Christmas in May with early NFL pro football gift

May 29, 2012 3:10 AM

When I first moved to Las Vegas just prior to the start of the preseason in August 1998, NFL season win totals were just starting to pop up around town.

By the early 2000’s, most sports books in Vegas were posting NFL win totals by the time training camps opened in late July. Over the past five years, we’ve seen those NFL win totals get posted earlier and earlier – first early July, then June.

Here in 2012, the markets move earlier and more aggressively than ever. Some offshore sports books posted win totals for the upcoming season within days of the Giants victory over the Patriots in the Super Bowl; albeit with very low limits. And here in Las Vegas, it was “Christmas in May” this past week when three major players – Cantor Gaming, MGM-Mirage and LVH – all released their 2012 NFL Season Win totals, with limits high enough to attract a nice chunk of “wiseguy” money.

Cantor was the first to market and release NFL win totals last Wednesday. As the first local shop to post numbers, with relatively high limits (three dimes) that cater to sharp bettors, the action was fast and furious on the trading floor. Cantor got the lion’s share of early money despite its decision to use a 30-cent line, charging more vig than the 20-cent lines offered at MGM and Hilton.

Here’s a quote from Cantor’s VP of Risk Management Mike Colbert, describing the action in the first few hours.

“We had multiple wagers come in early on a few teams, mostly on the UNDER. The largest line movement we’ve had thus far has been bettors taking the UNDER on the Broncos and Buccaneers. The Broncos went from 9½ UNDER -120 to UNDER -170 and the Bucs went from 6 UNDER -120 to -170.”

Those certainly weren’t the only “sharp bettor” moves off the Cantor openers. We saw money come in support of the Eagles OVER 10 (from -135 to -150), the Falcons OVER 9 (from +105 to -135), the Seahawks OVER 7 (from -110 to -145), the Bears OVER 8½ (from -135 to -150) and the Titans OVER 7 (from -130 to -165).

Last year’s biggest mover – the Cincinnati Bengals, a team sharp bettors bet against repeatedly last summer, losing every UNDER wager they made – also attracted significant OVER money from Cantor’s opener, bet up from 7½ OVER -130 to -165.

Wiseguy bettors weren’t shy about betting UNDERS at Cantor either. Along with the aforementioned flood of wagers on the Broncos and the Bucs UNDER, bettors hit the Saints UNDER 10, the Giants UNDER 9½, the Chiefs UNDER 8, the Dolphins UNDER 7½ and the Jaguars UNDER 5½.

Colbert’s quote about Denver was very telling, indicating the lack of a consensus opinion about Peyton Manning’s immediate impact in Denver this year. “By far, one of the toughest numbers for us to come up with this year was the Broncos. We just don’t know how much he (Manning) is worth at this time.”

In 2011, MGM was the first Vegas casino to post NFL win totals, but they came up one day after Cantor’s this year. As a result, MGM received fewer “opinion” bets on opening day and more “arbitrage” wagers, as wiseguys looked to exploit the inefficiencies in this immature market while they still exist.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll see this market flatten out, leaving minimal variance from book to book. So when the virgin numbers get posted at different sports books around town, the sharps are looking to exploit those initial variances at every reasonable opportunity.

That’s exactly what happened at the MGM on Thursday. Cantor posted a win total of 12 on New England; MGM posted an 11½. No surprise, then that the money poured in on the Pats OVER at the MGM, driving the juice up from -110 to -140. The Falcons opened with a win total of 9 at Cantor, while MGM hung a 10.

Again, we saw significant arbitrage here, with the Falcons OVER taking money at Cantor and Atlanta UNDER taking money at MGM, driving the opener of 10 down to 9½ UNDER -130. Cincinnati’s opener of 8½ at MGM was bet down, coupled with the OVER money coming on the Bengals O/U 7½ at Cantor.

The Tennessee Titans opened at 7 at Cantor and 8 at MGM By the time the wiseguys were through with their initial win total feeding frenzy, the Titans had -150 on the UNDER at the MGM. The Dallas Cowboys opened with a win total of 8½ -125 to the OVER at Cantor. At MGM, Dallas opened at 9, -110 each way.

Early bettors thought Cantor had posted the correct number, betting the Cowboys down to 8½ OVER -120 at MGM. It was a similar story with Carolina. Cantor hung a 7½, MGM hung a 7. Wiseguys agreed with the Cantor number, driving the Panthers to 7½ OVER -120 at MGM.

Bettors also agreed with Cantor that 5½ was the appropriate market number for the Cleveland Browns, not the 6 MGM had posted. It was a similar story with St. Louis. MGM posted a 6½ on the Rams, Cantor posted a 6, and the early bettors agreed with Cantor’s number, driving the juice on the UNDER 6½ at MGM up to -130. And Tampa’s initial 6½ at MGM got pounded to 6 UNDER -115, mirroring the move we had seen at Cantor the previous day.

There were a handful of moves at MGM that do not appear to be of the arbitrage variety. We saw the San Francisco 49ers UNDER 9½ bet from -110 to -145, despite the fact UNDER 10 -135 was still available across the street. And the Oakland Raiders were bet up to 7½ -125 from an opener of -110, even though Cantor hung a 7 on the Raiders.

Compared to the frenzied trading at Cantor and MGM at the opening bell, LVH’s win total release at noon this past Sunday was as mellow as it gets. The betting windows were not jammed by sharps enjoying the Memorial Day weekend. In fact, if you didn’t know win totals were about to be released, you might not have noticed them at all.

That being said, LVH did bettors a real service, offering significant opinions with their NFL win totals. Sharp bettors love sports books that are willing to shade their numbers, as opposed to simply relying on the markets to set the prevailing number for every team. That’s exactly what Hilton did, giving sharp bettors both the line variance and the market liquidity they covet.

MGM and Cantor hung a 7 on Arizona; LVH hung a 6½ -110 each way. MGM and Cantor hung a 7 on Buffalo; LVH hung 7½ UNDER -120. LVH hung a 4½ on Cleveland, in contrast to the 5½’s available at the other properties. LVH had an 8½ OVER -150 on Denver, compared to the 9’s and 9½’s posted elsewhere. Detroit was posted with a 9 at LVH, compared to 9½ at Cantor and MGM. Houston opened at 9½ at LVH, compared to 10 at MGM and 10½ at Cantor.

LVH opened the Patriots at 12½ wins UNDER -135, compared to the 12 at Cantor and 11½ at MGM. LVH opened the Giants at 8½ OVER -145, compared to the 9½’s posted elsewhere. LVH posted the Rams at 5½ OVER -110, compared to the 6’s and 6½’s elsewhere. They hung a 5 OVER -155 on the Bucs, compared to the 6’s around town. And last, but not least, LVH posted a 6 OVER -120 on Washington, while the other books already had the Redskins posted at 6½.

The NFL season wins market is still a long way from reaching full maturity. The opening week of bookies vs. wiseguy win totals action was just the beginning of what is sure to be another intriguing process.

Ted Sevransky has been betting sports for a living in Las Vegas since 1998. Follow him on twitter @teddycovers.