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Harbaugh's decision rattles gamblers

The SportsXchange

---The Seattle Seahawks were once again involved in a game with gambling repercussions, but this time they had no control over the outcome.

In Thursday's loss at San Francisco, 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh declined a two-point safety in the game's final minute of a 13-6 win over Seattle, and took over on downs. His rationale was to avoid possibly giving the Seahawks a chance to get the ball back with an onside kick. By rule, a safety awards two points to the defense and also forces the offensive team to perform a free kick -- punt or kickoff.

"I have never seen that," tweeted longtime Las Vegas bookmaker Jay Kornegay. "Crazy to see that with the cover on the line."

On fourth-and-17 from their four-yard line, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed a pass from his end zone to Ben Obamanu, but it was just short of a first down. But there was also a penalty against Seattle for a chop block in the end zone. If accepted, it would be a safety and give the 49ers two points.

Harbaugh instead asked for a measurement. When it was confirmed that Obamanu was short, the 49ers took over on downs, and opted to win with two kneeldowns.

If Harbaugh accepted the penalty, the Seahawks would have been behind by 11 points, 15-6. They surely would have attempted an onside free kick from their 20. The would need to recover that kick, then collect 11 points in about 40 seconds to manage a tie. A touchdown, two-point PAT, another recovered onside kick and a field goal would tie. A second touchdown would win, but considering they didn't manage one TD in the first 59 minutes of the game, expecting to get two in about 40 seconds would be extremely optimistic.

While such a sudden comeback by Seattle was an unlikely scenario, Harbaugh was still wise to take the guaranteed win. But by declining the safety, San Francisco, an eight-point favorite in some sports books, ended up winning by seven. The extra two points cost anyone betting on the 49ers to cover a spread that ranged from seven to eight points.

John Avello, who runs the race and sports book for the Wynn, described the reaction to ESPN.com as more intense than when replacement referees awarded the Seahawks' Golden Tate with a game-winning touchdown catch.

Worldwide, the shift in bets then was estimated at as little as $150 million and as much as $1 billion.

"This game was just as much of a swing, if not more," Avello said.

Not all bookmakers agreed.

"It seems controversy has been the theme in the NFL this season when it comes to betting and last night once again a call at the end of the game affected the point spread directly," one sports book maker told TSX. "With the spread moving between 7.5 and 8.5 all day [Thursday] the safety would've allowed the Niners to cover winning by 9. However this game was pretty evenly bet so we didn't see as much of a backlash as we did last time Seattle covered on the last play touchdown call against Green Bay. Safety or no safety was not a huge swing for the book either way."
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