Matt Porter feels like he’s trapped inside some corny game show with a host staring him down, a live audience hanging on his decision, bright lights shining in his face. Take the money now or risk losing it for double! Porter, a 41-year-old originally from Illinois, is in a real-life gambling game show. In June, he placed a $50 bet that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow would win the Heisman Trophy. Given Burrow’s relative unfamiliarity and LSU’s long-standing offensive ineptitude, he got the odds at a cool 200 to 1. About four months later, Porter is in line to win $10,000 if the current betting favorite takes home the Heisman Trophy, but he’s got a decision to make.
This week, his gambling outfit offered him $3,865.38 to cash out his bet. It has since dropped to $3,500. Take the money and run? Or let it ride for a potential bigger check? “I feel like I’m playing 'Deal or No Deal' or 'Let’s Make a Deal,'” he laughs during an interview this week from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The decision is made even more difficult because of what lies ahead for the No. 2-ranked Tigers (7-0) and their star quarterback. LSU hosts No. 9 Auburn (6-1) on Saturday and after a bye week travels to top-ranked Alabama (7-0). Those are arguably the two toughest defenses Burrow will face in the 2019 regular season.
Porter isn’t cashing out his bet—at least not yet. “What fun is gambling if you don’t go along for the ride?” says Porter, an LSU season ticket holder who moved from Illinois to Baton Rouge at age 20 and fell in love with the Tigers. “The original plan was I was going to hold it to ’Bama week to see what the offer was at that time. When I put that plan in place in my head, I didn’t picture Joe as the frontrunner.” But here he is, at many sportsbooks, the favorite to win college football’s most prestigious individual honor eight weeks into the season. Burrow is a 6-to-5 favorite at Westgate, a Las Vegas-based sportsbook and one of the most respected in the world. Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts is next (7-5), followed by Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (7-2) and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (10-1).
It’s become a four-horse race, and the current leader could be the biggest longshot Heisman winner in the last decade among players who were accorded Heisman odds in the preseason. Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel were such longshots that most books did not offer odds on them. Matt Youmans, a Vegas-based gambling analyst, says future bets like the one Porter placed are becoming more and more frequent in the gambling community. Their popularity is spreading as does legalized gambling. “They’re up in most states and up in Vegas,” says Youmans, a host both at Vegas Sports Information Network and on ESPN radio in Las Vegas. “You try to turn a matchstick into a lumber yard. That’s what bettors like to do.”
However, unlike Porter’s situation, few if any Vegas sportsbooks offer bettors an option to cash out when their longshot bet is close to fruition. It makes it unique, says Youmans. “It’s like a game show isn’t it?” he asks rhetorically. “You have a chance to quit now or go on to win the whole jackpot.” Many offshore sportsbooks and local bookies offer such options. In fact in 2016, Leicester City started the season at 5,000 to 1 to win European soccer’s Premier League. While Leicester City closed in on winning the championship, a steady stream of bettors took cash-out offers from European sportsbooks. The Foxes eventually won the title, and according to The Telegraph, at least one man missed out on more than $200,000 in winnings by cashing out early.
Porter’s case might be different than others. He works in the commercial finance industry, and he currently lives in Florida with his longtime girlfriend. He has no children to feed and minimal bills to pay. He’s fine financially. Most of his close friends and family members are urging him to let his bet ride… “until Alabama,” they tell him. The Tigers and Tide, if all goes as planned this weekend, are heading for a collision course on Nov. 9, an unbeaten No. 1-verse-No. 2 showdown in Tuscaloosa. LSU fans like Porter know how that’s gone for them in the past—not good. “Look,” Porter says, “I’m an LSU fan. I carry scars from the Leonard Fournette-Bama game.” The one he is referring to came in 2015, when Fournette, then the Heisman Trophy favorite, ran for 31 yards on 19 carries against the Tide. The performance hurt the running back so badly that he didn’t even receive an invitation to New York as a finalist.
There’s another wrinkle to this too: LSU’s shoddy quarterback play against Alabama. In LSU’s eight consecutive losses to the Tide, its starting quarterbacks have completed less than 52% of their passes, thrown eight interceptions to four touchdowns, been sacked 29 times and averaged 154 yards a game. You don’t have to remind Porter. It’s why his initial plan was to bail before the Tide, but now he’s not so sure. “My guy is sitting in the catbird seat,” he says. Also, he might not even receive the cash-out option next week. He bets through a gambling application on his iPhone. The cash-out option has appeared on the app each Monday this season—except before LSU’s game against Florida and during LSU’s first bye week. In something that shocked him, the option first appeared after LSU’s season opener, a 55-3 win over Georgia Southern, offering him a cash-out sum of $1,100. It’s increased ever since. After the victory over Texas, it was $1,500, then went to $1,800 and so on. His social media has been abuzz with suggestions on how to spend his own money. Cash out! Let it ride! “I’ll come out of work and have 25 notifications,” he says.
He first posted about his bet on an LSU message board. It spread from there to Twitter and beyond. He was even a guest earlier this week on a poplar Baton Rouge radio show on ESPN’s local affiliate, 104.5 FM. The host, Matt Moscona, offered him advice: Take the money now. Everyone has their own opinions. He plans to re-evaluate things next week. If the cash-out option is there and if it is more than $6,000, he’ll think seriously about it. Like many of us, Porter figures the LSU-Alabama game to be a potential elimination matchup in the Heisman Trophy race between Tagovailoa and Burrow. However, the Alabama quarterback sprained his ankle in a game against Tennessee. He’ll miss the game against Arkansas this weekend and though the Tide expect him to play against LSU, his future health is uncertain. Youmans has his own Heisman favorite, and it’s neither Burrow nor Tagovailoa. “If I were going to bet it today, I’d bet Fields,” he says of the Ohio State quarterback, at 10-1 odds. “The other guys are going to take a loss.”
Porter is hoping that doesn’t come this weekend. He’s flying into Louisiana on Friday and will watch LSU play Auburn from his seats in the south end zone of Tiger Stadium. Meanwhile from his home in Pensacola, Porter’s father, Gary, will be watching on television. Gary Porter, the minister of a church, originally hooked his son to sports. He’s been giddy about the bet for the last few weeks, and he’s got good reason: Matt has promised his dad a cut of the profits. Gary gets 10% of the winnings under one condition: He continues to keep his son, Burrow and LSU in his prayers. “Dad is throwing out shoutouts to God!”