It is getting to be that time of the year when I will provide weekly Mythical Picks for lots of college football games and for “all” of the NFL games. I use quotation marks on the word “all” because there are some games I miss for reasons beyond my control such as:
A. There are no lines posted at the time I make the picks
B. I do not get around to making the picks until Friday morning and there has been a Thursday night game for which I know the results.
C. I know before the season starts that I will be out of the country for at least one week and possibly a second week without the ability to make the picks.
Nevertheless, I will be doing a lot of picking and I want to be sure that everyone who reads these picks understands my position on sports gambling. I believe that sports gambling should be a legal activity for the simple reason that there is no prayer that the law enforcement community can stamp out all of the sports betting that is currently illegal in just about every part of the US. The FBI estimates that for every dollar bet legally in Las Vegas on sporting events at least $30 is wagered illegally. The bottom line message here is that bookies exist in just about every county in the US; they have been around for more than a century; they are not going to be put out of business by the gendarmes any time soon.
The fact that I believe sports gambling ought to be legal does not mean that I advocate wanton gambling by anyone – including anyone who reads my Mythical Picks. On the contrary, I think it would be abject lunacy for someone to place a real wager on every one of the 256 regular season NFL games or even one of the NFL Exhibition Games. I am making my Mythical Picks for fun and as a way to communicate what I think about the various teams; I am not suggesting that anyone wager on any games at all and I certainly want no one to bet on as many as 16 NFL games in a week.
As a corollary to that last statement, let me say that I do not advocate the situation where one must have a wager on a game simply because one is going to watch that game on TV. It is perfectly appropriate to watch a football game simply to enjoy the game itself without any “action riding on the game”. In fact, if anyone were to find that they could not enjoy watching a game with “no action riding”, I would suggest that they have experienced an early warning sign for “problem gambling” and might want to seek counseling.
The majority of football bets are “against the spread” or ATS. Charles McNeil is the father of “the spread”; he was a Chicago bookie in the 30s and 40s and found that there could be a lot more action on games if there was more to bet on than merely the winner or loser of the game. Indeed, many football games – particularly college football games – are so lopsided that it takes outrageous odds on the money line for the bookie to accept a wager.
However, even if you know for sure that Enormous State University is going to beat the bejeepers out of Disco Tech, you might want to take Disco Tech if you had a 35-point pad for the score. The spread leads to more action and more action leads to a better life for a bookie and so the birth of the spread was a big deal when it comes to football wagering.
However, it has led to a misimpression among folks who are not familiar with the way a bookie operates. Let me make this clear:
If the spread for the Rams/Lions game is “Rams – 4”, that does NOT mean that an oddsmaker somewhere has analyzed the game and figured out that the Rams are likely to win the game by 4 points. In fact, if the Rams do win the game by 4 points, the bookie makes no money because he has to refund every bet he took on the game; it is a Push.
The spread is set – and then adjusted by the bookie – in order for him to try to balance his book. He wants an equal amount of money on the “Rams – 4” and on the “Lions +4” in this game. Why? That was Mr. McNeil’s other stroke of genius – the Vigorish, the Vig, the Juice, the Bite, the Taste…
When you make a spread bet, you normally lay odds of – 110. That means you need to wager $110 in order to make $100. The extra $10 is “the Vig”
Now, suppose 50 people all bet $110 on the Rams – 4 and another 50 people all bet $110 on the Lions +4 in my sample game. The book is exactly balanced which is what the bookie wants because there are only 3 possible outcomes:
1. The Rams win by more than 4. In that case, the bookie pays out $210 to the 50 bettors who took “Rams -4”. That payout comes to $10,500 so the bookie makes $500 if the Rams cover.
2. The Rams win by less than 4 or if the Lions win outright; therefore, the same math applies. The bookie pays out $210 to each of the 50 bettors who took “Lions +4” and he pockets $500.
3. The Rams win by exactly 4, so he gives everyone back their money.
The deal here is simple. If the book is balanced – or very nearly balanced, the bookie cannot lose money on any game. Therefore, the bookie sets the spread not where he may think the game score will wind up; he sets the spread where he believes he will get a balanced book. Good teams become pets for large segments of the betting public; in order to balance the book, an oddsmaker may think that the Patriots are 10 points better than the Jets on a given weekend: but the public may be in love with the Patriots and so the line may be set at 12 points or maybe even 13 points. Obviously, books are rarely balanced perfectly; equally obviously, the sportsbooks in Las Vegas take in lots more action on most games than the measly $11K I used in my example so there is plenty of latitude for them to be “close to balanced” such that they still have a guaranteed profit no matter the outcome of the game.
Another form of wagering on football that attracts more attention than merely picking the winner or loser of the game is betting on the Over/Under or the Total. The concept here is amazingly simple; the bettor wagers Over or Under a certain number for the Total Score for the two teams in the game. It does not matter who wins the game; it does not matter what the margin of victory is for the game; all that matters is the total score for the two teams.
