all that. It would be Dad’s idea of heaven, if he’s not already enjoying it now, either there or wherever else he is.

So I have committed myself on the sofa to following the in-game wagers offered by four different Pennsylvania online sites (there are five, but BetRivers and Play Sugarhouse are basically the same under joint direction by Rush Street Interactive). I will bet $20 whenever the instinct/urge/compulsion grabs me. I am but an average fan with no deep pockets, not looking to make a killing or (more likely) lose a bundle.

Below is thus one man’s story of a low-stakes, legal descent into gambling debauchery, with the help of a different phone app every quarter.

First Quarter — BetRivers

It is 8:19 and no in-game bets are yet available. I guess that makes sense since the game hasn’t yet started. But I thought maybe there’d be a Super Bowl-style betting option on the coin flip. Or maybe an over-under on how many games it will take before Antonio Brown is suspended by a) the Patriots, b) the NFL, or c) both.

Just to make sure my phone is properly showing in-game betting options, I quickly check the Yankees-Red Sox game on it. Yes, if I wanted, I could bet at a -106 price on the next pitch being a strike, whether called, missed, or fouled. I can bet +155 it will be a ball, or +375 that the pitch will be put into play. I pass, but it’s good to know everything is working.

And then the Steelers kick off. I still see no current betting option — just the original spread of Patriots -5.5, an over/under of 49.5, and moneylines of Pats -250, Steelers +200. I am getting desperate.

Then, after a couple of running plays, it’s there! A new betting category: “Result of Home Drive 1.”

Oh, but you have to be so quick. On first and 10, it showed punt odds of -130 to end the drive, vs. a price of +220 for a TD and +350 for a field goal attempt. As my middle-aged mind tries to process those and figure out what to bet, they keep playing football, for some reason. Someone throw a challenge flag to slow the game down, for God’s sake. Isn’t it time for a TV timeout yet (after four plays), considering it’s the NFL?

Finally, by the time it’s third and 10 and punt odds are a pricey -625, I lay in my big $20 wager on exactly that to happen. A Tom Brady pass to Julian Edelman falls incomplete. I’m a winner. I’m $2.62 ahead! This is so easy.

My hometown Steelers take over, but I am determined to bet with my head instead of heart. On “Result of Away Drive 1,” I vote for the punt when it’s at -265, instead of waiting forever as with the Pats. I soon realize, after a Steelers first down, that if I’d only waited a minute, I could have had the punt option at a better price of -148. This is the story of my sports wagering life in a nutshell: always the wrong bet on the wrong team at the wrong time.

But, wait, I win anyway after a long Ben Roethlisberger pass on third down falls incomplete. I’m now up about $10 and am planning to run the table on dozens upon dozens of in-game wagers.

I begin noticing that in addition to the drive wagers, all kinds of options are showing up. The overall game and point spread numbers at the top of the screen are in flux as the BetRivers app recalibrates after drives and key plays. Quarter-by-quarter betting options keep appearing and changing.

With the game scoreless midway through the first quarter and the Patriots on their side of the field, I see a first quarter point spread of Steelers +1.5 at a -230 price. I take it. If the Pats fail to score on this drive, they may not even see the ball again in the quarter.

That’s when a classic schoolyard flea flicker play from Edelman to James White sends the ball all the way to the Steelers 20. Uh-oh. We Steelers fans have seen this movie before. I have an instinct to bet now on a Pats TD, whatever the odds, but before I can react (I’m middle-aged, remember — you millennial bettors will do much better), I see Josh Gordon exuberantly cross the goal line.

I will lose that first quarter Steelers wager, naturally, turning myself from an overall winner to loser at that point. Then I notice how the moneyline has already changed, knocking the Steelers to +330 from the original +200. I pass (too many Steelers heartbreaks of one kind or another vs. Pats during this century).

I do, however, like the -129 price on the Steelers as the next team to score. They get the ball next, after all. I bet it.

Plus, there are options to combine which team will score next with the type of scoring play. Guessing the Steelers will be happy just to get on the board, I throw down yet another Jackson (it is still Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, right?) for the next score in the game to be a Steelers field goal, at +285.

If you watched the game, you know the last two paragraphs cost me $40.

Before the quarter ends, however, I will make that up by betting on the first half to finish under 23.5 total points (at +102) and on the Pats’ last drive of the quarter to end in a field goal attempt (at +150, and without regard to whether the kick was successful).

Second Quarter — FanDuel

So the first quarter was mostly a wash for me. That’s a victory. I’m new, I’m slow, I’m feeling my way around. Like the Steelers, I’m just lying in the weeds, awaiting a big finish. Uh huh.

FanDuel’s bets on the ongoing action bear a different label: “5th Drive Result.”

It is also showing various options under a “game prop” listing, including clusters of how many points either team will win by. There’s a +145 price on the Patriots to win by 1-13 points. I take it.

The point total on the game also keeps dropping. I figure two high-powered offenses just started predictably slow in the first quarter, when only seven points were scored. I figure two Hall of Fame quarterbacks will remedy that later.

So when I see FanDuel has dropped the opening total from 49.5 to 46.5 early in the quarter, I bet the over.

After a Patriots field goal makes the score 10-0, their moneyline shifts to -600. This is where a man with real money lays it in big on them to make up for the small payback, knowing the bet is a lock. So, yes, I put in another $20 (to be rewarded later with more than $3 for this bold, sage investment).

