New pari-mutuel fantasy betting scores big among Vegas sports books
By Buzz Daly
Until recently, the newest twist in sports betting – daily fantasy sports – completely bypassed Las Vegas as the issues of implementation, licensing and of course feasibility were unresolved. The intense TV promotion of daily fantasy sports last year by a couple of national companies sparked interest and controversy.
But it took a Vegas-based company to actually create a version of fantasy betting that could be offered in sports books. A few months ago, I alerted Casino Player readers that a hybrid of daily fantasy and parimutuel betting was under development for the football season. Well, it is here.
USFantasy offers a variety of contests which capture the essence of fantasy football and provide instant gratification for winners. Unlike many of the national daily fantasy contests, it is not skewed to favor professional players who possess sophisticated expertise and the generous bankrolls to play a vast number of combinations.
USFantasy rolled out in September at a limited number of sports books, and now is available at 31 shops in town and 10 others statewide. It is a genuine alternative to traditional sports betting offering attractive payouts along with all the fun and excitement.
Essentially, bettors wager among themselves, just as they do in a horse race, on which players will produce the best stats. A Sunday card consists of about 10 different propositions using skill positions – QB, RB, REC, K – with payoffs for first, second and third along with exactas and daily doubles. Simply look for the prop sheets available in the books with the week’s betting menu.
Each prop consists of eight to 15 players who earn points based on a scoring system that counts touchdowns and yardage. More exotic wagers with significantly higher payouts include pick threes, trifectas, superfectas and a pick-7 which costs $1 to win $1 million.
Horse players intuitively know how to play USFantasy, and regular bettors generally pick up the concept after a short learning curve. Payoffs are calculated using a standard $2 bet. The handouts display projected points for the players and opening odds. Current odds are posted on LED boards in the books.
Rather than relying on corporate hype about how well the market is responding to USFantasy, I spoke with players at several sports books, both local and on the Strip. The overwhelming consensus was enthusiastic approval.
At South Point, I spoke with Charley G., a local who prefers to keep a low profile. “I’m a serious fantasy player and sports bettor,” he told me. “I play in several fantasy leagues and count on finishing in the money in all of them. Playing these props requires a short-term outlook. I prefer quarterback contests because I think they are easier to handicap. There are so many variables that you must take a shot with a dark horse or two, and for all the effort I put into ‘capping, an injury wrecks a play.” He plays 15 to 20 combinations including win, place and exactas.
Maury Cohen, a visitor from Boston in Harrah’s sports book, said he had never heard of USFantasy but saw a handout and was intrigued. A long-time fantasy player and veteran sports bettor, he was noodling over the weekend card. “It’s a little overwhelming at first, all the different choices,” he noted. “I follow football pretty closely, so I’ll probably bet to win and place.” He suggested that long shots might be a better bet among receivers since it is hard to predict who will have a hot hand.
What separates this from the nationally advertised daily fantasy contests promising big payoffs is the pari-mutuel feature. If chalk prevails low payoffs result, which discourages individuals from making large investments. And the props don’t include the entire pool of players at a position which reduces high payoff incentives for professionals.
To illustrate what a regular USFantasy competition looks like, here are results of a quarterback prop with 11 players: First place Marcus Mariota, $39, $8.60, $6; second place Aaron Rodgers, $9.80, $7.20; third place Drew Brees, $5.80; exacta $250.20.
Among punters, football is king. Wagering interest is relentless and fueled by strong TV coverage of NFL games. This year, however, ratings for the NFL are down significantly. It might be due to the election, which is now over, and they might rebound. Fortunately for Vegas, all that counts is handle and that shows no signs of declining.
As USFantasy offers other sports, such as basketball and hockey, the novelty of wagering on players rather than teams figures to have a positive impact on handle. There are so many more betting options possible when the books offer player props based on performance. And bookmakers are thrilled that the pari-mutuel system reduces the liability that they have compared with traditional wagering.