As we get closer to the expected ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States on the legality of the existing federal ban on sports wagering it seems each week brings a new state bringing some form of legalization action before its legislative system.
For some jurisdictions there is no question sports wagering will be an immediate tax revenue driver, while for others it will just be another amenity in their existing casinos. But in considering all of the potential jurisdictions that are enacting legal sports wagering it begged the question: “Where will all the experienced sportsbook operators come from?”
Running a book is both art and science muddled with lots of regulatory requirements, and while on the surface it seems an easy business it is also the one section of the casino that relies on humans to make a judgement call in setting the betting line, and the one area that casinos owners and regulators rely on the informed opinion of the bookmaker rather than the pure mathematical advantage as found in table games and slots.
There has been many a time I have received a call from my book managers to tell me we are heavy on a particular side of a game or if a certain combination of games or prop bets fall a certain way we could get stung a bit. In all other parts of the casino other than the book, math, time and volume will always cure any temporary losses on a given day or two. Not necessarily so in the sportsbook.
The science part of bookmaking is found in the analysis of the event, historical performance, latest lineup information and the vig, juice or commission built into the bet spreads. The art comes from reading the flow of the business, knowing when to hold a line and take a little risk, understanding when a team’s popularity will come to support a line.
For example, a few years ago I was in a conversation with the president of a particular gaming company who is also a sports bettor himself. He was remarking that a particular team was going off at +600 when he thought they should be at +900. While he was right on the math of the game that they should have been +900 he was not taking into account that the team was so popular people were going to bet the team anyway regardless if they were getting +600 instead of +900 they should have. So why unnecessarily give up the extra +300.
In running sportsbooks the lines will generally move in reaction to the book exposure and to draw money to a particular side of a game in order to balance the book, eliminate as much exposure as possible and profit on the natural advantage of the wager.
But a good book manager experienced in the arts of knowing the customers, understanding the flow and betting patterns, instead of whipsawing the line will make small line movements, if any, and generally get the book into acceptable risk positions by event time.
But where are these talented people? The legal ones are in Nevada, and there are plenty of illegal ones domestically and around the world, and legal operators from outside the U.S. who may not be versed well enough with either U.S. sports or more importantly the regulatory oversights required in the various U.S. jurisdictions to be worth recruiting.
It is true the inevitable expansion of sports wagering will lead to great opportunities for existing Nevada sportsbook operators to operate satellite books in other jurisdictions. There will also be many casino and state lottery operators that will want to run their own books, some for ego, some for greed, some for market competition differentiation; and that will likely stir a hiring demand for talented book managers.
In the past Nevada looked beyond the illegal past of certain people who had expertise in a needed gaming area and allowed them to start with a clean slate. That was then and this is now. With the hyper scrutiny and immediate social media criticism of any morally challengeable decision by regulators, that option may now be closed for jurisdictions new to the sports wagering business.
So, should the U.S. Supreme Court rule to finally put the ban on sports wagering in the trash can, look for your favorite sportsbook managers and or assistant managers to become highly recruited by casinos and lotteries outside of Nevada real soon.
If I were a young book maker, I would be keeping my fingers crossed not only for the Supreme Court to rule against the sports ban, but for Hawaii to adopt sports wagering as well.