Last week, West Virginia became the fifth state in the country to offer sports betting to its inhabitants. So far, the only major winners have been the sportsbooks.
Sports betting is one of the few endeavors in a casino where a consistent profit is possible. The wily and studious sports bettor can show a long-term win, in the same way that some poker players can come out ahead in the long run.
However, the ability to do so takes years of practice and research to accurately predict the profitable games to bet. Unfortunately, new sports bettors in West Virginia and Mississippi simply don’t have that practice.
It’s showing, too, in the bottom lines of the sportsbooks. ESPN’s David Payne Purdum tweeted a message from a Mississippi bookmaker who claimed a 22 percent hold for the weekend.
“(There were) squares everywhere. A couple of sharp plays but overwhelmed by the public.”
Local favorites partially to blame for huge holds
A square is a bookmaker’s term for a losing player. Many squares fall victim to emotion and make poor bets based upon gut feeling and supposition, rather than fact.
One hallmark of a square bettor is excessive reliance on local or regional teams to win. A higher percentage of wagers on the hometown favorite is music to most bookmakers’ ears.
Square bettors also like parlays and chasing the allure of the big payout.
That’s why Erich Zimny, VP of Racing and Sports Operations at Hollywood Casino Charles Town, reported that his casino held roughly 50 percent of its handle in the first weekend of operation. Zimny told WV MetroNews that Hollywood had kept $324,000 in extra cash on $640,000 in wagers.
Some of that $324,000 represented held money for future bets, so the casino won’t fully win 50 percent in the long run. Still, that level of profitability dwarfs the figures in Nevada on a typical weekend.
In a way, the situation in Mississippi is even more appealing. In the Magnolia State, there are lots of football team favorites in nearby football-crazy SEC areas.
Obviously, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are going to see action, but so are schools like Alabama, LSU, and Florida. Tennessee might come in especially hot in Tunica, since Memphis is less than hour’s drive away.
But bigger reward means bigger risk for the sportsbooks
Those kinds of hold numbers are likely to generate smiles for casino management in these four new sports betting states. With so much money flowing onto emotional picks, sportsbooks can sit back and play the odds.
Over time, a sportsbook makes money by accurately setting and adjusting its lines according to the betting action on a given bet. The new problem is the same that a poker player faces if he or she takes a shot at a higher limit.
Even if the “player” (the sportsbook) has confidence about their long-term outlook for the game, the short term can bring devastating variance. This kind of variation occurs especially in sports like college football, where things like Appalachian State taking No. 10 Penn State to overtime happen all too often.
A similar situation with a hometown hopeful could be disastrous for nascent sportsbooks. In an interview with Forbes, Nick Bogdanovich, Director of Trading for William Hill US spoke bluntly about the issue:
“There will be regional bias; we just haven’t been open long enough to see how crazy it will be,” he said. “It could be totally insane or just mild.”
Obviously, as the markets mature, the lines and linemaking will improve. So will the staff skills at each book.
Until then, sports betting outside Nevada is going to be a learning experience for everyone involved.
Gambling on football has never been easy. The NFL hasn’t been making it any easier with constant rule changes. For the past couple of years, players, officials, announcers, media, fans, and gamblers have struggled to understand what a catch is. Now football bettors have to deal with a new rule that seems to be confusing everyone.
The Use Of Helmet rule once again has everyone scrambling. The new rule has been implemented to hopefully make the game safer for players. However, nobody seems to know exactly how to interpret the new rule. Here’s the actual rule from NFL.com.
As approved by NFL clubs in March, it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time.
Referees during the preseason seem to be throwing penalty flags for just about any hit that comes close to being an infraction. The 15-yard penalty is significant and will certainly impact the game. Unlike the targeting penalty in college football, there isn’t even replay to see if the hit was actually illegal.
Effect on betting
When betting on point spreads and totals gamblers must win just over 52% of all bets to break even. A successful bettor wins about 55% of their football bets. If it was easy to win this often from football betting over the long term there would be more professional bettors. Anecdotally, about 2%-3% of sports bettors are considered professional.
The new rules in the NFL might make it more difficult for bettors to handicap the games. Advancing an offense 15 yards for a defensive penalty has ramifications for football bettors. Scoring might increase for all games, some games, or none. There will be officials that call the Use Of Helmet penalty more than others. Yay, bettors now have to handicap officials for every game.
TheLines ran into Station Casinos Sports Book Director Chuck Esposito at the opening of the renovated sportsbook at Palace Station in Las Vegas. He said that they are taking a “wait and see approach” to moving lines and totals because of the new helmet rule since the players, refs, or anyone else seems to know how to interpret the rule.
Adding to the confusion about the Use of Helmet rule are the referees who are are calling this penalty way more than anyone expected during the preseason. They could be testing themselves and might call a different game during the regular season. This could also be the new reality for the NFL. Nobody really knows yet.
Bettors should follow this during the first few weeks of the season. If the sportsbooks are slow to react there could be betting opportunities.
Speaking of rule changes…
We dropped a #WojBomb on Esposito this week. When we caught up he wasn’t aware that Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted an article that the NBA would likely vote to reset the shot clock after an offensive rebound to 14 seconds instead of the current 24 seconds. Esposito was a bit more definitive about his initial thoughts on the NBA using a shorter shot clock after rebounds. He thinks we’ll see a big adjustment by sportsbooks if this actually becomes a rule. This is something to keep an eye on when the NBA begins the season in mid-October.
Football is the biggest season for the American sports betting world. For pro football fans, that all culminates with the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. No doubt many bettors are already getting in on the fun with their Super Bowl futures bets.
With so much parity in the NFL, the good news for sports bettors is that there is always hope. Each year it seems a low-wrung team manages to emerge and make a run to the playoffs, and occasionally the Super Bowl. But overall, bettors should steer clear of these longshots if recent history means anything.
In 2017, the Eagles opened at around +5000 (50/1) before beating the Patriots 41-33 in February to bring home the title. The Patriots started as a 13/4 favorite. A hundred bucks on the Eagles would have earned a lucky bettor $5,000. That would certainly fund a nice vacation – after the season of course.
Parity makes those longer-odds teams seem possible for Super Bowl or conference champions. But a quick look at teams over the last decade shows that out of nowhere long-odds champions are rare. The Eagles were an outlier.
The futures betting sweet spot seems to be in the +1200 (12/1) to +1800 (18/1) range before the season gets underway. Here’s a look at those winners and their pre-season futures odds courtesy of FootballLocks.com.
- 2018 – Eagles (+5000)
- 2017 – Patriots (+800)
- 2016 – Broncos (+1000)
- 2015 – Patriots (+1500)
- 2014 – Seahawks (+1200)
- 2013 – Ravens (+1200)
- 2012 – Giants (+1500)
- 2011 – Packers (+1200)
- 2010 – Saints (+2500)
- 2009 – Steelers (+1800)
- 2008 – Giants (+3000)
In this span of 11 Super Bowls, only three longshots (27.3 percent) won it all. But teams with odds between +1000 and +1800 brought home the Lombardi Trophy eight times (72.7 percent). So you’re looking at the Browns at 80-1 or up and coming squads like the Titans (+3400) or Chiefs (+2800), that money might be better spent.
This year, only around 10 teams fall within that betting range from the Rams and Vikings at +1100 to the Saints and Falcons at +1800. While the smart money should probably go there, the thrill of hitting on a bet on recent Super Bowls champs like the Giants, Saints, or Eagles convinces many bettors open the wallet for that longshot.
As the season approaches, here’s a look at every NFL teams’ odds to win the Super Bowl at the various online sportsbooks in New Jersey: