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Bet on Baseball… or Wait ‘Til Football Season

Sports books prepared as baseball season draws fewer bettors

By Buzz Daly


With all due respect to bears and their genetically programmed behavior—which causes them to abandon normal activity and withdraw for several months into a slumber-like state, hibernation—they do bear (pun intended) a close resemblance to some sports bettors.

The crucial difference is that bears hibernate in the winter, while bettors hibernate during the summer. Without the obsessiveness of football and the furious action of March Madness fueling wagering activity, a majority of punters simply see the baseball season as an excuse to wait ‘til football.

Several factors are to blame for MLB’s inability to keep up with football as a popular betting option: the pace of the Summer Game is decidedly less frenetic than football, somewhat akin to watching a submarine race; and bettors have allowed themselves to become infatuated with point spreads while shunning money lines, which is the principal way baseball is booked. Casual bettors will lay 10 points on a favorite but are loathe to lay 2-1.

To paraphrase a ubiquitous advertisement, “Baseball has fallen, and it can’t get up.” South Point odds maker Jimmy Vaccaro compares the sport’s lagging popularity to basketball. “Baseball mirrors the NBA,” he suggested. “It has become a niche sport and attracts a niche crowd, just like the NBA. With unerring regularity, I see the same faces all during the baseball season. And I can predict the handle on any given day, just like the NBA,” Vaccaro added.

While that is not a bad thing, it is a sad testament as to how far what was once America’s pastime has fallen. This is the time of year when a beady-eyed suit will stroll through his casino’s sports book and calculate how much more profit could be generated by replacing empty seats with slots and video poker.

A local professional bettor who spoke off the record observed, “The challenge of baseball is that the public has a fatal attraction for chalk. The average square never met a favorite he didn’t like.

“That is a dangerous strategy for novices because even the best MLB teams lose around 40 percent of their games. Do the math. Chasing chalk will decimate your bankroll in the long run,” he scoffed.

However, he noted the reason that wise guys and syndicates are regular baseball bettors is that it offers the lowest vig of any major sport, a 10-cent line as opposed to the standard 20-cent line in football or baskets.

Books that wish to attract baseball customers post the dime line. Unfortunately, finding that line is not easy; the 10-cent line is an endangered species. General rule of thumb is that local and independent books are most likely to post a dime line. Strip casinos cater to tourists and adjust their lines accordingly.

Sadly, most recently, Station Casinos moved to a 15-cent line this season. That seems to be the best compromise bettors can expect and it is fairly common as bookmakers reduce risk. Because simply put, the 20-cent line is strictly for novices.

So bettors need to shop around. I haven’t scoured the entire Valley for the dime line, but it can be found at South Point, Wynn, William Hill, Westgate SuperBook, and CG Technology (formerly Cantor Gaming).

Many books offer overnight lines on next-day action, which are generally available by 4 p.m. A bet I consider that has reasonable profit expectations is whether or not there will be a score in the first inning. But avoid shops that charge excessive vig, anything over 30 cents.

Betting the run line, which offers a plus or minus 1.5 run line spread, lets you reverse a favorite into a dog, and likewise, change the dog into chalk. This is an attractive play in games that don’t figure to be close and feature pitchers with higher ERAs.

In setting the odds on a baseball game, sports books weight the lines using two key factors: the pitcher and the home team. Savvy bettors look for live dogs at home and bettable odds on quality starters on the road. It’s not just support from the home crowd that influences the line. Variables such as the difference in pitching mounds, configuration of the ballpark, ability of the home team’s ground crew to adjust the speed of the base paths, and various ground rules are factored in.

The plethora of stats now available for handicapping baseball could be considered excessive. Sharp bettors zero in on numbers that genuinely relate to the current game, and disregard trends and angles that are misleading or meaningless.

For those who wonder why some syndicates are so feared by the books, it is because they have superior handicapping capabilities. They feed accurate info – current lineup and predicted performance against today’s pitcher, speed and direction of wind – into their software and simulate a million or more games. Then they compare their figures with the current odds, and when a significant disparity is perceived, they pounce.

