One consequence of last night's officiating tragedy that was not lost on football fans was that the refs did not just take victory away from one team and give it to another, they also flip-flopped wins and losses for millions of NFL gamblers.
Most casinos, betting websites, and bookies, had the Packers as 3.5-point favorites over the Seahawks last night. That meant that when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson put his fateful pass into the air, Green Bay's five-point lead was still good enough to cover any bets placed on them to win. Seconds later, when side judge Lance Easley raised his arms and ruled that Golden Tate had snagged the ball out of thin air and scored a touchdown, everyone who bet on the Packers instantly became a loser. Those who bet on Seattle and were seconds away from disaster were suddenly collecting their winnings.
Depending on who you ask, that one play shifted anywhere from $150 million to $500 million in total bets worldwide. (If we were gamblers, we'd wager on the low end of that estimate.) The sportsbook at the Las Vegas Hotel says there was probably about $15 million wagered in Nevada alone, but there's no way to know how much was bet overseas, at online sports betting sites, or at the local neighborhood bookies across the country. That also doesn't count the millions of gamblers in weekly office pools, "pick 'em" games, barroom square games, suicide pools, or the hundreds (thousands?) of fantasy football players who might have seen their weekly contests swing on the points provided by a Tate-Wilson touchdown, a Green Bay interception, or even (improbably) a Steven Hauschka extra point.
It's important to remember that even though the majority of that money was bet on the Packers (who were both the favorites and a popular team with the general betting public) that the money isn't "lost." It just changed hands. The casinos in particular cleaned up as around 70% of that money stayed with them instead of being paid out to Packer fans. And, of course, anyone who picked Seattle should be reveling in their good fortune this morning. It's just one of those cruel twists of fate the befall every gambler sooner or later.
Oh, and despite the shady ending that money isn't coming back. While one website decided to generate a little goodwill and cancel any bets made on the Packers, the NFL has announced that they stand by the decision to not overrule the referees on the field (without actually saying that they made the right call) and the result of the game is final. There is no appeal process that would give Green Bay their victory back.
The only question is whether all that money—and the implication that fans might be betting on games that are not legitimate—would be enough to spur the NFL to action on its replacement ref problem. As one bookmaker said, "If a half-billion dollars can't get (commissioner) Roger Goodell's attention, what will?" The answer: Nothing. While betting is certainly a big key to the NFL's popularity, the league does not officially condone gambling and would never let itself be seen sympathizing with those who got screwed on a bad beat.