When Texas A&M scored a late touchdown on Saturday to bring the game against Alabama to within 7, sports bettors everywhere – even those without money on the game – understood it to be another example of the added excitement point spreads bring to football.
The game was already decided, but all the bets were not. Instantly on Twitter conversations began on the meaning of this late TD. It’s certainly telling that so many wanted to talk about the spread effect of that late score.
Clearly more than a few had bets themselves – but also many that didn’t understood that in 2013 you are not telling the whole story about a sporting event if you fail to discuss the gambling ramifications.
Respected ESPN writer Darren Rovell tweeted that one sportsbook director told him the late touchdown cost his place $200,000. At almost exactly the same time, I tweeted “Late touchdown gives Texas A&M +7.5 or better the backdoor cover - a win for Vegas since majority of action was on Bama.”
It’s instructional to consider how both of these comments could be true.
Most obvious, although many gambling novices do not understand this fact, is that each and every separate sports book potentially has different odds on an event. With a market like stocks, there is a single universal price. The question: “What’s IBM at today?” has a specific answer. The question: “What’s the Raiders line?” does not. Each sports book also has a different client base making bets. In the broadest sense, the clients of a sports book will collectively fall somewhere on the square to sharp spectrum. Varying odds combined with a different collection of bettors is a recipe for different results.
For the most part, the squares bet favored Alabama – while the sharps bet the underdog. Though not always the case, squares on the favorite and sharps on the dog is by far the most common scenario. So it follows that the late A&M touchdown helped MGM significantly more than LVH.
But it’s not always that simple, especially when the result falls within the game’s line range. Alabama vs. Texas A&M has been available for betting here in Vegas for many months, with the line opening at -6 at the Golden Nugget in June. More than a few sports books opened the game at 7 the Sunday before kickoff.
If a given sports book took significant money on the favorite at 7, then that sports book would be paying a higher percentage of dog bettors while collecting from a lower percentage of favorite bettors (the favorite side at 7 resulted in a push; sports books call this phenomenon “getting sided”).
Other complicating factors include teaser, money line and parlay action. For some sports books on some games, the most often discussed bet type (spread side action laying 11-10) is less than 50% of the overall action on the game.
As an industry reporter, my goal is to gather the facts around these many considerations, and report “the truth” in the most understandable way possible. I write a Vegas Weekend Recap each week for Grantland.com attempting to accomplish this very goal.
As a bettor, your goal should be to understand how the different betting clients for different sports books affect the prices they post, and thus your chance at finding value.
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]