If there is a positive effect of baseball’s relatively smaller core of bettors, it is the absence of touts with their obnoxious, outrageous and desperate claims to “crush your man” polluting the Internet and airwaves. Mercifully, due to a dearth of customers, the financial opportunity that attracts them, which is abundant during football, is dormant during the spring and summer.

At the end of the day, while baseball is considered boring by some, I find that putting money on a game makes it compelling. As a bonus, MLB is investigating ways to shorten the duration of games, which has become interminable. And while it is not necessary to sit through all nine innings, neither does baseball require the standard NBA strategy of just watching the last five minutes of a game.


Betting Interest in NFL Continues Unabated Despite Controversies That Surround League

John Gotti may have been the “Teflon Don” but the late Gambino family boss has nothing on the NFL, which despite seeing its image suffer one debacle after another, not only survives but continues to thrive as a billion-dollar economic juggernaut and cornerstone of the Las Vegas sports-betting industry.

This Teflon-like sports league shrugs off a host of controversies oozing negativity which should smear its reputation in mud. Despite serious proven charges against players or the league itself for a mind-boggling variety of offenses – most recently, the New England Patriots’ fourth-round draft pick in 2010 is serving life without parole after being convicted of first-degree murder – the NFL is still the untarnished high-powered engine that drives the legal sports-betting machine.

Other hits to its perception as a solid corporate citizen include sexual abuse, substance abuse, domestic violence, bullying, cheating, covering up prescription drug abuse by team trainers, and settling a lawsuit for deliberately failing to warn players about possible brain damage.

The league’s hypocrisy in waging war against Las Vegas’ licensed sports gambling industry rankles sports book executives. But they don’t let that get in the way of exploiting the betting public’s passionate love affair with wagering on the NFL, from tedious preseason games to the Super Bowl.

Last year, Nevada set a record by handling $1.74 billion in football wagers. While Gaming Control does not track college and pro football separately, sports book managers estimate the pros account for about 60 percent of the annual volume.

When the NFL sneezes, Las Vegas says “gesundheit.” Following the league’s late April announcement of the 2015 regular season schedule, sports books rushed to post opening lines for week one games. Westgate Las Vegas sports book director Jay Kornegay beat everyone else. He determined the interest level generated by NFL news was high enough to post the spreads without waiting, as originally planned. A few heartbeats later, Station Casinos followed. Soon week one lines were available all over town.

Truth be told, September lines are worthy of a lot more discussion than actual betting action in early spring. But with the NFL draft slated for a few weeks later, it’s all fodder for the business. Speculation in the press and among sports book denizens translates into action. No point in posting those lines here, since they will different by the time you read this. And the handouts will list opening numbers as well as current ones.

One day after the NFL draft was concluded, as automatic as a PAT, regular season win totals were posted by the Westgate. This kicked off another flurry by competitors to gain an edge on the futures market. The controversy over which of the two top college QBs should have been selected first in the draft continued unabated: Jameis Winston’s sterling skill set vs. Marcus Mariota’s sterling character. There will be nothing resembling even a partial decision until the season is underway. But with months to debate the issue, Vegas bettors will do so with gusto.

Opening day may still be three months off, but it is never too early to spread a little football fever. All the NFL’s bad press is forgotten, if it ever was even a blip on a bettor’s radar screen. Instead analysis, projections, and wishful thinking is the order of the day as sports book ticket windows happily service folks who put their money where their mouth is.

For Vegas bet barons it is business as usual. The NFL sheds poisonous PR just as quickly as it sticks to the Patriots and their tight-lipped hoodie-wearing coach. If Tom Brady’s legacy takes a hit from the effects of Deflatgate, rest assured the NFL flag will continue to fly, proudly and unblemished in this sports-betting Mecca. The league will continue to feed sports book coffers during the off season as bettors oblivious to the NFL’s inability to curb its darker impulses blithely indulge their love affair with pro football.

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