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Inside the Points - Week 8 Note
By Fritz Schlottman
October 24, 2003
  Some of the lines put up by the Sportsbooks this week prompted me to add a note onto this week’s Inside the Lines. These thoughts don’t come from myself, but come from handicappers that understand how the sportbooks work far better than the author. I believe they can be useful to fantasy players and recreational gamblers alike.

2003 has been an exceptional year. Normally, the sportsbooks and the wiseguys are in on a little deal. Both of them know that the average NFL gambler will lose money during this season. They will lose money because the casinos know that the average Joe bets favorites, even road favorites. Unfortunately, home underdogs cover approximately 53% of all games on average. The sportsbooks and the pros alike make money off recreational bettors when the home underdog covers the points spread.

But, as I said, 2003 has been an exceptional year. Home favorites are only 7-21 so far this year. As a result, the general public is winning money while the casinos have been taking a beating.

Two big examples from last week illustrate this point. The public’s two favorite teams this year have been the Cowboys and the Chiefs. Both teams were in bad situations last week and the sportsbooks were expecting one if not both home underdogs to cover in these games, neither the Lions nor the Raiders did. The sportsbooks lost their shirts on both games both to straight bettors and to all the parlay bettors who had their two favorite teams on their cards.

A sportsbook manager isn’t the manager very long if the house is losing money. To get back some of that cash, the casinos have gone away from trying to balance their bets. Normally, they want even money of both sides of a game, but when they’re losing money they will intentionally try to lure gamblers into games where the casino expects them to lose their money. In other words, the casino wants all the money on one side of a game and they want the players to lose!

In all sports except the NFL, lines are set to beat the wiseguys, not the public, but in the NFL there are enough small bettors to offset the big money that comes in from the syndicates and pros. This is because there are relatively few games and one heck of a lot of bettors.

Every line opens at a particular number for a reason. There are no accidents and few mistakes in the sports betting industry. So an opening line means something. When the line opens at 1/2 point off of a key, the house is trying to subtly influence a position among bettors. Key numbers in football include: 1, 3, 7, 10, 14, 17, 21. These numbers are "key" because the scoring systems of touchdowns and field goals means that the final score will have a margin of victory by one of these scores more often than not. As a bettor, wouldn't you rather be taking 7 ½ points instead of 6 ½ , or laying 2 ½ instead of 3 ½ ? Of course you would. However, past evidence has shown rather clearly that the opposite is true. Teams that open at -7.5 cover far more often than teams that open at -6.5. Why? Because a team laying more than a touchdown is supposed to be laying more than a TD, and a team laying less than 7 is supposed to be laying less than 7.

So, what are the books trying to tell us? If the book wants to limit the action on a game in which they feel vulnerable, they will put up a number no one wants to bet against. For example, if there are two injured teams or two low scoring teams the casino will put up a very low total. You can’t bet the under and there’s no way you can bet the over either. If the casino thinks they can win money on a game, they will put the line at a position to draw all the action one way or the other. This is called a “trap” line or sucker bet. The casino expects the line to draw a lot of bettors, usually on the favorite. When the dog wins the game outright, the casino takes all the public’s money to the bank!

So what happened this week? The local casino opened up with no less than seven games priced at a half point. Guess which side they want you to bet on? The losing side, of course!

As I’ve said before, these guys aren’t stupid. They know exactly what team their clientele likes and how much the bet on games. They tried to set the general public up last week with trap lines involving the Ravens, the Cowboys, and the Chiefs. Only one of these traps worked…a disaster for the house. But give them credit, they won’t give up trying!

Football handicapping has a lot in common with Judo, you don’t try and fight the opponent (in this case the sportsbooks), you just go along for the ride past where he wants to go. If Vegas wants the general public to take these lines and run with it, go with the casinos and cash in when the number gets bet up past the point of reason.