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A Lot of Bang For The Bankroll

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Baseball draws smaller crowds to sports books, but savvy bettors buck shorter house advantage

By Buzz Daly

 

Every year it seems the Vegas bet barons do a little shuffling of their baseball lines, so visitors should check out the book at their hotel, as well as others within walking distance. But if you are a small player, driving to a local sports book to get a better number could cost more in gas than you might win.

 

If idle hands are the devil’s workshop, you might find Satan hanging out in a sports book this month, handicapping baseball. The lull that stretches from the conclusion of March Madness until the start of football season imposes a frustrating lapse on year-‘round sports wagering that results in idleness for both bettors and bookmakers.

The other alternatives—NBA and NHL playoffs—are an acquired taste like raw oysters, which thrills aficionados while turning off others. That leaves the erstwhile National Pastime—baseball—to satisfy bettors seeking their action fix, and sports books looking to generate handle.

Just check out the variance in volume between football and baseball to see a graphic illustration of how traffic in sports books dwindles when the Summer Game dominates: Last year, the gridiron season brought in $1.6 billion in bets to Nevada sports books, compared with $680 million for baseball. There was also a substantial gap in profits, $81 million to $29 million, respectively.

With each new generation football pulls further away in popularity. In 1965, it narrowly led baseball as the favorite sport of Americans 24 percent to 23 percent. By 1998, the margin was 26 to 18 percent. Last year, the split had widened to 35 to 14 percent.

Among bettors, another mitigating factor is that baseball odds are expressed as money lines rather than the point spreads which are so popular. Casual bettors will lay 17 points on a football favorite without hesitation, but balk at laying $2 to win $1 on a baseball game.

All that notwithstanding, $680 million in revenue keeps the lights burning in the books. So some shops compete more aggressively and it is easy for players to identify those that want their business.

The preferred strategy is to play at casinos that offer the lowest vig. Generally, books that cater to locals offer a 10-cent line, which has the smallest house edge. Other books use either a 15-cent line or a 20-cent line, which gives the house a comfortable edge but is identical to what is offered in football and basketball.

However, unless you are betting a serious amount of money, you needn’t obsess about getting the 10-cent line. Baseball odds are volatile, and it is generally more important to bet early if you are backing a favorite, and closer to game time if you like the dog. For example, an opening number for the chalk can morph from -1.20 to -1.45 by the time the game starts.

Every year it seems the Vegas bet barons do a little shuffling of their baseball lines, so visitors should check out the book at their hotel, as well as others within walking distance. But if you are a small player, driving to a local sports book to get a better number could cost more in gas than you might win.

Recreational bettors who are baseball fans can get a lot of bang for their bankroll because there are so many handicapping tools at their disposal. Baseball offers an abundance of stats, traditional and Sabermetrics which is geek-oriented and the holy grail of fantasy/rotisserie players. There is a lot to digest, and analyzing the plethora of data to try to come up with a winner adds to the challenge.

Of course this is Vegas, and there is a lot more to wager on than sides and totals. You can transform a favorite to a dog by betting it on the run line, in which you lay 1½ runs, or take the runs and make the team a bigger favorite. Most books will let you bet the first five innings, and many offer odds on whether a run will be scored in the first inning. And you have the option of making a bet contingent upon who is the starting pitcher.

A few books offer fantasy-type props which are based on players’ one-game performance. Unfortunately, the sports books have yet to hit upon a betting format that captures the excitement of fantasy while integrating it into a popular wagering option. Check the handouts at the book you patronize to see if it is trying to cash in on this market.

I haven’t mentioned future bets because traditionally they are not the most advantageous for players. You can bet over or under seasonal win totals for teams, as well as who will win the divisions, league or World Series. Some books post seasonal player props on most home runs and wins. But it means tying up your money for six or more months, and hoping you don’t misplace a winning ticket during that time.

A few syndicates and professionals make life tough for Nevada sports books. They put substantial resources into handicapping software and pay tipsters throughout the U.S. for timely info. In some years they earn a profit during baseball season. The bet shops fight back by limiting or simply rejecting wise guy action. It creates a contentious climate for some bettors. But as one sports book director told me, “We’re not in business so the wise guys can buy a new car every year.”

At the end of the day, baseball is a grind if you bet it regularly. But it does offer a reasonable shot at winning for those who bet into a 10-cent line. However, if you are visiting town and just in action for a few days, forget the line; bet a few bucks on your favorite team, and just hope it wins. It is called having fun.

 

SIDEBAR: New Jersey Files Appeal To Overturn Rejection of Sports Betting Law

Hoping to avoid a death knell, which could come in two separate but equally devastating results, New Jersey is continuing its uphill struggle to overturn a federal ban on its legislation to legalize sports betting. As promised, the state has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to declare the ban unconstitutional.

This is the state’s last-gasp hope to join Nevada in offering legal, full-service sports books. After a federal appeals panel ruled against the state, the situation looked bleak but Governor Chris Christie vowed to continue the effort to allow race tracks and Atlantic City casinos to take bets on professional and college sports. He kept his word when the state filed for a writ of certiorari to resuscitate the law.

As Casino Player went to press, the issue was still in play. However, the state could lose if the high court refuses to consider the case, or the justices could accept it and then rule against New Jersey.

Although the state has lost virtually every battle so far, a well-regarded constitutional lawyer who is spear-heading the legal push feels there is a sound basis for success. Theodore Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Washington, DC, the state’s outside counsel, said the case revolves around two key issues:

 

  1. Whether the federal law, Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), in effect commandeers states’ authority to make decisions that best meet the needs of their residents; and
  2. Whether Nevada’s exemption from the prohibition violates the principle of equal sovereignty.

 

Opposition briefs were due by the middle of March, and a decision by the Court to hear the appeal is expected in June.

New Jersey state senator Ray Lesniak, a strong supporter of the Garden State’s position, admitted that winning is a long shot. But he does expect the case to be heard by the Court because the suit involves “social issues that have been on the front burner of the Court’s docket for several years.” He believes that could work in New Jersey’s favor. One other reason for optimism, Lesniak noted, is that of the appeals the Supremes do agree to hear, they overturn 60 percent.

 

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