Of course, one can still bet simply on who will win the game on the money line. Here you will find some very high odds for unbalanced games – and in many college games there may not be any money line bets available. I have seen money line odds for college teams that are sacrificial lambs on the schedules of national powerhouses to be as high as +3500 to win the game. That means if you wager $100 on the underdog and they actually win the game, your payout will be a total of $3600 – your $100 back plus $3500 for the win. I have never seen any money line odds nearly this high for an NFL contest.
Yet another form of football wagering is the parlay. For this action, the bettor makes a series of bets and all of them have to be winners in order to collect. The lure is higher odds offered for a successful parlay. The problem is that the higher odds are never high enough to warrant taking such a risk. Let me give two examples:
Suppose the line on a game is Cowboys – 4.5 at Eagles (40). Now suppose you really think the Cowboys are the better team and that neither defense is going to stop the other offense very well. You might want to take the Cowboys – 4.5 AND you might want to take the game Over 40. If those are bets you are confident in making, that is what you should do. However, you might also be tempted to parlay the two bets because the odds for winning both would be 13-5. Let us do some math:
If you bet $110 separately on both wagers, you risk $220. If you win both bets, you win a total of $200.
If you bet $220 on a parlay of the two wagers, you risk $220. If you win the parlay, – win both bets – your profit would be $520
However, if you win one bet and lose the other, your loss on the separate wagers is $10 while your loss on the parlay bet is $220.
If you assume each wager is a 50/50 proposition, then a 2-team parlay should pay you 4-1 when successful. Since it pays only 13-5, that is a bad bet.
Just for fun, consider a three game parlay. Suppose you like the Cowboys – 4.5 and the Rams – 4 and the Jets +12 from previous examples.
If you bet $110 on each of these games, you risk $330 and your profit if they all hit is $300.
If you bet $330 on a parlay of these three wagers, you risk $330 but your profit at 6-1 odds would be $1800.
However, if one bet goes against you, you lose $330 with a parlay but would still make a profit of $90 on the separate bets.
The balanced odds for 3 betting propositions should be 8-1 and not 6-1.
Yes, these are simplified examples but the message here is that parlays are not a sensible money management strategy. Yes, they are fun to play and if you go to Las Vegas you should indeed take up a couple of parlay cards and play them for small amounts of money. You can pick 10 different games and put a total of $10 on the bet; if it wins, you would get $7,000; if it loses, you would lose $10. If you keep the number of these parlay cards under control, you can have fun with the wagers and not put yourself in a position where you might be dipping into the IRA to meet next month’s bills.
My point here is that wagering is a way to have fun in addition to a way for you to “keep score” on your ability to pick games. Here are my guidelines for deciding when to make a wager on a game and some betting pitfalls to avoid:
1. Play against the spread only when you are confident that the team you want to back will beat the spread by at least 3 points and preferably 4 points.
2. Play against the Over/Under only when you are confident that the Total score will be at least 4 points away from the Over/Under line.
3. Play parlays in Las Vegas only for fun and for small amounts. They are sucker bets.
4. Play hunch bets only for fun and in small amounts. If you are in Las Vegas with your wife and she tells you that she thinks Pete Carroll is really cute while the pregame show is on, go and bet a small amount on the Seahawks that day just because she said that. Note that I said a SMALL amount…
5. Set a strict maximum for what you will bet on a game and for what you will bet in a week and stick to those numbers whether you win or lose.
6. Please do not take seriously he words of the “professional insiders” who are on TV every Saturday and Sunday morning hawking their season-long services and claiming that they have a proven record of 72% winners over the past 5 years. The Las Vegas Hilton had a football handicapping contest last year where the winner took down more than $400K and another contestant took home a “6-figure payoff”; neither of these winners was one of the “TV-talkers”…
7. Most of all, never succumb to “Gambler’s Fallacy”. You are never “due” to end a losing streak; each wager is a stand-alone event. The fact that you have lost 5 games in a row does not mean you are “due” to win the 6th one of the day. One of the memorable events from all of our annual Las Vegas trips was the year when one of our crowd played 22 college football wagers on Friday and Saturday and came out at the end with a record of 0 Wins, 21 Losses and 1 Push. That was not a great day from his standpoint, and you can be sure that none of the rest of us will ever let him forget it; but it does go to show that one is never really “due” to break a losing streak…
The football wagering season is about to start. I will be using it as a writing theme for about 5 months. My Mythical Picks are indeed mythical; they are out there for fun and not much else; I do not make all of the wagers that I mention; no one should take them as serious recommendations.
Finally, let me leave you with a few words of wisdom from six “deep thinkers” on the subject of betting:
“Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.” [W.C. Fields]
“Sports betting is all about money management, so the most money won on one event is not the most important thing.” [Bruce Dern]
“The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” [Damon Runyon]
“In the case of an earthquake hitting Las Vegas, be sure to go straight to the Keno Lounge. Nothing ever gets hit there.” [Unknown]
“The house doesn’t beat the player. It just gives him the opportunity to beat himself.” [Nick the Greek]
“The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.” [Ambrose Bierce]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………