Cosgriff born to book

Last week, I introduced you to what an oddsmaker goes through on a typical NFL Sunday. This week, we bring you another perspective, this time from Matt Cosgriff, BetMGM’s director of trading operations.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, I wasn’t able to meet Matt in-person, but he filled me in the best he could on the inner workings of his job and a typical NFL Sunday.

This is Cosgriff’s 25th year in the industry. He tells me he always planned on working as a bookmaker and even dropped out of college to pursue it. He worked a 9-to-5 job after finishing high school and started working with an independent bookmaker (in Australia) on weekends. He moved into sports betting a few years later and covered all facets of sports and racing bookmakers. Fun fact, he also worked as a croupier in a casino.

Cosgriff said his love for horse racing and gambling started his path and he recalls making his first bet when he was 8 years old.

“Ever since that bet, I’ve been riding the roller coaster of life. It’s the most exciting job in the world — no two days are ever the same and the action never dies,” the long-time industry expert said.

On game days, he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. On a typical NFL Sunday, the first thing he does is check the weather venues for all the games to see if the forecasts have changed. To him, it’s an underrated metric that moves spreads and totals. He then analyzes the line-ups and checks for early bets from the sharps on the upcoming games. Around 10 a.m. he connects with the VIP agents to make sure all the clients’ deposits and checks are in place. The rest of the morning leading into the afternoon is what he likes to call, “trading the markets”.

Once the lineups are determined, the sharps have had their go at the odds, and the weather has no intention of changing for the day’s games, the trading office kicks into overdrive with the public betting up strongly.

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“As the day grows older and the late games come on, the action intensifies, so the concentration of the bookmaker is paramount with live betting on games going on at the same time the moves and sharps are also coming on the upcoming late games,” he said.

By the time the day’s last game starts, it’s “battle mode time” against the gamblers who were betting all day. They now all converge on the Sunday Night Football game with much higher wagers than what they had during the day. The book limits are lifted, and the liabilities can become extreme.

Another issue is seeing how the parlays across the day are rolling into the night game, as they can multiply the book’s liability into dangerous territory. Once the game begins, the live betting becomes frantic all the way to the last down.

“It’s a late finish but the day ends quickly for a bookmaker as the job not only is relentless on a Sunday, but its unending action and adrenaline is rolled into just another day in a bookmaker’s life,” Cosgriff said.

As for how they set their lines? Cosgriff gave me the quick version. They first construct their spreads on a balance of line assessments and market perception. All of BetMGM’s traders issue their own spreads and have access to quantified data models that give an educated assumption of where spreads should be and when a spread or total has moved too far. Once sharps get involved, their opinions are factored in against the assessments.

Around two hours before the kickoff of an NFL game, a lot of the bookmakers go into liability protection mode and begin what they call “buying back.” This is where bookmakers will swing the spread or total back against the move to sell back liability from their worst position to lessen the financial loss on that market.

“It’s no surprise the Sharps stick around for it like a pack of lions waiting for a weak zebra at the back of the herd,” he said.

What makes his team move lines?

“Mainly sharp play,” said Cosgriff. “If you don’t respect the gambler’s money then you shouldn’t be adjusting the price or line.”

Whether it is setting the lines or moving them, it is a continuous process for him and his team.

“It’s an ongoing process, especially now during these crazy times when games can be rescheduled and key players can drop at any time,” Cosgriff said. “The communication amongst the team is always open and information is constantly being shared amongst the group around the clock.”

Since he has been doing this job for so long, there isn’t much that phases him. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t swings that even he considers “crazy.”

“Game 4 of this past NBA Finals was the craziest swing for the house in my time at BetMGM,” he recalled. “While the game was over, and the Lakers were about to go up 3-1 in the Finals, Miami’s Tyler Herro swung things. With 1.1 seconds on the clock, Herro dribbled to the 3-point line and nailed a 3-pointer right at the buzzer to make the final score 102-96.

“The Los Angeles Lakers -7.5 tickets went from winners to losers off the back of Herro’s last-second play, which that night was 74% of our business.”

Before parting ways, Cosgriff instilled in me wisdom that only a bookmaker could.

“If a bookmaker is clever enough to see the sharp from the square action, not only does it enhance their ability to perform better at their profession but it allows them to become quite profitable themselves,” he said. “I learned that early on and it has been attributed to my success in gambling over these last 25 years. It’s a zero-sum game, somebody must lose for you to win — either you shoot, or you get shot.

How long he will keep this going? He doesn’t envision his passion for the “game” ever stopping.

“As for when I’ll leave the industry. I believe the only cure is death,” he said.

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