Sportsbooks Taking ‘Wait And See’ Approach With NFL Helmet Rule And Betting Lines?

Posted By Marc Meltzer on September 4, 2018 - Last Updated on September 5, 2018

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

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.

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Marc Meltzer

Marc Meltzer grew up on the mean streets of the South Bronx. He's the rare combination of Yankees and Jets fan which explains his often contrarian point of view. Marc is a freelance writer and social media consultant. Writing about steak, booze, gambling and Las Vegas is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

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