Got anything in the CFL tonight? Did you see that WNBA bad beat? Certainly not the questions I expected when growing up near Pittsburgh and dreaming about the Las Vegas life.
A few days each year, the CFL, WNBA, and golf are what bettors are talking about. Also known as, the All-Star Break. The primary interest of sports bettors at any given time is the major sport available to bet that day.
The Sunday of the Super Bowl, the average bettor is thinking about the Big Game. The next day, he’s thinking about the featured college basketball game on ESPN. The day after the Final Four, he’s thinking NBA; and baseball gets big the day after the NBA Finals; yet, those very same baseball games are afterthoughts once football kicks off.
You may be the exception to this phenomenon, but the actions of the majority are important to consider. Think of it like a poker game – and the key question is who is playing. Walk into the Bellagio on a Friday night, and the 1/3 NL Hold’em table is filled with tourists and locals of limited skill.
Behind the glass walls of Bobby’s Room, you’ve got Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan playing for $100,000 per hand. In the case of poker, the “penalty” for playing against lesser players is you are forced to play for less money – meaning less profit opportunity.
The similarity with sports betting is the key question of who is playing. If betting the most popular active sport, you are betting against a mixture of pros and recreational bettors. When betting less popular sports, you are betting against mostly pros.
It matters who you are betting against because the collection of people wagering on a sport comprises the betting market for that sport – and the sharpness of that market is determined by how many of those bettors are professionals.
Your projected profit at the poker table is how much better you are than the average player minus the rake. Your projected sports betting profit is how much better you are than the average bettor minus the cost of the vig.
And it’s often easier to be better than average when the market is more popular and thus the overall level of sharpness is lower. Often easier – so why the qualification? Because unlike poker, where the stakes decrease as the talent decreases – sports betting stakes increase when the betting market grows with the addition of more casual players.
Boy oh boy – higher stakes with worse players – that sounds like an opportunity. And that’s exactly how the pros react.
To understand the betting market, you need to understand who is playing at any given time, and how that combination of players is most easily exploited. And yes, I was relieved when baseball returned Friday. The same baseball games that will be an afterthought come September.
RJ Bell is the founder of Pregame.com - and co-host of FIRST PREVIEW, heard Monday through Friday at 10 am on ESPN 1100/98.9 FM. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. Discussion of this article continues at Pregame.com. Contact RJ at [email protected]