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5 Heartbreaking (or Miraculous) Moments in Sports Betting History

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A controversial call at the end of Monday Night Football cost Green Bay a victory last night, and the referee's decision swung an estimated $150-$250 million in the gambling world. Every once in a while, a play or call will have serious repercussions for bettors. Here are a few tales that will make the gambling community wince.

1. Chris Duhon's Heave

As the clock dwindled on Duke and UConn's 2004 Final Four matchup, Blue Devils fans had to hang their heads. Their underdog squad was going to lose 79-75, thereby ending their title hopes. Worse still, various betting lines on the game were giving the Devils between two and three points, so Duke fans who had bet on the game were going to endure a double punch to the stomach: their team was losing, and so were their wallets. On the final play of the game, though, senior guard Chris Duhon chucked a 38-foot three-pointer off one leg as time expired. The shot banked in to make the score 79-78. It was cold comfort for Duhon and his teammates. However, it was great news for anyone who'd wagered on Duke. Since the underdogs covered the spread on the meaningless play, they all won their bets. The shot swung at least an estimated $30 million to Duke bettors, with some estimates ranging as high as $100 million.

2. Robin Ventura's Grand-Slam Single

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Game Five of the 1999 National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets felt like it might never end. The game was tied 2-2 in the top of the 15th inning before Mets reliever Octavio Dotel gave up a run to stake the Braves to a 3-2 lead. In the bottom of the 15th, though, the Mets managed to tie the game at 3-3 when catcher Todd Pratt drew a bases-loaded walk. The next batter, Robin Ventura, clubbed a pitch over the Shea Stadium fence for a walk-off grand slam. The Mets were going to win the game 7-3. Only there was a holdup: when Ventura got between first and second base, his teammates mobbed him in a raucous celebration. He never got to finish his home run trot or even touch second base. Since Ventura only touched first, the official scorer didn't give him a home run and the four RBIs he had coming from the slam. Instead, Ventura got credit for a single and one RBI.

The "grand slam single" was obviously enough to give the Mets the 4-3 win, but it caused a sticky situation in Vegas. The over/under (combined number of runs scored by both teams) on which bettors had wagered was 7.5. If the Mets had gotten all four runs Ventura's slam should have scored, the total number of runs would have been 10, and bettors who took the over would have won. Instead, the 4-3 final score resulted in the under bettors winning. Unfortunately for the sports books, it wasn't immediately clear that the Mets weren't going to get those three extra runs, so NBC posted the score as 7-3 on its broadcast. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, some casinos started paying out on "over" bets when the 7-3 score was initially posted and didn't stop until NBC announcer Bob Costas told viewers the correct score five minutes or so later. As a result, if you were quick enough, this game did the seemingly impossible: it paid out for both the over and the under.

3. The Machine Throws a Wrench at Gamblers

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When the Los Angeles Lakers played the San Antonio Spurs in the 2008 Western Conference Finals, it seemed pretty obvious that Kobe and company were going to earn their first NBA Finals trip since 2004. At the end of Game 5, the Lakers had all but clinched a four-games-to-one series victory. They had the ball with a 97-92 lead and needed only to run out the clock and get ready for the Finals. Instead of the customary aimless dribbling to wind things down, though, backup guard Sasha "The Machine" Vujacic tossed off a three-pointer as time expired. Final score: 100-92. The bad news for Vegas? The line was Lakers -7.5, which meant that Vujacic's shot covered the spread. Sports business reporter Darren Rovell wrote that given the large amount of worldwide action on the playoff game, the shot may have swung $100 million in bets.

4. Florida-Miami, 2008

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This Sunshine State rivalry has never been short on hard feelings, but the animosity between the two traditional powers and their fans peaked following their 2008 meeting. Florida was widely considered one of the best teams in the country, while the Canes looked like they might have another down year. As a result, the spread was big; the Gators were 21-point favorites. The game played out about as expected with Florida laying down a pretty firm drubbing. With about a minute left, the Gators had the ball and a 23-3 lead. Ordinarily, teams would just run out the clock in this situation and enjoy the victory. Not Florida coach Urban Meyer, though. The Gators kept running plays in an attempt to score. Eventually the drive stopped 12 yards short of the goal line, and kicker Jonathan Phillips poked in a 29-yard field goal with 25 seconds left to move the score to 26-3. Hurricanes coaches and fans were upset with what they saw as a classless attempt to run up the score and cover the spread, but Meyer claimed he just wanted to get the young kicker some late-game experience before the meat of the Gators' schedule. Either way, Florida covered the spread on the meaningless kick, which must have made countless Gator bettors happy.

5. No Touchdown for Troy

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The NFL saw a great meaningless gambling moment in 2008, when Steelers safety Troy Polamalu seemed to scored a touchdown on the final play of Pittsburgh's game against San Diego. While it looked like the lusciously locked DB had successfully nabbed a fumbled lateral and scampered into the end zone, the referee somewhat confusingly allowed, then disallowed the score. The play had no impact on the game's outcome (Pittsburgh still won 11-10), but the gambling repercussions were serious. The Steelers had been 4.5-point favorites heading into the game, and if Polamalu's score counted, anyone who bet on Pittsburgh and laid the points would have won. Instead, they lost their bets, which cost these bettors an estimated $64 million, and that's not to mention those fantasy owners (like this writer) who started the Pittsburgh D and lost a fumble recovery and score from the reversal.

Portions of this story appeared here in 2008.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

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Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

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Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
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The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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