Riveting disappointment: A first-time sports bettor’s tale

BY VICTOR HENSLEY, News + Record Staff
Posted 10/20/21

I swung the door open and stepped foot inside the bright, fragrant room.

I wiped my rain-soaked shoes on the floor mat as my eyes scanned the store for the reason why I made the trip.

The walls …

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Riveting disappointment: A first-time sports bettor’s tale

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I swung the door open and stepped foot inside the bright, fragrant room.

I wiped my rain-soaked shoes on the floor mat as my eyes scanned the store for the reason why I made the trip.

The walls were lined with all sorts of tobacco products — cartons of cigarettes, tins of chewing tobacco, the works — and the counters were occupied by about five men (and one small boy) scattered about, all filling out cards with tiny, board game-sized pencils.

I glanced to my left and saw a small table with a display full of cards — some longer than others, some pink, some orange, some white — set up like the lottery stations we have in convenience stores across North Carolina.

A sign on the table read, “Cards cannot be filled out inside store,” a rule that was clearly being broken by everyone taking up valuable counter space doing just that.

But I decided to abide by the rules anyway.

I searched through the different cards, grabbed the one that sounded most like what I was looking for, along with one of the tiny red pencils, and made my way back to the car.

I spent the next 20 minutes mulling over my options.

After all, it was the first time I’d ever tried my luck at sports betting. I wanted to make it count.

Figuring it out

This all took place last Saturday night.

I was in the parking lot of a “tobacco superstore” in Delaware, where sports betting is legal, but — as of now — bets must only be placed in person.

I spent this past weekend in Maryland — one of 28 states without legalized sports betting — visiting my girlfriend, who lives about half an hour away from the Delaware border.

Once I’d heard that Delaware offered legal sports betting, I was eager to try it.

Despite listening to numerous podcasts, watching plenty of TV shows and reading a plethora of articles about sports every day for the last decade, I still wasn’t sure how sports betting worked.

I’d heard all about point-spreads, overs, unders, parlays and money lines.

All of the terms were familiar to me.

But when I actually thought about what I’d do if I placed a bet one day, the concepts felt foreign. I didn’t quite understand them.

At many of the retail locations in Delaware, you’re only allowed to bet parlays — a series of bets in which all of your picks must be correct. If even one of them loses, the entire parlay loses. And, obviously, the more picks in a single parlay (the higher the risk), the higher the payout.

So, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Manda and I decided to make the 30-minute trek and test our luck.

When I got back to the car, I looked over the elongated white card, stuffed with the weekend’s college and NFL football match-ups.

At the bottom of the card were a bunch of bubbles — as if you were using a Scantron to take a multiple-choice exam — to fill out, split into three sections: (1) the specific numbers of the wagers you were making — so I’d fill in “83” if I were picking the Chiefs -7.5, for example, because that was its designated number; (2) the amount you were wagering; and (3) the number of wagers you were making in your parlay.

I sat there, carefully thinking about each NFL Sunday match-up and which team might win, which team might lose (but still cover the spread), which teams may score a lot of points and which teams might not.

It was nerve-wracking. It was stressful. And by the time I finished up, I realized I had picked a few random games using slightly educated guesses and was chalking the rest up to the football gods. I should have prepared more, but would that have even helped?

I left the car, ran back through the rain and went into the store, actually walking over to the counter this time, where the clerk scanned my card and handed me my bet slip.

When I left the store and looked down at my slip, my jaw dropped.

I had added five match-ups to my parlay, picking a few underdogs along the way, which meant my measly $15 bet could turn into a $300 payout if everything aligned perfectly.

“Now,” I thought to myself, “I understand the appeal.”

Legalizing the act

The reason why I’ve never placed a bet in my life isn’t because I’m anti-sports betting — though I understand gambling addictions are no joke — but because it’s not legal in North Carolina.

For the most part.

Technically, after the N.C. Legislature passed Senate Bill 154 in July 2019, you’re allowed to place in-person bets at tribal casinos across the state, but as of now, only two such locations exist to do so: Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy, both of which offer Las Vegas-style sportsbook experiences.

But considering the distance most North Carolinians would have to travel — especially when Virginia has online sports betting available via websites like FanDuel or DraftKings — it’s safe to say the amount of residents that have placed legal bets in-state is slim.

But change may be on its way.

On Aug. 19, the N.C. Senate passed Senate Bill 688, which would legalize mobile sports betting on phones and at other venues, making it much easier to participate if you’re an N.C. resident.

The bill moved on to the House Committee on Commerce on Sept. 15, but may not see further action until next year’s session, according to an Oct. 1 story by the Independent Tribune.

However, House leaders’ interest in legalizing sports betting — and reaping the estimated $24 million in annual tax revenue it could bring, according to the IT piece — seems to be real, so it could be a matter of time before sports betting more accessible to a wider range of North Carolinians, not just those in the mountains.

Learning the hard way

My first experience with sports betting started off with a bang.

In my five-pick parlay, I made bets on:

• Jaguars +3.5 against the Dolphins (in London)

• Chiefs -7.5 against the Football Team

• Texans +9.5 against the Colts

• Steelers -4.5 against the Seahawks

• Over 45.5 points scored in the Packers-Bears game

During the early Dolphins-Jaguars game, my first time watching a team I’d bet on, I paced around the room as I pulled for the 0-5 Jaguars to either win outright or lose by fewer than 3.5 points.

Entering the game, the Jaguars were without both a win and a made field goal this season and yet, somehow, they hit two 50-plus-yard field goals late in the fourth quarter to down the Dolphins, 23-20, in an overseas thriller.

And, of course, I celebrated as if I were a Jaguars fan, jumping around the room and telling myself that I might actually win $300 on my very first try.

Boy, was I in for an Atlantic-sized wave of disappointment.

I knew it wasn’t going to be a good afternoon when I told my friend — both a certified gambler and a Packers fan — that I bet the Packers-Bears over and he replied with, “Bad bet.”

And it was.

In the 1 p.m. time slot, the NFL made sure I learned just how difficult, and heartbreaking, sports betting is.

To sum it all up:

• The Packers defeated the Bears, 24-14, amounting to just 38 total points, 8 fewer than the 46 I needed them to score.

• The Texans were blown out by the Colts, 31-3, not coming close to covering the spread.

• The Chiefs beat Washington, 31-13, in the only game that went my way for the rest of the day.

Once 4 o’clock rolled around, my parlay was cooked. And I was sad.

To top it all off, the Steelers ended up beating the Seahawks, 23-20, in overtime on Sunday Night Football ... and thus, didn’t cover the spread.

In total, I went 2-for-5 in my first-ever parlay. Not great.

It was brutal, it was infuriating, but to tell you the truth, I’d do it all over again.

Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to try — and fail — again from the comfort of my own home.

Until then, I’ll continue giving it a shot anytime I’m back in Delaware, wasting $15 at a time.


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