Books in battle with sharp in-game bettors

Jan 31, 2019 3:07 AM

Editor’s note: This is the last in a three-part series on in-game sports wagering. Today: Strategies, betting handles and more.

See Part 2 Here  or See Part 1 Here

When a prohibitive pre-game favorite falls behind early in a game, bookmakers take cover because they know what’s coming: A wave of in-game bets on that big favorite at now greatly reduced odds.

It happens nearly every time the Golden State Warriors fall behind in the first half.

It happened in the Super Bowl two years ago when New England trailed Atlanta 28-9 late in the third quarter and became a 16-1 underdog on William Hill’s in-game money line. Loyal New England backers cashed in when the Patriots won in overtime.

A similar opportunity emerged earlier in these NFL playoffs when Philadelphia took a 14-0 lead at New Orleans. The Saints, a nine-point favorite, -450 on the money line at kickoff, became a comparable bargain at the Westgate ­SuperBook as a 3.5-point underdog, +155 on money line, with more than three quarters remaining in the game. New Orleans won 20-14.

“One of the things we’re finding is our biggest losses on in-play come when heavy favorites go down early,” said Jason McCormick, race and sports director for Station Casinos. “They’re taking those short prices. They’re saying, ‘Hey, now it’s down to a pick on a team that was a 10-point favorite.’”

In-game wagering is the latest trend in the sports gambling industry. Nearly every sportsbook offers it these days, but it’s done in various forms.

The South Point posts the side, total and money line manually during commercial breaks on selected games.

The Westgate offers a larger menu of proposition-like wagers on some games, at times even as play is in progress, with these odds generated by algorithms via Sportradar, a sports-data company used by numerous sportsbooks around the world.

For the more high-volume events, however, the Westgate doesn’t use Sportradar’s algorithm version for its in-game betting, choosing instead to post lines manually during breaks similar to the South Point.

It’s a clear indication that some bookmakers still trust their numbers on heavily-bet games more than the Sportradar computerized model, at least for now.

William Hill has had a reputation for being the king of in-game around Nevada because it generally offers odds on a wider selection of games, especially in college football and college basketball.

On one recent night, William Hill had live betting available for 19 college basketball games compared to four at some of its competitors. As a result, William Hill’s in-game bets account for 30 percent of its overall handle, according to Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading.

Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports at Westgate, said in-game betting is “approximately six percent” of the SuperBook’s handle. Other sportsbooks that make fewer games available for in-game betting can be around one percent for total handle.

While some insiders are predicting an in-game surge throughout the United States once bettors become more familiar and comfortable with the process, not everyone is jumping on that bandwagon.

There are some lingering questions, including whether bettors will want to be constantly checking for updated odds in the middle of watching a game.

“It’s not going to explode like some people say it is,” said one U.S. bookmaker who requested anonymity. “The American sports-betting brain and the American culture and way of life are different than in Britain (where in-game betting is extremely popular, largely because of soccer).

“Maybe I’m the idiot. I could be completely wrong. I hope I am. But I’m skeptical. I just don’t buy what everyone else is selling. It’s never going to take off in this country.”

Bryan Leonard, a Las Vegas-based sports handicapper, said most professional gamblers he knows that play in-game “use it if they can’t get the line they want (before the game). They’ll look to get that number in in-game betting.”

One strategy that Leonard personally likes to employ is with baseball totals on games he’s watching and identifies an early trend.

“If there’s a wide strike zone and players are complaining, I’ll play the game to go under,” Leonard said.

He also likes to look for college football situations in which two high-scoring teams get into a back-and-forth shootout. He’ll then try to take advantage by playing “both sides at plus-money on the money line.”

Ian Epstein, a founder of and former in-game trader at CG Technology, said he searches for “wild overreactions” in the early part of a NBA game.

An example is when a game starts out low scoring. Epstein said he’ll consider jumping in to play the over on a total that has dropped several points.

Vinny Magliulo, a longtime Nevada bookmaker and current vice president for the VSiN sports-betting radio network, believes in-game appeals to a wider audience than some might think.

“Seasoned professionals are wagering on it because they look for value opportunities,” Magliulo said. “Casual bettors, younger bettors, love the technological aspect where it’s available on their tablet, their PC or their phones.”

Baseball could have the most to gain of the major sports in the U.S. because the slower pace – like soccer - lends itself to more in-game wagering opportunities.

Joe Asher, CEO for William Hill, has told Major League Baseball officials not to speed the game up too much because “it’s an absolutely fantastic betting product.”

“There’s enough time, in my opinion, that U.S. bookmakers will be able to offer bets in-between pitches,” added Jake Williams, the legal director for Sportradar.

Most of the in-game bets currently are tied to the result of the game, a half, a quarter or, in the case of baseball, possibly an inning.

A micro betting market – will the next pitch be a strike, will the next shot be made, etc. – could become more common down the road.

“The micro markets, at least big bets, are still going to be more than five years ahead of us because it’s so advanced,” Epstein said. “I look at England like 15 years ahead of where we are with in-game. We will get to where they are. It’s just going to take time.”

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