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
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