Sharps always seek the edge

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Unlike most of the savvy sports bettors who write for this publication, commonly known as “sharps,” I would head up the dumb bettors’ list, known as “suckers.”

I bet with my heart rather than my head, will never bet against my alma mater or favorite teams, and when my picks are winners, which is probably 45 percent of the time, I owe it all to good luck or a close play that went my way. I almost never win easily.

In other words, I’m like one of millions of other gamblers around the country who place bets primarily because they want action on a game they might otherwise find boring. We might as well flip a coin, rather than thinking we can pick winners.

However, I have been around a lot of sharps in my day, have interviewed probably two dozen of them, and have a general idea of what allows them to bet on sports with varying degrees of success from year to year.

Most of the sharps agree that with all the wealth of insider information, injury updates, and experts’ analysis available online and on television and radio, it’s far more difficult today than 25 years ago to find a betting line that’s off more than a point or two when the lines are first posted.

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There was a time in the 1970s and ‘80s when the sharps would retrieve out-of-town sports pages from McCarran Airport trash receptacles left by passengers flying in from other major cities. That would give them the local scoop on injuries and locker room chatter from the various teams. The Internet changed all of that.

With the NFL season upon us, although we’d like to think with the big salaries paid to players that there isn’t any monkey business going on that would manipulate a point spread at the behest of big bettors, one well-known gambler suggested to me that there are rare occasions when a point spread can be manipulated.

He recently asked me this question off-the-record during an interview: “If you were to pay off one person in an NFL game not to actually throw a game, but to protect the point spread you were betting, who would it be?”

I naively answered, “The better of the two quarterbacks, as he could throw an intentional interception at a critical time.”

“Silly Boy,” the sharp answered. “If he’s a hotshot QB, he’s making around $10 million a year, and no crooked gambler could buy his integrity.”

“So who would you pay off?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“The head linesman, without question,” he said, looking at me like he was Captain Obvious. “That official can call holding on any critical play, because in the NFL there’s holding on nearly every down. Even the TV announcers don’t question holding calls.”

“But why would an official risk losing a job he surely loves and has spent years preparing for to reach the highest level of the game?” I asked.

“Good question,” he said. “Let’s look at a hypothetical situation: “Most NFL officials have other full-time or part-time jobs,” he said. “They make good money officiating games, about $200,000 a year. Away from football, they are teachers, high school principals, maybe civil servants. Most of them don’t make big money. None of them are independently wealthy unless they were born into money.

“Say an official has four children, a stay-at-home wife, and one of his kids has cancer or another serious disease,” he continued. “The medical bills are putting him under, the wife has an Oxycontin habit from the stress, and he gets offered a cool million to protect a point spread for a gambler.

“Could he rationalize taking the money to call a couple extra holding calls at the critical time? I would argue that for the sake of his child and his family, he would. I would also say that in certain situations that has happened.”

This sharp seemed to have other devious methods of getting a betting edge, so I questioned him further.

“What other ways do gamblers get their inside information?” I asked.

“Trainers, locker room guys, and team physicians all have cell phones,” he said. “What’s to keep them from giving halftime phone calls to their betting buddies to provide injury reports or other information that could influence the over-under total on the second half of a game?”

“Do you care to be more specific?” I said.

“Not a chance,” he said. “The last thing I want is for suckers like you to quit betting on football. I count on guys like you, betting with your hearts, to push the line in my favor.”

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About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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