Having seen the Steelers end drives with punt after punt, I eventually pick up on the trend and wager on them at -120 to have the sixth drive of the game end the same way. They are stopped four inches short at midfield on third-and-1. The angelic model of a Steelers fan perched on my left shoulder thinks that’s too bad. The devilish caricature of a hard-core gambler on my right shoulder thinks it’s wonderful.

Then Al Michaels wonders out loud on TV about the possibility of a fake punt. Is he nuts? Yes, he is, thankfully.

Before the half ends, I see the over/under point total drop to 41.5. I bet the over again. Later, with the score still 10-0, it drops to 39.5. I bet it yet again. It’s sure to be one rock ’em, sock ’em second half lighting up the scoreboard, right? Right?

The point spread also keeps widening, with the Steelers becoming +15.5 when down 17-0 (I bet on them) and then +18.5 (I bet on them again) after Pittsburgh’s 49th punt of the half.

I think everyone can see where all this is headed for me.

Third Quarter — Parx

I actually finish the first half with five successful bets and four losers, not counting the ones dependent on the game’s eventual outcome. So I’m feeling fine.

The first thing I see on the Parx app is a variety of bets for the third quarter, fourth quarter, and second half. Continuing the theme of an anticipated whirlwind second half, I bet a Patriots point total of over 30.5 at -104.

Then my biggest score of the game comes early in the Steelers’ first possession of the half. After a first down, a price appears of +300 for them to attempt a field goal on the drive. They make it all the way to the 1-yard line and throw incomplete on third down.

Surely, down 20-0, they will go for it on fourth down. No, they won’t, much to the astonishment of Al Michaels. They kick, and I get paid off $60. Thank you, Mike Tomlin!

During that drive, I bet that JuJu Smith-Schuster would be the first Steeler in the game to score a touchdown. He was at +320. The app told me that the bet would be void if no Steeler scored a TD. That turned out to be a good thing.

After the Steelers were ahead, 3-0, in the third quarter alone, a point spread for the quarter showed up with the Patriots +2.5 (-118). I took it. The Steelers had shown no inclination to get in the way of any Pats receiver darting over the middle so far, so why would they start now? One 58-yard Brady TD pass later, that wager turned to gold.

With the game now 27-3 midway through the third quarter, the over-under on the point total shoots back up to 48. I am feeling so good about my three bets on the “over” at lower numbers, in some cases much lower. I pat myself on the back really hard. I am so smart.

Before the quarter ends, I lose a bet on the Steelers to be the next team to score (+143) and on the Patriots, in the midst of marauding and pillaging their way downfield, to finish another drive with yet another TD (at -245). They kick a field goal instead.

I quit patting myself on the back.

Fourth Quarter — FOX Bet

Here’s the wonderful thing about in-game betting, as anyone who runs a sports betting service will be happy to tell you: You never have to quit watching a lopsided game!

The rest of America has long since lost interest in this 30-3 debacle and shifted to another TV channel or the laundry or New York Times crossword or whatever else they might do on a Sunday night. But not me! Not any bettor worth his salt, if he’s lucky enough to be in one of the few but growing number of states with online sports betting. Ah, so lucky to be a Pennsylvanian, even if it’s harder to buy liquor here.

So when FOX Bet — the new kid on the block in the state, having just launched last week as a partner of Mount Airy Casino Resort — offers a fourth quarter over-under point total of 12.5, I feel I owe them the courtesy of a wager on the over at -125.

The game drags on and on and gets worse and worse, unless you’re for some strange reason a New England fan, and I find myself struggling even to keep up my betting interest. After another travesty of a series by the Steelers, the quarter points total drops to 9.5. I bet the over again, while starting to question my sanity.

At one point in the quarter, with the score still 30-3, the point spread on the Steelers rises to an astronomical +29.5. I think most of us, even Bill Belichick, would have taken that number before the game started. Now, I refrain — one of my smarter decisions of the night.

When another Stephen Gostkowski field goal provides the final score of the night, I am at least happy to win my halftime bet on the Pats’ point total. Any vestige of fan loyalty to the Steelers vanished many punts ago.

Then comes my favorite play of the night, the one where the Steelers’ replacement center refuses to snap the ball when the entire offensive line moves backward a few steps. Why was there no betting option for that to occur?

As things wind down to the two-minute warning, an unexpected thing happens. No more new betting options arise. When I search for one, a message from FOX Bet reads: “Currently, there are no Football In-Game events available.” Even a global sportsbook is sick of this football game.

All that is left, then, is to see if the Steelers can score a meaningless (to them and everyone else, but not me) touchdown on their final possession, turning two of my point-total wagers from losers to winners.

There is no one left in the stadium, by this point, but the two teams, Al and Cris, and most of the refs (a couple probably left early). No non-Bostonian but me is watching. And I watch the Steelers’ Vance McDonald stopped at the 5-yard line on the final play. A fitting end.

Final result:

  • 8 winning bets
  • 13 losing bets
  • Money lost: $106

Yeah, it sucks to be a bad sports bettor. But wait, there’s two Monday Night Football games. Thank goodness there’s a chance to win it all back.

Photo by David Butler II / USA Today Sports

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press.

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