American sports fans, from office-pool pundits to bookie-betting high rollers, wagered an estimated $71 million on the Super Bowl. A portion of that was put on the New England Patriots to win, a fact that proves once again the old saw about a fool and his fiscal savvy. Yet when it comes to backing long shots, NFL bettors have a way to go to match gamblers in Great Britain. There, licensed bookmakers operate in almost every town, and folks seem willing to wager on any sporting proposition—no matter how high the odds.
Consider, for example, Steve Caldicott of Birmingham, who recently placed a bet worth $33, at 50,000 to 1, with William Hill bookmakers that his 3½-month-old son, Jack, will score a goal for England in the 2018 World Cup final. Of course, if Italian-born Packer Risi of Lincolnshire has his way, a win for Caldicott won't mean glory for England. Risi got 100,000 to 1 on a $16 wager at the same betting house that his toddler son, Pascal, will score the game-winner for Italy in the 2018 Cup final.
"Many parents back their children to achieve sporting prominence," says a William Hill spokesman. "But these are the most adventurous bets of this type we've ever taken." Indeed, proud parents place sucker wagers annually that their infants will someday win a pro boxing title (the aptly named Paul Punter of Milton Keynes has $36 down at 1,000 to 1 that his toddler, Kane, will become a champ) or Wimbledon or the British Open.
Then there are those who prefer to bet on their own athletic rebirth. Several years ago a man weighing 280 pounds wagered that he would run a four-minute mile by the year 2000. The British do bet on real sports stars too. One betting house is offering 500 to 1 on British Olympic sprinter Linford Christie's becoming a full-time Chippendales dancer.
License to Spit
As major league umpires and player and owner representatives met in Palm Beach last week in an effort to improve their relationship, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos announced that he continues to stand behind his second baseman, Roberto Alomar, and will pay Alomar during the five-game suspension the player will serve in April for having spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck on Sept. 27.
Angelos, a lawyer who has spent decades representing Maryland steelworkers and other trade unions, has often aligned himself with his players and adopted refreshingly unownerlike stances—the Orioles, for example, were the only club that refused to employ replacement players during the players' strike in spring training of 1995. This time, however, Angelos's support is misguided and disturbing. He's giving Alomar a paid vacation as reward for one of the most disrespectful acts ever committed on a major league diamond. Alomar should have been suspended by the American League during last year's playoffs. He wasn't, and that's not Angelos's fault. But Angelos should at least give the five-game suspension some financial teeth. Instead, he, like the league officials who let Alomar off easy, is showing little regard for the integrity of the game.
Stop the Fight
One two-letter word could have prevented last Friday's Lennox Lewis-Oliver McCall debacle in Las Vegas: No. No one said, No, this fight should not take place. Not promoter Don King, not McCall's handlers, not Lewis's representatives, not fight network HBO, not the drug counselor McCall was seeing, not Nevada's boxing commission—which sanctioned the bout for the vacant WBC heavyweight title—and not the media that would chronicle McCall's collapse. That agonizing self-destruction included his refusing to go to his corner after the third round, his throwing only three punches in the fourth and fifth, his having to be led back to his corner by referee Mills Lane after the fourth and his bursting into tears shortly thereafter. Lane finally stopped the fight 55 seconds into the fifth, awarding a TKO to Lewis.