MLB: Bookies sweat

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‘We’re hoping to break even’

The 2010 NBA Finals have just finished and so begins the dog days of baseball for Las Vegas sports books.

When the Lakers beat the Celtics last Thursday to win the championship, it signaled a beginning in the sports book season that many bookmakers just hope to skate by without getting too beat up.

“For the next six weeks, we’re hoping to just break even in baseball,” said South Point’s Sports Book Director Bert Osborne. “During this stretch, we’re exposed to having only one sport on the menu; it’s like no other time of the year where we’re at the mercy of having a lot of bad teams at the bottom and a lot of good teams on top.”

While the World Cup matches add a little bit of action that isn’t normally seen, soccer action is relatively small to the point where by itself, it can’t help offset some of the potential losses from baseball that a single NBA playoff basketball game can. The soccer matches don’t bring in the big-money sharp action like the other sports do.

Baseball isn’t much easier for bettors to handicap than the other sports, but for some reason, the house has always allowed it to be a category that is impossible to have a high hold percentage. Between the 10-cent lines that has any house advantage negated when a line is moved with action then bet on the other side, and being the only sport that pays true odds on all the parlays, the baseball bettors will always have the edge on the sports books.

If just looking at what sports books do for basketball and football point spread lines using a standard 20-cent vigorish and how the spread moves on each limit wager rather than the money line like baseball, where the house only gets beat on one-sided action, or possibly the occasional middle, it’s easy to see why the books have a tough time in baseball.

Factor in the standard parlay payout odds where no one gets true odds, at any juncture, and it’s easy to understand why the books love the football season so much.

That, and of course, the little fact that it is the most popular game within the betting community that attracts everyone.

It truly is amazing that in this corporate era of Las Vegas casinos that one of the corporate analysts, most of whom have little gaming experience and are straight out of college, wouldn’t have created one of their pie-charts, dissecting the sports books category analysis report with solutions on how to do better at baseball, the way they do with labor and expenses.

Over the years, many general managers have indeed inquired why they can’t consistently win at baseball and the sports book director would explain percentages and how house hold decreases when a line is moved and throw numbers at the GM until their heads started spinning.

Even though many of them didn’t understand what was being said with the numbers, ultimately, the question came down to “why don’t we just go to a 20 cent line like football and basketball?”

The answer has always been pretty simple – it’s a matter of losing a competitive edge. If the sharps don’t get value, they go elsewhere, and handle drops immensely. If the small money doesn’t feel like they are given value, handle drops, and they go somewhere else to make their $20 parlay.

What sports books essentially sacrifice to keep the regulars in a routine of coming through their doors through baseball season is paid off later for them by the return action and brand loyalty for all the other months of house advantage action. Seems like a fair trade.

Over at the South Point, Bert Osborne has always been one of the best baseball bookmakers in town, but despite all his bookmaking skills, he’s still looking forward to August.

“The football action isn’t that big for the pre-season games, but the volume and growth of cross-over action really helps us out,” he said. “The interest just builds throughout the month. It’s where our industry’s batteries get recharged.”

As for the next six weeks, Osborne will take things in stride as usual and also added that he has liked the excitement level that soccer has brought to his South Point Sports Book.

“It’s been nice walking into the book in the morning and seeing so much activity and interest in these matches,” he said.

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