Bookies eye football as savior again

Sep 18, 2007 3:49 AM

For Nevada sports books, ”˜tis the season for football and, while bookmakers may not yet be jolly, they’re making a wish for another lucrative season.

According to statistics released last week by Nevada regulators, sports books took in $84 million in profits from football wagers in the past year, up 104 percent from the previous year. Yet the $34 million in profits taken for basketball bets in the past year was down 34 percent from the previous year, according to the Gaming Control Board.

The 104 percent increase in football earnings is a result of a two-year abnormality, Frank Streshley, a senior analyst for the Gaming Control Board, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

"Two years ago, the casinos had a disastrous year and what they explained to me was that favorites were covering in an abnormally high number of games and the books just got hammered," Streshley said. "But last year, there was a complete flip flop, where a high percentage of favorites did not cover and bettors tend to bet favorites.

"Yes, the books had a banner year (in football) but you are comparing it to a year when they got hit pretty hard," he continued.

Nonetheless, sports books have upped the ante this season with a record number of contests — both for high rollers as well as everyday fans.

And, while most books report an increase in handle for the opening two weeks, it’s not clear whether bettors have exercised any significant advantage.

"The first weekend, we were hit pretty hard as the favorites tended to cover the spreads," said the sports director of a Las Vegas sports book. "This weekend, the underdog teams rose up and bit some of the large favorites, such as the Colts, Panthers and Saints."

Even though football revenue provided a spark last season, all of sports betting is small compared to slot and table games figures, according to Reno gaming analyst Ken Adams.

"Table game and slot numbers are still much larger than sports numbers," Adams told the Gazette-Journal. "Sports numbers are small by comparison. One big upset, where all the books take a bath on a game, show dramatically in the numbers.

"With a sports book, when you get a game when the numbers are upside down, you lose," Adams continued. "But with a slot machine, the mathematics of a slot, over a large enough number of wagers, are guaranteed to hold within a very narrow margin of its theoretical hold percentage."