A bet on the Big Game and a prayer for better days ahead By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports February 3, 2021 at 8:00 pm Even under coronavirus pandemic restrictions and amid a reeling economy, Super Bowl LV figures to generate a lot of excitement and a gargantuan handle by sportsbooks across the country and around the world. As a sentimental aside, I can’t help but pause to reflect that it wasn’t long ago the National Football League and its team of lawyers would have thrown a flopping fit and sent out cease-and-desist letters over the very idea of holding hands with those shadowy bookmakers from Las Vegas. Legalized sports betting was the root of all evil in the great American pastimes despite all evidence to the contrary. But that’s all changed. A betting nation has emerged from an enormous closet and is stepping up to the window to place a wager on their favorite team. Whether it’s Tampa Bay or Kansas City, a series of prop bets using a thorough statistical knowledge of the teams, or a C-note because your late father was the world’s biggest Chiefs fan back in Len Dawson’s day, a little action on the game can put a little spice in life’s bean dip. Tom Brady leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into Super Bowl LV This year is very different, of course, because Las Vegas continues to wisely play it safe during the pandemic that has killed more fellow citizens than Americans who died in World War II. This year, even major business sponsors are dialing back their multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns out of good sense and respect for the difficult times our country is facing. Super Bowl extravaganzas have been a staple of the Las Vegas “Big Game” marketing strategy for decades, but that’s not happening this year. What is more possible than ever is for players great and small to place wagers remotely from their laptop or smartphone. Like everything else in the world, your local sports book now makes house calls. Here’s a downside to all that access, of course. Compulsive gamblers might find the slope much more slippery. Gamblers Anonymous (www.gamblingproblems.org; 877 954-6783) and the National Council on Problem Gambling (www.ncpgambling.org; 800 522-4700) offer helplines and for players challenged by more than the point spread. For most, however, sports betting remains what it’s always been throughout its history as the laws outlaw element of the legalized gambling industry: a way to add a little adrenaline to a ballgame. It’s nice to win; the referees are bums if you lose, and it’s all something to talk about while you’re stuffing your face with pizza or your favorite items from the Super Bowl buffet. For my part, I think I’ll miss some of the commercials. But, frankly, most of my favorites are about 20 years old now anyway. Nothing like bullfrogs and Budweiser to make me smile. Who knows, maybe some smart guy will assemble a Super Bowl commercial highlight reel for those of us stuck in the past. This year, of course, the game will be the same, but the crowd will be different. One highlight will be the celebration and recognition of hundreds of front-line workers, nurses, physicians, and all the rest, who have performed a public service we ought never to forget. Their mere presence at the game should make some of the super-inflated egos on the field blush. The real heroes don’t need to throw a spiral or perform a touchdown dance. The home parties will be different, too. As most people learned long ago, the larger your Super Bowl party, the less likely you are to be able to actually watch the game. So I won’t miss those really noisy carnivals where I rarely had a good seat in front of the screen. If fans just can’t resist getting together, I think they should appoint someone to play pandemic referee. Make it playful but put on the zebra stripes and throw flags for encroachment (6-foot-separation violation); face-masking (seems like a natural all things considered), and of course illegal use of the unwashed hands. However fans celebrate the game, let’s hope the 2021 Super Bowl is one we remember as the time we helped to defeat COVID-19. I know that sounds pretty maudlin, but considering the toll already taken, it’s something to be wished. If we’re truly lucky and receiving a blessing or two where it really counts, with a nation recovering from a deadly virus, maybe we’ll all be getting together in person this time next year. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.