FIFA simulated shock on Tuesday after Uruguay striker Luis Suarez sunk his teeth into Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during a free kick, but the chomp seen round the world didn’t take everyone by surprise. Over a hundred gamblers had taken a prop bet that the vampiric Liverpool forward, who’d previously fed on Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic and Dutch midfielder Otman Bakkal, would bear his fangs. Chiellini walked away with a scar and the savvy speculators made off with thousands. No one ever lost money underestimating Luis Suarez.
The question facing FIFA, Uruguay’s coaches, and probably Suarez’s psychologist is whether or not the 175:1 odds against his committing a dental foul actually made sense. If so, it more or less makes sense that he was allowed to compete and given – as world-class strikers always are - the benefit of the doubt on a few calls. If not, he probably should have been muzzled. Let’s work it through:
Suarez competed in 196 games for Groningen and Ajax in the Dutch league before moving to Liverpool, where he’s appeared in 133 contests. He has 78 caps with the Uruguayan squad. The first biting incident was in 2010 during a game against PSV Eindhoven. The second was in a 2013 game against Chelsea. That’s a bite-per-game rate of 1/204.5, roughly 16 percent lower than the odds offered. Given that Suarez has only bitten in high-pressure situations and that he has a record of World Cup misconduct (remember that handball against Ghana in 2010?), it made sense that the odds would be lowered significantly. Commentators have argued that Suarez was more likely to rein it in on the world stage, but this is specious reasoning. Suarez is many things, but he’s not hypocritical: The bigger the contest, the more erratic his behavior tends to be. With Uruguay facing serious talent in Group D, the odds were just about right.
Crowds are, in short, as wise as Suarez isn't. In retrospect, it's easy to claim that the odds were significantly higher, but that is the trap of prop bets. Logic has some limits (at least where Uruguayan strikers are involved) and hindsight is both 20/20 and bad at math. Betsafe.com set the odds well and has graciously begun to disburse the winnings. The site is currently taking bets on the USA v. Germany contest. The odds that Michael Bradley, America’s level-headed midfield will get a red card? 45:1. Gives a fan something to think about.
Photos by Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images