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Place Your Bets

A few things to wager the farm on (or not).

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A friend of mine was in Las Vegas during the Super Bowl. He witnessed Jennifer Lopez and her potential husband for part of 2003, Ben Affleck, putting down huge wagers on the game. I know this is hard to believe, but it's true.

I do have a friend. In fact, I have several.

Anyway, he said there were literally hundreds of things that bettors could wager on, and that one of the most popular bets was on whether the coin toss would come up heads or tails. (This actually isn't a bad bet, since it's 50-50 and therefore not in the house's favor.)

There were lots of other categories on which to wager, including which team would score first, which would be leading at the end of each quarter and so on. He said these exotic bets whip up a betting frenzy, one that is helped by the fact that the average person doesn't understand odds.

For example, suppose you were involved in a series of coin tosses. On each toss of the coin, you wager half the money that is in your possession at the time of the toss (including any wins or losses you have incurred during the series). Let's say you alternate wins and losses (or losses and wins; it doesn't matter). After an even number of tosses and an equal number of wins and losses, will you have more money than you started with, less than you started with or the exact same amount that you started with?

If you think (as most people instinctively do) that you will end up with the same amount of money as you started with, the civic leaders of Las Vegas would like you to visit their fair town. If you think you'll end up with more than you started with, the Vegas people will probably send a jet to pick you up.

The fact is that you will actually lose one-fourth of your money with the first two tosses and one-fourth of whatever's left with each successive pair of tosses. Let's say you start with $100. After a win, you have $150, then the succeeding loss brings you down to $75. If you lose first, you go from $100 down to $50, then the win brings you up to $75, so it doesn't matter which comes first.

(I'm sure the Vegas people will want you to know that, under this system, technically you'll never run out of money. You'll just get down to nickels, then pennies, then pesos, then whatever French money is going to be worth in the future.)

While we're on this topic, here are a few other things on which Las Vegas bookmakers might place odds:

· Odds that George W. Bush could beat me in Jeopardy!: 1 billion to 1.

· Odds that George W. Bush will put me in jeopardy: Even money.

· Odds that someone will beat John McCain in next year's Senate race: 500-1.

· Odds that McCain's campaign will manage to break at least one campaign-finance law: 1-2.

· Odds of North Korea hitting the West Coast of America with a nuclear warhead-equipped missile (as claimed by the CIA): One bazillion gazillion quintillion James Brown-illion to 1.

· Odds of North Korea hitting North Korea with such a missile: Everything except the James Brown-illion (which I just made up in honor of the Godfather of Soul) to 1.

This North Korea stuff is a joke. It's supposed to take our minds off the fact that things aren't going well with Iraq. And the whole Iraq mess was originally intended to take our minds off the Osama bin Laden mess. When the entire combined might of the U.S. military and intelligence communities couldn't find a 6-foot-5 Arab with a long beard and a Jimmy Durante nose, the Bush Administration decided to pick a fight with Iraq, which is larger and less mobile than bin Laden and therefore less likely to be able to hide in the mountains of Pakistan.

· Odds of last year's best movie winning the Oscar for Best Picture: Zero. Minority Report wasn't even nominated.

· Odds of the University of Arizona men's basketball team being knocked out of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in the first round (as has happened in the past): 1 million to 1.

· Odds of the Cats getting knocked out in the second round (as has happened in the past): 500,000 to 1.

· Odds of the Cats getting knocked out in the third round (as happened last year): 50 to 1.

· Odds of the Cats getting knocked out in the fourth round (as only happened once under Lute Olson, in 1998, the year after the Cats had won the national title): 10-1.

· Odds of the Cats losing in the Final Four game (as happened in 1994): 4-1.

· Odds of the Cats winning the national championship: 5-1.

Arizona should enter the NCAAs as the favorite to win the title, but winning six games in a row in that wildness is what makes the tournament the greatest of all sports events. If the Cats can play the way they did against Arizona State last weekend, they'll be money in the NCAAs. However, if they happen to play the way they did against Stanford last month at McKale, they'll be Canadian money.

In fact, look for Saturday's game at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto to be a bellwether for how the Wildcats will perform in the next few weeks. A good Cats team should play the Cardinal tough. A great Cats team should win the game by double digits. A championship Cats team should punish the Cardinal for having messed up their shot at a perfect 18-0 mark in the Pac-10.

· If the Cats do make it to the Final Four, odds that you'll be able to go the entire week without buying a commemorative T-shirt: Yeah, right!

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