After nine weeks of bettors collectively losing on NFL Sundays, Las Vegas sportsbooks showed they had some serious Christmas spirit by gift wrapping an estimated $4 million in winnings to the masses in Week 15 action.
The perfect storm every sportsbook dreads, which happens maybe once every two years, occurred last Sunday as the final six NFL games posted all went to the favorites.
“Our worst day of the year,” said CG Technology VP of risk management Jason Simbal. “We got stuck big with parlays.”
He wasn’t alone. Every book took a sizable hit and had the same story.
Lines to cash were long on Sunday and the books had to make additional trips to the casino cage to have enough cash on hand to pay out. Bettors were happy because they’ve recouped some of those losses on a disappointing betting season and can now splurge a little extra for gifts. Ticket writers were happy because the tips were flowing in from all the happy guests cashing.
The only frowns from Sunday’s results, where favorites went only 8-5 ATS, were from the sportsbook VPs and directors as the final fourth-quarter and fiscal year push for greatness has been derailed. There’s only one Sunday remaining in 2015 and no matter how strong Week 16 goes, Week 15 losses will take a huge bite out of those potential winnings.
I don’t ever ask my friends working in the sportsbooks how much they won or lost on the day, because I know they’re not allowed to answer the question, but I can estimate the losses from my own past experiences of seeing the perfect storm shape up and what kind of damage it does.
I can also take all their vague terms, “awful, terrible, rough and worst,” and tone inflection and pile them into one heap of an estimate. On Sunday, nothing was good with exception of Atlanta finally covering after 10 games and the Giants (+4.5) coming from 28 points down to cover at home in a 38-35 loss against Carolina.
That was basically it on the positive front and in most instances, while the books wiped out Carolina parlay liability, sharp money was all over the Giants so there was really nothing bankable except the notion of eliminating extended future risk in the late games.
When the final morning games were posted, the books could see that perfect storm brewing. Only six games were left on the Sunday schedule, but they hadn’t banked the type of money they usually do from the early games to absorb a possible afternoon hit.
Usually as each game is posted final, a little bit of risk falls off other games that haven’t kicked off as the system instantly calculates the parlay and teaser risk. But on Sunday, those late games all stayed relatively the same, and the big powder keg of dynamite was all pointing at Arizona laying -3.5 at Philadelphia in the Sunday night game. Everyone seemed to love the Cardinals on Sunday.
If the books could just manage winning two of the five afternoon games, a lot of that risk tied to Arizona would die down. Ideally, the best scenario for the books would be Oakland and Denver covering, and the Broncos gave it their all with a 27-13 halftime lead at Pittsburgh, but would lose 34-27, the second straight week Denver failed to score in the second-half of a loss after leading in the first half.
The Steelers closed on the board at -7.5, but the majority of the wagers had been made at -6.5, including all the parlay cards. Bettors saw this as divine intervention after getting hosed with the Panthers.
One by one the negative afternoon results started popping in and covering for the public and a couple by the narrowest of margins: Seattle (-14.5) beat the Browns 30-13, the Packers (-4) won 30-20 at Oakland, the Chargers (-1) beat Miami 30-14, the Bengals (-6) won at San Francisco and of course Pittsburgh.
Tie all those in to the popular sides of the Patriots (-14.5) and Chiefs (-6.5) covering from the morning and you’re looking at hefty seven-team parlay at 75-to-1 odds that many were holding. Double that risk with the Cardinals for an eight-teamer.
From a teaser perspective the books had no shot on the day. Take all seven of those popular plays and then add the Panthers to the mix covering. Then take it a step further when most of those games had each side win on a teaser like the Raiders, Broncos, Giants and Browns. In the Green Bay-Oakland and Tennessee-New England games, the all-way four team teaser hit when including totals.
After posting all the late favorite covers, the risk doubled in size for the Cardinals. The books couldn’t get out of a loss even if Philadelphia won by 4-points to beat the massive Cardinals teaser risk, or even if the game stayed UNDER 51.5 – everyone seemed to have the OVER.
It’s an awful lull in time for the sportsbook boss from when the last games post in the afternoon until kickoff starts for the night game, knowing you’re already in the hole for $300,000 (hypothetical) and you’re going to lose $300,000 more if Arizona and OVER gets there. An Eagles win only loses $75,000, so that’s the best scenario to hope for. Then the game comes on and you don’t want to watch the train wreck happen, but you can’t take your eyes off it.
And then sure enough, Arizona goes off with one big play after another and wins 40-17. Arizona-to-OVER, the worst case scenario. That was some kind of hot roll the public got on and they took advantage.
Worst off for the books is Week 15 won’t die for a while as several of those winning sides are still waiting to cash throughout the bowl season either through parlay cards or off the board.
We’re going to be hearing about the six-game public run of Week 15 through the new year, or at least the financial departments are when they want questions about why year-over-year percentage holds are down to start the year. The answer will be “Week 15” from 2015.
Yes, it was a rough day for the sportsbooks, but shed no tears. They’ll be back next week ready to take back some of those winnings. So have the merriest Christmas, courtesy of the sportsbooks via the Cardinals, Steelers, Packers and the rest of your favorite teams that all seemed to cover on Sunday.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].