It used to be, when I wanted to bet on a football game, there were two places I could go: Las Vegas, or youwager.eu, an offshore website in Costa Rica I heard about from a heavy bettor at my local bar, a guy I call Even Bigger Sexy.
I went to both. I won at both. But I still couldn’t make a profit. To bet in Vegas, I had to fly there and stay in a hotel. To collect my winnings from the Costa Ricans, I had to pay a huge “service fee” and pick up a wire transfer at a currency exchange. (The Costa Ricans settled their bets, but it felt so shady.) This was all on top of the 10 percent “vig,” or house edge, that all sports bettors struggle against.
I never expected to type these words, but thank God for Hammond, Indiana. Sports betting became legal in Indiana on September 1, and on Wednesday, Hammond’s Horseshoe Casino is opening a sportsbook, just in time to profit off of the NFL’s 100th season. It doesn’t cost any money to get to the ‘Shoe; you can board a complimentary shuttle bus to the casino in downtown Chicago or Chinatown. The soft drinks are free, too.
When it comes to gambling on sports, Indiana is a step ahead of Illinois. In June, our General Assembly voted to legalize sports betting at casinos, racetracks, and professional sports venues that seat 17,000 or more fans. (Betting in college stadiums, or on Illinois college teams, is prohibited.) It was part of the bill that authorized a casino for Chicago. Eventually, online wagering is coming, too. The state will collect 15 percent of the proceeds from sports betting for “capital improvements.” But the 2,500 kiosks where fans will be able to wager have not yet been set up. So if you want to bet on Thursday’s Bears-Packers game, you’ll have to go to the ‘Shoe.
For a long time, professional sports leagues took a puritanical approach to gambling, refusing to place teams in Las Vegas and trying to prevent states outside Nevada from taking bets. They were, understandably, haunted by events such as the 1919 Black Sox scandal, which threatened to destroy public confidence in the integrity of the games. Pete Rose is still banned from baseball (and its Hall of Fame) for betting on the Reds when he was their manager.
Such efforts were hypocritical, of course. The leagues have always known that people watching at home have money on the outcome, and they’ve marketed their products accordingly. Monday Night Football became a hit in part because it was a “get even” game for gamblers who’d taken a beating on Sunday. TV packages like NFL Sunday Ticket and Redzone, which broadcast out-of-market games, are popular among fantasy players who have to watch their kicker on the Miami Dolphins. (Why else would anyone watch a Dolphins game?)
The internet — especially sites like FanDuel and Draft Kings — took the action away from bookies, making sports betting a semi-respectable activity. Once that happened, the leagues decided to get in on the action. By 2020, sports betting is expected to increase the NFL’s profits by $2.3 billion a year, from advertising by gambling outfits and increased viewership by bettors.
I used to be a fanatical horseplayer, but I’m no expert on sports betting. So I went for advice to a pro: Richard Eng, former gambling columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies. Eng kindly answered some of my novice questions on sports betting via email.
What’s the “vig” on a sports bet?
The “vig,” which is short for vigorish, is the hold or fee the bookmaker charges you for making a sports bet. It is normally 10 percent. So, for example, one would bet $55 to win $50. Thus a lot of bettors have the misconception that the hold on a single game bet is 10 percent. It is not. In reality, only the losing bettor pays the vig. If you win, you will get your vig back plus your profits.
Do you prefer betting the spread or the money line?
A lot depends on the price or odds on the game. Most single game bettors will be happy to cash on the point spread. If a sports bettor bet the same amount on every game he would need to win 52.4 percent of the time to break even. The money line eliminates the point spread so your side has to win the game outright for you to cash. Sharp handicappers who can price games correctly like to bet the money line when a price is too high or too low. You really need to know what you are doing to start betting on the money line.
Can you discuss the concept of an “overlay” as it applies to sports betting? I feel a lot of people may not understand that you’re not necessarily looking to bet the better team (or your favorite team), you’re looking to bet a team offering good value. (To use a recent baseball example, Detroit -550 against Houston turned out to be the bet of the year.)
An “overlay” in horse racing and sports has the same meaning. Again you must be able to price a horse or game accurately as to what the win odds should be. If one sees the odds are too high, then there is a clear advantage for one to bet on that horse or team. Most oddsmakers are pretty reliable. If you can trust their opening line and use it as a barometer, then you can judge if you are getting enough value or not by watching the line movement.
What are the most important factors to consider in betting on football (i.e., home field advantage, injuries, winning streaks, etc.)?
There is an old boxing axiom that styles make for a good fight. The same holds true in football. For example, if one team likes to run the ball and the other side can’t stop the run then you have found a decided advantage. If one team has trouble rushing the passer, then the other teams’ quarterback can stand in the pocket like the Statue of Liberty waiting for receivers to get open. You look for things like that when handicapping a game. Injuries always play a key role. Nine times out of 10 the second stringer is not as good as the injured starter. Edge to the other team. The home field advantage in football is normally 3 points. However, I know many handicappers of college football who make it as high as 4 points. This is due to a sold out home crowd of hostile fans.
What are the best sources for a beginning bettor to use in researching football?
Some of the better sites based out of Las Vegas include GamingToday.com, VegasInsider.com, and DonBest.com. Most casual bettors do not want to pay for data. My suggestion is to go to these web sites, see what they offer, and find the ones you feel most comfortable using.
Eng ends his e-mails with this quote from Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money: “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” Remember that when you cash your first bet.
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