The history of prop bets is pretty interesting, especially when you realize it all started because sportsbooks were trying to attract more interest from bettors drifting away from the hobby.
It’s a bet type that is here to stay and growing every year, especially with the creation of live betting. We’ll discuss that innovation in more detail below.
In this handy guide, we’ll show you how proposition bets work, some popular examples and how to start betting on major sports at Canadian online sportsbooks.
How prop bets started
Back in the 1980s, sports betting was a lot harder to come by in North America. There were some locations where you could walk up to a window and place your bets, but it wasn’t the booming industry it is today.
In Las Vegas, where gambling created an entire city in the middle of a Nevada desert, sportsbooks built themselves up for decades. Big games especially brought in the wagers — particularly on giant events like the Super Bowl.
That is, until Super Bowl XX, on January 26, 1986, when the Chicago Bears played the New England Patriots. The Bears, you see, were historically dominant all season. They had the best offence in the NFL and were anchored by a devastatingly powerful defence. There were very few doubts Chicago would roll to victory against the Patriots.
Since sportsbooks aren’t known for giving away money, they found themselves fielding far fewer bets on the outcome of the game than for prior Super Bowls. That event, which is the most-bet-upon game in all of sports, was suddenly not drawing much interest due to the low potential payout of picking the Bears to win.
So, oddsmakers named Jimmy Vaccaro, Art Manteris and Jerry Ludt decided they would offer up a bet unlike any other. It was a simple “yes” or “no” question: would William “The Refrigerator” Perry score a touchdown in the Super Bowl?
Sports betting was changed forever.
Perry did end up finding the end zone despite playing defensive tackle. The Bears put him in during a short-yardage play, used the amazing Walter Payton as a decoy and handed the ball to the big bruiser. Sportsbooks across Vegas lost money. At the time, one might have wondered if it was worth it. Now, going on four decades later, the answer is a resounding yes.
Prop betting took off like wildfire and has grown to the extent that an event like betting on the Super Bowl can carry several hundred options. Even everyday games have prop bets to consider.
Where to make prop bets online
The easiest place to get in on sports betting as a whole, including prop bets, is through legal and regulated online sportsbooks or sportsbook apps. As the industry continues to grow, so will the options for sports bettors when picking books.
I’ve never made a prop bet before…
Nearly everyone has made a prop bet at some point, but you probably just didn’t realize it at the time. Did you ever look at your buddy and say something like, “I bet you $20 you can’t eat all those Tim Hortons donuts in five minutes”? Or how about, “I bet you $10 I can skip this rock five times”?
Any little side bet like that, even the friendly ones, are essentially prop bets. You’re practically an expert and you didn’t even know it.
Fine, so I’ve made a prop bet. But not with a sportsbook …
Prop bets made with sportsbooks are known as “skilled” prop bets in some circles. In the sportsbooks you’ll encounter, they’ll simply be referred to as prop bets.
These bets range from serious to pretty silly, but almost none will focus on the outcome of the game itself. Instead, you’ll be able to open up your favorite legal and regulated online sportsbook and find bets for things like the total passing yards for a player, who will score the first goal and will there be an overtime. The list of possibilities is pretty much endless, especially when it comes to the largest sporting events in the world.
For Super Bowl LVI and beyond, there are literally hundreds of potential prop bets posted by online sportsbooks. What kind of prop bet you want to make is up to you.
Do you want to bet on props for the entertainment value? Then, you’ll likely want to look at the sillier side of things, like what color Gatorade will be dumped on a winning coach or whether Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first female referee, will wear her hair up or down.
If you’re more about the serious side of the game, look for individual or team props that will fit your preferences. You’ll find markets like how many strikeouts a pitcher will have or whether a quarterback will gain a certain number of rushing yards.
Props and live betting
Thanks for bringing us back around to that. The truth is, live betting, which takes place as the game unfolds, is becoming one of the most popular bet types in North America.
It allows for engagement in the game that other betting just doesn’t. You watch the game, you make your wagers on your legal and regulated mobile or online sportsbook, and you stay invested throughout.
Live betting is a great way to hedge bets as well.
The cool thing about live betting, which is also known as in-game or in-match betting, is nearly every bet you’re making is a prop bet. You can bet on which player will score next, what kind of play it will be, whether there will be an overtime period or whether a team will make a fourth-quarter comeback to win.
There are so many live bets available, in fact, it can sometimes feel like an alternate betting universe. The action is fast, the odds are always changing and you, the bettor, are able to immerse yourself in gameplay.
It’s easy to see why sports bettors have become so drawn to live betting, as it does nothing but grow.
How are prop bets paid out?
As with any bet, your payout on a winner depends on the odds.
Let’s go back to Super Bowl prop bets for a quick example. One prop bet asked if bettors thought there would be more or fewer than 4.5 commercials featuring dogs. That question was posed with +150 odds on the over and the under.
The answer ended up being under that mark, which means a wager of $100 would have brought home $250—your $100 stake returned to you, plus the $150 in winnings.
Are prop bets better than other bet types?
The problem with asking whether one bet is better than another is it really comes down to personal preferences. Some people choose only prop bets. They like the entertainment value of this bet type versus how serious others can be. On the other hand, some bettors avoid prop bets at all costs because of how notoriously difficult it is to research them and find an edge over the sportsbooks.
You have to ask yourself which kind of bets you want to make. Are you a research hound obsessed with doing your homework? Are you a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person who likes throwing caution to the wind? The former will likely stick to moneyline, point spread and total bets. The latter is going to love what prop betting offers.
The same question applies to betting on team sports (eg. basketball) over individual sports (eg. tennis).
Are there any advantages to prop bets?
While there may not be any way for us to tell you whether prop bets are better than other bet types, we can give you a couple of reasons why having prop bets as an option is beneficial. First and foremost, it adds variety to a sportsbook’s options, and that’s never a bad thing. How boring would it get if you could only wager on who is going to win or lose a game?
Even the three major bet types—moneylines, point spreads and totals—would feel very limited by themselves. Having prop bets as an option dramatically expands opportunities for entertainment.
That brings us to the second benefit: prop bets can just be fun.
Obviously losing money is never fun, but being able to engage with sports in a way that other bet types don’t allow sure does ramp up the charm and overall enjoyment. You can wager on the silly or the serious, but no matter which route you choose, you’ll have a reason to stay invested in a game, match or event.
Finally, there is the possibility of a decent payout if one of those strange little prop bets does indeed hit for you. We’d never suggest using props as a main part of your betting strategy, and you may not want to include them in your strategy at all, but when they do hit, their typically solid odds add a nice chunk of change to your bankroll.
With all betting, make sure you never spend more than you can afford. Never chase losses. And if you find yourself doing either, seek some help from the various services that address problem gambling.