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Its Not That Kind of Line

Its Not That Kind of Line

With all the talk lately (and still to come) about Denver's Offensive LINE and Denver's Defensive LINE, I thought that in the spirit of the SuperBowl I would take a step back from the Bronco's analysis and talk a little bit about a different kind of line: the betting line on the SuperBowl.

There are many false ideas about how sports betting actually works, and some of these fallacies extend even to veterans who are 'good' at picking winners. These false ideas are rarely questioned, if for no other reason than that everybody seems to believe them. For example, it is surprising how few people understand that bettors are not betting against the casino or bookmaker, or that casinos DO NOT make money off of losing bettors, but off winning bettors, or that pointspreads are not meant to be predictions.

Failure to understand any of these propositions (among many others) leads to an incomplete understanding of the nature of a vegas line, and in turn, an incomplete knowledge of just what is bought when you put down $20 for fun on the upcoming SuperBowl.

I hope the following can increase your enjoyment of this years SuperBowl in some small way, whether its to enlighten a friend who has a few bucks riding on the game or to make enough to pay off your house. Enjoy!

Pointspreads are Not predictions

Most of you have seen and are familiar with a pointspread. Say Team A is scheduled to play Team B and Team A is favored to win. The pointspread may read: Team A -3.5 or Team B +3.5. It is easy to regard this as a handicap, much like a golfer or a bowler might have. It would be as if in the underground catacombs of some Vegas casino, mysterious experts toiled over formulas and factors involving the two teams, the game, the conditions, all other possible variables and came to the conclusion that Team A should beat Team B by 3 or 4 points.

This, of course, would be wrong.

Strictly speaking, the pointspread has no concern with the relative strengths and talents of the two teams. It is not the purpose of the pointspread to predict the outcome of the game. It is, however, concerned with an indirect assessment of the relative talents involved in the game: bettor opinion. The purpose of the pointspread is to divide bettor opinion.

This is crucially important, to you, but most especially to a bookmaker. If the opinion on a certain proposition isn't divided to a reasonable degree, a disproportionate amount of money would be bet by the public on one team or the other, usually the perceived favorite. Bookmakers may deal with gamblers, but they are not interested in gambling. Too much action on one side of the bet would mean that the bookmaker would have to be right about their prediction, or lose all money going the other way. That would be gambling, and that is hardly sound fiscal policy for a business. Instead, bookmakers look to have equal amounts of money wagered to each side of a proposition, while charging a commission (known as vigorish or 'vig') to meet their overhead, much like a broker.

The following example gives an instance of 'Bookmaker as Broker.'

7.5 points for a 35 point favorite still too much

1993 SuperBowl. The Buffalo Bills vs. the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys would eventually win in a rout, 52-17, beating the Bills by 35 points. The line for the game had opened at 7.5. According to the popular misconception of 'pointspread as prediction,' the pointspread was off by a whopping 27.5 points!

As a matter of course, there was much talk after the game about how 'poorly' the linesmaker had done. It was obvious to practically everyone that the linesmaker should have set his line higher. And the linesmaker was, indeed, wrong. In fact, the 7.5 point opening line was not too low at all, but too high.

Too high because the betting public thought the Bills would either cover the 7.5 points or win the game outright. The majority of the average bettors kept taking the Bills, kept taking the points, and soon, the bookmakers found themselves at risk. They were forced to make the Cowboys a more attractive proposition. The pointspread moved down to 7, then to 6.5, then to 6. In some places it even dropped to 5.5 as bookmakers struggled to balance their risk. And since, in many cases, the size of the bets were disproportionately in favor of Buffalo, many bookmakers ended up being 'sided,' that is, taking bets on the Cowboys themselves to get even action on the proposition.

But in the end, the bookmakers could breathe a sigh of relief. When Dallas not only won but covered as well, the bookmakers collected their usual vigorish, or commission, as well as winning the reluctant bets they were 'forced' to make.

Maybe you have a chance?...

You're betting against THIS guy.
Are you smarter than Joe Schmoe? Do you think with your head rather than your heart, or various other parts? Do you actually know anything about football? The answer may be no. But if you are reading this at MHR, chances are the answer is a resounding "Yes!" to all of the above, and chances are you have a real shot at winning some dough...

