Baseball Is Back
Some say the game is “too slow,” but there’s nothing boring about cashing winning tickets
By Buzz Daly
As the days grow longer and the countdown to deal with the IRS grows shorter, it’s that time of year when you can fire a cannon in a Las Vegas sports book and not hit anyone. Yep, baseball is here again. What was once our country’s undisputed national pastime has morphed into an old-fashioned sport, seeking relevance in an era when attention spans are measured in nanoseconds.
It’s also time for my annual admonition that if you’re a sports bettor, and you’re blowing off the Summer Game, you’re missing your best opportunity to steal a march on the books.
Yeah, I know. I’ve heard all the cracks about how baseball is dull, and slow, etc. But last time I checked, there is nothing dull about cashing a winning ticket—and savvy baseball bettors who hone their handicapping skills and know how to take advantage of a good number reap nice rewards.
Last year, from action on all sports, Nevada bet shops held 4.8 percent, down from 6.8 percent the previous year. A major factor in that profit decline was that baseball bettors ate the books’ lunch, as casino winnings from MLB dropped by 13.9 percent.
One reason could be increased action by fantasy players, as more of them see the benefits of being box-score fanatics paying off in ways beyond their Rotisserie leagues. Being a geek in high school might not be so cool. But immersing themselves in the plethora of baseball data has helped many wagering stat-heads grow their bankrolls.
Last year, the books got off to a good start as a few dogs, like the Pirates and Royals, surprised punters by being competitive in the early going. But bettors quickly adjusted, and by later in the season three- and four-team parlays were being cashed with regularity, to the books’ dismay. The September swoon of the Red Sox played into the hands of other bettors. Overall, favorites playing to form caused players to take a big bite out of bookmakers’ expected hold.
Meanwhile, future bets, which on average give the sports books a juicy theoretic hold of 37 percent, didn’t provide the usual financial boost. It took only a few omniscient players to squeeze profits at some books where the world champion St. Louis Cardinals were posted at odds of 250-1 to win the N.L. pennant, and 500-1 to win the World Series. It doesn’t matter how high the hold is. When you’re paying off bets at those odds, the bottom line takes a nasty hit.
Be aware that the sports book is the one area of a casino that drives the bean counters crazy. They can’t set the results of sports events to a specific return like a slot machine, and the books’ 11-10 advantage is trifling compared to the house edge at table games.
o, how do bettors take advantage of baseball action, which offers casinos the lowest hold, or profit margin, of the three most popular sports? Here are some specific strategies:
* Bet at a book offering a 10-cent line. This is 50 percent less vig than bettors must overcome in football or baskets, where a 20-cent line is standard. Generally, local-oriented shops offer the dime line, but you might find them on the Strip (depending on policies, which change year to year).
* Take advantage of the fact that baseball parlays offer true odds, as opposed to the arbitrary payoffs on other sports. For instance, a three-team football parlay pays off at 6-1 at most books, whereas in baseball the return with true odds can be 8½-1 or 9-1.
* Capitalize on odds volatility. From the time when lines are posted in the morning until the games commence, baseball odds are subject to significant movement. In extreme cases, teams that open as dogs can close as favorites, and vice versa. Because games are played every day, serious bettors recognize when an early line seems off, and have a good idea where the anticipated action will drive it. They take a position on such a game when it opens; then they wait, and after sufficient movement, bet the other way, thus obtaining a middle—which guarantees a profit. Of course, in order to exploit such line movement, multiple outs are required.
For those who insist baseball is boring, let me suggest that hanging a number on a game makes it interesting, and putting your money at risk makes it compelling.
Sports book directors are aware of the bias against baseball by some of their customers. Many of the bookies aggressively seek to get fresh blood into their shops by tweaking the offerings. Look for innovative and challenging props; 1½ and 2½ run lines; and promotions that offer reduced vig.
Most of all, look for ways to join the fraternity of bettors who realize “sleepy” baseball games offer more attractive edges than high octane, faster-paced baskets and the testosterone-drenched ritual of wagering on football.
Veteran Sports Book Exec Chuck EspositoTo Run Bet Shop at Sunset Station
With its bankruptcy fading into the past, Station Casinos is again beefing up its sports book operations by adding sharp, experienced personnel who know both the bookmaking side of the business as well as customer service.
Chuck Esposito has been appointed director of race and sports book operations at Sunset Station. The addition of a well-respected pro bodes well for the future of Station Casinos’ bet shops.
The 25-year veteran is reunited with an early mentor and his first boss, Art Manteris, who is now Stations’ vice president of race and sports book operations. Esposito worked for him for nearly 15 years at the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book, and later at Caesars Palace.
“I’m excited to work with Chuck again. He will help strengthen an already strong sports book operation team,” said Manteris.
I remember Esposito from his days at the Hilton and Caesars Palace books, where he was always quick to respond to questions with a forthright response.