Books and bettors
hail new season

Apr 3, 2007 5:31 AM

The long-awaited baseball season got underway Sunday night, much to the delight of bettors and Nevada bookmakers alike.

"I’ve been pretty much treading water since the Super Bowl," says Eddie Renzi, a regular player at the Palms. "Basketball just doesn’t do it any more — it seems like the magic left the game, since, well ”¦ Magic Johnson left the game a few years ago."

Indeed, many sports bettors seem to be ignoring basketball. Some fans say the game is no longer interesting and that the players have literally outgrown the basketball court, which was designed when players were mostly six-feet tall — not the 7-foot behemoths of today’s league.

More important to the sports books, betting interest in basketball seems to have waned. The latest revenue report from Nevada regulators reveals that basketball handle over the past three months was about 7 percent less than it was a year ago.

Conversely, baseball bettors have traditionally been enthusiastic about their sport because of the betting opportunities that arise over a 162-game season.

"It’s really a sport that you can actually win with consistency," Renzi said. "You don’t need to worry about point spreads — and because of the money line, you can make a profit even when you pick less than 50 percent winners."

Nevada bookmakers are hoping the 2007 baseball season will continue the solid results they experienced in 2005 and 2006.

Last year, the sports books raked in over $22 million from baseball bettors, based on an overall handle of $457 million. That equates to a "hold percentage" of 4.84 percent.

They did even better in 2005, when books won $26.1 million from bettors on a total handle of $464 million. The hold percentage that year was an astounding 5.63 percent.

Over the past two seasons, Nevada books have "held" an average of 5.2 percent of all the money bet, nearly double the 2.66 percent they held the previous two seasons.

The line makers would like to think the better hold percentages are the result of sharper betting lines, but that may not be exactly correct.

"We’ve had a pretty big influx of public money from recreational bettors the last two years," said the sports director at a Strip casino. "Generally, recreational bettors aren’t going to be as astute as your so-called wise guys."

The director added that, over the past two seasons, most of the "wise guy" action had gone off shore, to Internet sports books.

But that would change this year with the drying up of the off-shore sports book industry.

"You would expect that money to come back to the legal books in Nevada, but that’s not a guarantee," the director said.

Another factor that could affect the hold is the scarcity of 10-cent lines — few sports books now offer a dime line, which is the difference between the favorite and dog price (—1.30 versus +1.20, for instance).

No matter where they bet, serious players — those who take the time to do their homework — can do very well betting baseball, according to many high stakes gamblers.

Those same gamblers often advocate taking the "contrarian" view and back underdogs as a key to winning.

Many experts say underdogs are the key to winning.

"Some fans will overplay a favorite and bring in a good price on the underdog," says GamingToday sports columnist Andy Iskoe. "Most handicappers won’t play overpriced teams. Eighty percent of baseball betting comes from wise guys and serious players, and if you could get a consensus of their plays, you’d do all right."

Last year’s stats underscore Iskoe’s admonition.

In games where teams were favored from -110 to -200, blindly betting the favorite would have resulted in a losing bankroll.

And that’s never acceptable, no matter how much you love the game.