Super Bowl Pools and Super Bowl Squares games are side bets on the outcome of pro football games, usually the league championship known as the Super Bowl.
This post is a brief guide to help people learn how to play and how to win their next football pool bet.
Super Bowl Pools and Squares FAQ
Most people’s big questions about this kind of bet can be summed up in the answers to the three questions below:
What Is a Super Bowl Pool?
Whether you call it a square or a pool, the setup and play is the same.
A 10×10 grid is drawn, made up of 10 vertical columns and 10 horizontal rows. These rows and columns are numbered from zero to nine. One team is assigned the vertical columns and one the horizontal rows. Traditionally, the Super Bowl’s “home team” is assigned the horizontal rows, while the “away team” is assigned the vertical columns.
You now have a grid of 100 squares, each of which is sold for a set amount – say $10 per square. That gives a total prize pool of $1,000 once all squares are sold. That amount is then paid out in four equal installments to the winning square at the end of each quarter. In our example, that would mean four $250 payouts.
How Much Do Super Bowl Squares Cost?
Most super bowl pools are informal and take place at office parties or among groups of friends just before the big game kicks off. You can play some Super Bowl pool games like squares online, and I’ll talk a little more about that later. But, generally speaking, most bettors play squares in home games with varying buy-ins.
I’ve been at family reunions where we bet $1 per square and the prizes were $25 each. I’ve been around degenerate gamblers selling squares for thousands of dollars apiece. The possibilities are pretty much unlimited – or limited only by the bankrolls of the players.
It’s almost always the case that each square costs the same amount.
Are Super Bowl Pools and Squares Legal?
This is a tough question to answer. In some US states, it’s pretty clear that Super Bowl squares are considered illegal gambling. The biggest of these is Texas, a state where I can confirm that people absolutely love playing squares games at Super Bowl time, most people playing in more than one.
Any US state that has restrictions on games based entirely on chance is likely to frown on a typical Super Bowl pool game, in which squares are randomly assigned and the outcome has nothing to do with the skill of the player.
You could also make an argument that the 1992 PASPA law forbids squares betting.
I think a more important question is “Am I likely to get caught or prosecuted for playing in this pool?”
I did a good amount of searching through news and legal briefs for evidence of people prosecuted for participating in an office or home Super Bowl pool game. I didn’t come up with anything. Speaking of Texas, I’ve found that states that have broad definitions of “illegal gambling” also tend to be the least likely to prosecute bettors.
The larger the prize pool, and the more its operators are profiting from operating it, the more likely you are to get in trouble for being a part of it.
Bottom line, squares betting may be prohibited by law where you live, and if you’re concerned about that type of thing, you should look into your state’s gaming laws on your own or maybe talk to a lawyer about it. In my opinion, which is a non-legal opinion, a truly casual and privately held Super Bowl party is unlikely to draw the attention of law enforcement authorities.
How to Play Super Bowl Squares
You play squares by buying as many squares as you want to wager. If it’s $10 a square and you can afford to lose $50 comfortably, you should buy 5 squares to increase your chance of winning.
At $50 for 5 squares, you’re looking at a prize pool of $1,000 divided into four $250 payouts. You’re basically placing a $2.50 bet on each of 20 individual wagers, each of which could earn you either $250 or nothing at all. The odds aren’t quite as simple as that – I’ll cover more on pool odds in the strategy section below.
Some games use dice or other random number generation methods. These days, there’s all sorts of free resources online that can help you randomize the squares. I’ve heard of games auctioning the “best” numbers off for increased prices, but that sounds a bit more like organized illegal gambling than I’m comfortable with.
Once everyone has been assigned their squares, there’s nothing left to do but watch the scoreboard and hope to see one of your squares come up. Your goal is to have your square represent the final number in the two teams’ point totals at the end of each quarter.
- For example, if you get the coveted 0/0 square, you’re hoping that the point total at the end of each quarter is 0-0, or 10-10, or 20-20, or any combination of totals where each team’s individual total ends in a zero that you own.
- Here’s an in-game example – if the Patriots are ahead of the Rams 27-23 at halftime, the player who has a 7 in the Patriots row and a 3 in the Rams column would win the prize for the halftime payout. The 2’s in the scores are irrelevant to the game because they’re the first digits, not the last ones.
Super Bowl Square Payouts
Most football pools I’ve ever been part of evenly split the prize pool up among either each quarter or each half of the game. A $1,000 pool (where each square costs $10) means payouts of either $250 or $500, depending on if the game pays out each quarter or just at the half.
I’ve played in pools before that paid an increasing amount per quarter.
- So that the winner for the first quarter won $1,000
- The halftime winner won $1,500
- The prize was $2,000 for the third quarter square
- And $2,500 for the final score square
The buy-in was $70 per square, a lot richer than I’m used to, but it represented a potential 33:1 payout. Had I managed to snag a high-value square like 0-0 or 7-0/0-7, I’d be in a really good position gambling-wise.
But of course, I only had a 1% chance of getting that square to begin with. That’s where the whole thing becomes a luck-based game, unless you’ve found a pool that allows bidding for certain squares.
Super Bowl Squares Odds and Strategy
Sports fandom in 2021 is a game of numbers. We’ve got Sabermetrics and Nate Silver and percentages all over the place. You can sometimes find vaguely camouflaged gambling advice on ESPN or your local sports news. It shouldn’t surprise you that people have figured out the odds for different squares combinations.
8% of all quarters in every pro football game over the past seven years (including playoffs) have ended in 0-0, by far the biggest percentage of all of the 100 numbers on the board. The 0-0 square has the highest calculated return, paying out $2 for every $1 bet. (Note – this is only true if the payout is even across all four quarters.)
- The next-best squares in terms of odds are 7-0 (home-away) which averages $1.60 per $1 wagered, followed by its opposite 0-7 (home-away), which returns $1.41 per $1 bet.
- Another opposing couple rounds out the “best-of” list – 0-3 (home-away) and 3-0 (home-away) both pay off about $1.20 for every $1 you spend.
By the way, if you could choose to avoid any numbers in order to increase your chances of winning, you’d want to skip out on any combination of 9, 8, 0r 5, no combination of which pays more than $0.21 per $1 bet. That makes it a worse bet than a pull on a slot machine, like 4 times worse.
Where to Play Football Pools and Super Bowl Squares
Usually, the pool will come to you. A co-worker will circulate a memo or something and keep everyone’s money for the prize pool until the day of the game. Or your friends will open an online pool at one of the free-to-play sites and you can make your wagers privately.
You don’t have to look too hard to find football pools and Super Bowl Squares games online either.
All the Daily Fantasy Sites are run form of Super Bowl squares pool. I know DraftKings runs a popular pool contest every year that’s free and has a prize pool worth around $50,000. I’m sure some real money online sportsbooks over wagers in square-style contests, though it’s not my bag and I’ve never sought it out.
Check into the legality of football pools in your area if you’re worried about breaking the law and pay attention to the details. Sometimes a game is allowed in a private setting, which is ideal because almost every Super Bowl Squares game I’ve ever played in totally satisfies the privacy requirements of US state gaming law.
Football pools at Super Bowl time are a fun way to potentially win a nice return. For lots of Super Bowl viewers – bored by the matchup on TV and all the hot wings and cheese dips and such – it makes an otherwise dreary Super Bowl party at least a little bit entertaining. For four lucky people, it turns that dull party into a positive-expectation social engagement with a football game in the background.