Once you understand that the pointspread is a tool to balance bettor's opinions, than it isn't the longest leap of logic to deduce that when you place a bet, you aren't betting against bookmakers, casinos, or hardened thugs who eat stats for breakfast and can smell your money from forty yards out. You are betting against the betting public. You are putting your reasoning up against the reasoning of the guy to the left.

Less than 3% of bets made during the two weeks leading up to a SuperBowl are made professionally, (i.e. smartly). That is more than 9 out of 10 friends, co-workers and dupes whose money is burning a hole in their pocket. What say we put those deneros to good use, eh?

Who you got?

On to Super Bowl XLII. New England Patriots vs. New York Football giants. No sooner did the giants mop up Favre and the Pack than the Stardust drew the first line in the sand: Patriots as 13.5 point favorites. Ouch, if you are a NYG fan. Now, if you are absoulutely sure, I mean positively, without a doubt, hand to the bible, cross your heart, sure that the Giants can cover or even win this game outright, than the time to lay your bet was yesterday. I'm serious. If the Giants are a team you are willing to bet on, you need to place your bet now, ASAP! This line has already started moving down, favoring the favorite, in a scene not unlike the Cowboys-Bills scenario mentioned above. It opened at 13.5, moved to 13, then 12.5, then 12, then 11.5. As of this writing, several online sportsbooks are offering an 11 point line.

Now, if you are one of the aforementioned fans who thinks with your head, continue to do so, and patiently wait til the hours before kickoff on Sunday to lay your bet on NE. 11 is great if you can find it. 10.5 is about the same and 10 is almost twice as good. 11.5, 12, 12.5 are all less desirable in this situation, due to certain common scoring frequencies in the NFL scoring system, and in my opinion, these lines are passable propositions. In short, stay patient right now with a NE wager, and jump the shark with a NYG wager. The line will only continue to drop.*

I hope all of you have a Super Sunday, and here's to all of you getting your hot little hands on some extra dough this weekend!

*I would be remiss if I did not point out that typically lines tend to move UP, or in favor of the underdog as gametime nears. There is no satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon, with the best answers involving psychological theory. But you should note that for the line to move DOWN is a favorable anomaly for the alert bettor. Don't be afraid to turn the anomaly to your favor. A test of your Jedi skills follows below....

I forgot to add this little quandary to the initial post, but I will be interested in what answers you guys come up with!

You wake up on the morning of the SuperBowl and look up to see The Sports Guru standing in your bedroom. He is surrounded by a blue and orange aura, and ribbons of light stream out behind him. In his hand are three golden envelopes...

"One of these three envelopes," says the Guru, his voice resonating deeply, "contains a winning ticket worth $10,000 on today's SuperBowl....The other two envelopes contain losing tickets."

You reach for the bat by the bed, only slightly registering what is going on, but before you swing something clicks with what The Guru just said... "$10,000?" you ask incredulously.

Unperturbed by your Louisville slugger, The Guru lays the three golden envelopes at the foot of your bed and turns to depart. "Choose one envelope, but do not look in the envelope until I return," says the Guru, and as you carefully choose one, The Guru glides gracefully out the window and floats off into the sunrise.

Later that night, after the game has ended, and the anticlimactic fanfare has died down, an ethereal voice wakes you from a Buffalo Wing slumber. It is the Guru, and he has returned bearing the other two envelopes. As you marvel at his majesty, he crumples one envelope and throws it away. "I have just thrown away one of the two losing tickets," the Guru intones. "And now, I offer you another choice...keep the ticket you have chosen, or trade it to me for this last ticket in my hand. One of the tickets is worthless, the other worth $10,000...or..." the Guru's majestic voice trails off.

"Or what! Or what!" you cry.

"Or," says the Guru, "I'll give you $5,000 to call the whole thing off."

  • 1. Do you keep the ticket?
  • 2. Do you swap the ticket?
  • 3. Do you take the $5,000?
  • 4. Who cares? It doesn't matter what happens.
(Be careful and think it over! Fewer than 1 in 10 people answer correctly!)