LAS VEGAS — Circa Sports and Westgate SuperBook are two of the most respected sportsbooks in this city that rarely sleeps.
Are you awake to the ongoing industry debate about sharp and soft books? If you spend any amount of time on Twitter, chances are you’ve been introduced to the fray.
In a nutshell: So-called “soft books” have become a lightning rod for criticism when they impose unreasonable limits on bettors. The backlash is amplified on social media, and inevitably leads to more criticism about these books only wanting customers who are long-term losers.
On the other hand and diametrically opposed, both Circa and Westgate allow sharp players to shape their betting markets.
It hasn’t been a full five years since PASPA was overturned in 2018. The relative youth of America’s nationally regulated sports betting industry suggests we’re in the first inning of a game that could go to extras and deep into the night. Things can change rapidly — or more likely they’ll just take some time — for best practices to take hold.
Westgate SuperBook VP of Risk Management Jeff Sherman has spent three decades in the business. Sherman’s seen a lot of things come and go during that span, and he takes a long view on how this will play out in the industry.
“Things will evolve and get better,” Sherman said. “There’s a lot of operators that just jumped in and thought it was a money grab. They’re spending so much money (acquiring customers), and now some of them are having issues with it. Things will get ironed out, and the product will get better.”
He added, “Limits will get better, and there’s going to be an evolution to it. It’s just still in its infancy in regard to going national. Unfortunately, you say, ‘just bear with the growing pains.'”
Circa Sports Operations Manager Jeff Benson believes there’s a better way to go about business. Benson favors the low-hold/high-volume approach to bookmaking.
“From a profitability standpoint, when you have the vig that works for you — meaning the 11 to 10 — do everything in your power to incentivize writing more bets, let that hold total work for you, and utilize the sharp information that you’re getting from your winning bettors to book more to the side that they’re on,” Benson said. “Then write two-way action on what you believe is the correct price. The more bets you write over the long run, the more money you’re going to make.”
Benson noted the offshore sportsbook, Cris, is among those utilizing it to good effect today. In Vegas, this approach is often traced back to Pinnacle. One thing is for sure: Westgate and Circa both benefit from having a deep stable of industry veterans in their risk rooms.
“We have the most experienced oddsmakers and bookmakers in our risk room when you think of Matt Metcalf, Chris Bennett, Jeff Davis, Nick Bogdanovich, Glenn Herzog, and the list goes on,” Benson said. “You have to have a talented risk room to make and operate that model.”
When Betting Limits Can’t Be Avoided
Sherman has been fielding questions on Twitter lately when it comes to the Westgate’s use of third-party automated systems, including SportRadar and DonBest, for live betting markets in jurisdictions outside Nevada. There’s a need to utilize them to ensure a sizable menu of betting options, but that dictates lower limits at times.
“A bet comes through, and it’s not like we can move the line and get money back,” he said. “It’s an automated service, so we have to have lower limits on some things like that. Those automation points will be different than those at other books. When people are trying to do that, we just have to control our liability.”
It’s business as usual back in Vegas, where the Westgate has earned a reputation for being fair throughout the years. Both Westgate and Circa, which opened more recently in 2019, pride themselves on taking all comers at the counter. At the very least, you can approach both and have a conversation about getting your position filled.
“We have sharp players that have respectable limits,” Sherman said. “We analyze people by how they’re playing against the screen. We have fair limits for people that just want to gamble a lot. We have fair limits for sharps. We’re kind of an in-between book; we don’t kick anybody out.”
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