The day after the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos both won and covered the point spreads in their respective NFL conference title games, sports bettors phoning their bookmakers had a relatively meager menu of Monday-night action: five NBA games, 10 NHL matches and a bunch of Division I college basketball games.
Those surfing the Internet had quite a few more—and more exotic—choices. Football enthusiasts could begin placing their Super Bowl bets with a lot more options than whether to take the favored Packers or the underdog Broncos. Shoppers at Olympic Sports (a Jamaican-based site where bettors are invited to "enjoy personal wagering with Spiro the Greek!") could ponder such prices as 15-to-1 odds on Brett Favre's throwing six or more touchdown passes. Several other sites offered more than 100 other Super Bowl propositions, such as who would score the game's first touchdown ( Green Bay's Dorsey Levens was favored at 4 to 1), what the first score of the game would be (30 to 1 on a safety by either team) and, in a wager that some would say epitomizes sports betting, odds of 10 to 11 to back either team to win the opening coin flip.
In the mood for something more adventurous? How about 2 to 1 on Antwerp against Westerlo in the Belgian Soccer League? Visitors to Intertops's site could speculate on a full slate of matches from the Belgian, English, Italian and Spanish soccer leagues. Feeling patriotic? How about a bet at 7 to 2 on the U.S. to win the hockey gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Nagano in February? Want a long shot? You can get 50 to 1 on the Florida Marlins to repeat in the World Series. Or 200 to 1 if you like the U.S. to win soccer's World Cup this summer. (You can get 500 to 1 on Iran.)
Down Under, at Mark Read's International Allsports ("Oz's biggest bookie!" screams the Web banner), exotica abounds. Open an account, wire a deposit to Australia, and you too could be taking 9 to 1 on Tasmania to win the Mercantile Cup in cricket. Or you could visit the Belgian-based International Bet-Exchange, which will book your bets on sumo wrestling.
The technical limitation in on-line betting is the same one that troubles most home-computer users: The Internet can be slow, especially at peak hours. Placing and confirming a bet can take anywhere from 15 seconds to two minutes, so you can't make a Net bet on every play of a game—at least not yet. The rule of thumb, though, is that home computers double in speed every 18 months, so it may not be long before you can get 6 to 5 that the next pitch will be a strike.