People love betting on the Super Bowl. They also love betting on the non-football-related aspects of the Super Bowl: the color of Gatorade dumped on the winning coach, the first song sung at halftime, and, yes, the outcome of the coin toss before the Big Game.
BetMGM reported Wednesday that Super Bowl LVIII's coin toss is a "top 10 most bet prop" for the online sports betting site (although it is not available for customers in Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, or Washington).
Moreover, the bookmaker said that, as of Wednesday morning, 54% of tickets and 55% of all money wagered on the coin toss market was on "heads" as the outcome.
BetMGM reports this morning that, apropos of the Super Bowl coin toss, most bettors believe that tails is in fact capable of fails. pic.twitter.com/Xye8WzFzmx— Geoff Zochodne (@GeoffZochodne) February 7, 2024
BetMGM is offering odds of -105 on both "heads" and "tails," which (despite being a bit pricey) makes sense, as flipping a coin is traditionally a 50/50 proposition.
With that in mind, the fact that one side of the market is taking more action than the other is funny (OK, maybe just to me) because there is no real reason to believe one side or the other has an advantage here.
*Insert record scratch sound effect*
But what if I told you there IS an edge to betting coin flips? Hypothetically, of course, and one you'll probably never be able to use for Super Bowl wagering.
While I doubt most BetMGM users are keeping up with the latest scientific research, a recent study suggested that a coin toss is not necessarily a 50/50 thing. If anything, it could be closer to a 50.8/49.2 proposition.
I’m not crazy. Don’t take it from me, though, take it from František Bartoš, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Amsterdam who, as his bio on X (the former Twitter) notes, “once flipped a coin too many times.”
And by “too many times,” Bartoš is referring to how he and volunteers from six countries flipped coins more than 350,000 times, according to Scientific American.
The result of the massive flipping campaign (reportedly using 46 different currencies) was that the side facing upward before the flip was the side facing up after landing 50.8% of the time.
“If you start heads-up, the coin is more likely to land heads-up and vice versa,” Bartoš posted on X in October. “If you bet a dollar on the outcome of a coin toss 1000 times, knowing the starting position of the coin toss would earn you 19$ on average. This is more than the casino advantage for 6deck blackjack against an optimal player (5$) but less than that for single-zero roulette (27$).”
We found overwhelming evidence for a "same-side" bias predicted by Diaconis and colleagues in 2007: If you start heads-up, the coin is more likely to land heads-up and vice versa. How large is the bias? In our sample, the mean estimate is 50.8%, CI [50.6%, 50.9%]. pic.twitter.com/jmeHBHgkac— František Bartoš (@BartosFra) October 9, 2023
There is scientific theory as to why this may be the case.
But, in short, and I’m paraphrasing here: A COIN TOSS MAY NOT BE 50/50. Forget about “tails never fails” — if you know which side is facing up at the flip, that side could be slightly more likely to be the side facing up when the coin is done flipping.
Let us now step back from the respectable world of science and back into the world of degenerate Super Bowl wagering.
Based on what we know above, if you can determine which side of the coin is facing up before it is flipped at the Super Bowl, and if the odds are equal, you should, arguably, bet that face-up side.
Does it mean that you are for sure going to win that bet? No. It just means there is a slightly better chance of winning it, which, if the odds are the same, means you have a slight edge.
But this doesn’t mean you should go crazy betting on the Super Bowl coin flip. You should always wager responsibly and within your means. It feels insane to be writing this, but don’t dump the mortgage payment on the flip of a coin.
Scientists destroy illusion that coin toss flips are 50–50 https://t.co/l9uZzblh9y— Scientific American (@sciam) December 25, 2023
We also have a few additional factors to consider. Do we know which side of the coin is going to be facing up at the toss? Do we even have enough time to get a bet in even if we know which side is going to be facing up? Oh, and is trying to make a "+EV" wager on a coin toss an insane thing to even think about?
If I had to guess: no, no, and definitely yes.
(Also, for what it’s worth, this year’s coin was manufactured by the Melbourne, Fla.-based Highland Mint, which has been making coins for the Big Game for the last three decades. And, as reported by Florida Today, the mint’s Super Bowl coins have landed “tails” 18 times and “heads” 12 times. Again, I don’t know if that’s helpful at all.)
Let's look at last year's coin toss, which, helpfully, is on YouTube. The referee starts by showing the teams the "tails" side of the coin before turning it over to show them the "heads" side. He closes his hand (and maybe turns it over once in his grasp) before passing it over to an honorary captain, who flips it before we hear or see what side is facing upward. It lands tails.
Maybe there is some kind of forensic investigation we could perform to determine which side the coin was facing. I’m just going to say here we have no idea which side was facing up before the flip.
As for timing, even if you’re able to determine which side of the coin is facing up pre-flip, sportsbooks are almost certainly going to shutter any coin toss markets before then. BetMGM’s John Ewing told Covers via email that “essentially, once it becomes clear the teams are heading to midfield to flip the coin, the market will close.”
If you've made it this far ... sorry?
All of the above is going to make it very tough (perhaps impossible) to determine which side of the coin is more likely to hit and then to get a bet down on that side.
So, if you’ve made it this far, then, yes, recent research suggests there is an edge to betting coin flips. It may just be you’ll only ever get a chance to use it with friends and family, and not for a six-figure wager on the Super Bowl’s coin toss.
You may now resume your regularly scheduled Super Bowl wagering.