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Back to the Futures Pt.1: The Prophet on how to bet future wagers

By Netprophet Sports

If you don't pay close attention, it seems like the NASCAR season never ends. The 2005 season concluded a couple months back with Tony Stewart winning the Nextel Cup and already the season opening race at Daytona is on the horizon. I'm in the process of trying to isolate some good values on the futures to win the 2006 NASCAR championship (which I'll be posting here on Bettorsworld within the next week or so) and that got me thinking about future wagers.

Many serious sports bettors consider the futures wager the province of rank amateurs. I know this guy I grew up with in Salt Lake City who's a devout Mormon and wouldn't think of betting on a sporting event. Every year he'd make the two hour drive across the Nevada border to Wendover and put $100 on the Utah Jazz to win the Western Conference and the NBA title. He may still do this for all I know. It was the ultimate "homer" wager and no thought was given to the strength of the play or the value he was getting.

Another way the amateur approaches future betting is to go for the "big killing". They're the sports betting equivalent of the wanna-be stock investor who always gripes "if only I had bought Microsoft when they went public". They're not the type who'll do the work to grind out profits in the market, nor are they forward thinking enough to find the next big company to go public. They'd rather lay some money on a high priced dog and hope for the best, which seldom (if ever) occurs. Right now at Pinnacle a $100 bet on the Kansas City Royals to win the World Series will pay back $60,000. The problem is that the true odds of Kansas City winning the World Series are probably in the range of 10,000 to 1 which makes the +60000 you're getting in this bet a bad value from the get-go.

Even for the more pragmatic bettor, the inherent problems with futures wagers are readily apparent. You have to tie up your wagering capital for a long time. More significantly, once your bet is down you're at the mercy of the countless interceding events that can influence the fortunes of a sports team. It's hard enough trying to weigh the significance of scheduling, injuries, personnel movement and so forth on a day to day basis. Controlling for all of these variables over an entire season is impossible.

So why bet futures at all? More so than anything else, I try to stress to my clients the importance of thinking of sports wagering not in terms of who wins or loses, but in terms of value. Properly utilized, future book wagers are often a great source of value. Below are some of the ways I like to use future wagers:

1) The early bird gets the worm. The early bettor gets the value: One of my specialties is non-sport proposition wagers, and particularly entertainment based wagers like the Academy Awards. Someone once referred to me as the "Billy Walters of non-sport entertainment bets" which is lofty praise indeed. I've always been a bit of a film junkie (my minor in college was in film studies) and I enjoy following "the industry" and keeping up-to-date on what's happening in Hollywood. This gives me a decided edge over the bookmaker, who doesn't have the time to stay juiced in to industry news and gossip.

Every year some sportsbooks start to take action on the "big" Academy Awards categories like Best Picture and Best Director well before the actual nominations are released. If you can stay up-to-date on the "buzz" surrounding certain films you can get substantially better value than if you wait until after the nominations are released.

Case in point: in early December Olympic had Steven Spielberg's "Munich" priced at +200 to win Best Picture. That didn't change much after the picture was released to divided critical opinion. The "buzz" was all about the yet-to-be released gay cowboy film "Brokeback Mountain" which was priced at +500. I told my clients to bet "Brokeback Mountain" at +500.

At the very least, if "Brokeback" received a nomination we'd have a position on it at a significantly better price than we could get after the nominations narrowed down the field to only five films. If you study the history of the nomination process it's easy to identify a pattern to the films that get nominated. It's almost as if the Academy has defined "slots" to fill accordingly: one low budget independent film, one historical period drama, one big box office film and so forth. "Brokeback Mountain" clearly fit the profile of a film that would get nominated.

So worst case scenario, if I was right we'd have a great price on one of five nominees and we could reassess our position. In this case, its worked out about as well as it possibly could-the film has received almost universal critical acclaim, has dominated the smaller year end awards and the Golden Globes and has had just enough controversy to sustain that all important "buzz". Much like a college sports information office promoting a Heisman trophy candidate, Universal Pictures has thrown all of their promotional efforts behind this film and given "Munich" short shrift (which Steven Spielberg has complained about in the press). In other words, we've got the "film to beat" for Best Picture at +500 (the current price at Olympic is -600, which will be even higher after the nominations are released). At this moment, I'm thinking it's the winner and will hold on to the position. If something changed between now and the award presentation I'll be able to modify my position easily-and profitably.

The nature of the film industry makes using a future wager in this manner very attractive. The release schedule of films is established in advance and is publicly known. The cut off date for award consideration is the end of the calendar year, so nothing can pop up and become a surprise after that. Of the hundreds of films that are released each year only a handful are legit Oscar contenders and with some work its easy to narrow those down further. After that it's just a matter of finding the value.

2) Taking a position for profit: Now we'll turn our attention to sports and how to use the futures wager there. As I noted above, sports inherently presents more variables than the film industry. Furthermore, the top teams are usually not priced for value. Currently at Olympic, you can bet on the eventual winner of the NCAA basketball championship. Duke is priced at +200 and Connecticut at +350 and neither price interests me at this point of the season. Both teams are certainly capable of winning, but the value just isn't there.

The place to find value in this sort of proposition is to look at the less "obvious" teams. Shortly after the NHL season began an associate of mine took positions on several teams that started slowly. For example, he got the Calgary Flames at 40/1! They're now 7/1 at Olympic and 12/1 at 5 Dimes.

This play wasn't based on any sort of certainty that Calgary would win the Stanley Cup, but rather on the value they presented. In other words, the "true odds" of the Flames winning the Cup is more in the range of the current price so the 40/1 is a clear overlay. Once the playoffs begin, this sort of positional play offers a lot of options to hedge and to lock in a profit.

3) Don't forget the field: Many bettors dismiss plays on "the field" in a futures wager out of hand, thinking that the wager represents all of the entrants not good enough to justify an individual price. If you pay attention, however, you can frequently use a "field" wager to your advantage. Shortly after Dale Earnhardt's tragic death at the 2001 Daytona 500 I found a sportsbook that was offering a "field" wager on the NASCAR rookie of the year award at 15/1. Richard Childress Racing hadn't "officially" announced Harvick as the fulltime replacement for Earnhardt, but the word on the streets strongly suggested that would be the case. I knew that Harvick was a talented young driver (he was the 2000 Busch Series rookie of the year), but the unique situation with a rookie driving for one of the best financed and most experienced teams in the sport was too good to pass up. I made the bet on Harvick at just the right time, since after he was announced as the replacement for Earnhardt the line dropped to 5/1. After he won his first race (in his third race) the line dropped to 2/1 and by mid season the "field" was a -250 chalk.

This is obviously a best case example, but there have been similar circumstances that were still good value plays but didn't work out perfectly like the Harvick situation. Several years ago it wasn't uncommon to find a "field" bet on NASCAR road races that allowed you to bet several of the road course specialists like Ron Fellows, Boris Said and Scott Pruett with one bet. You won't be able to take advantage of the "field" bet often, but if you keep your eyes open and think out of the box it can be very profitable when it does occur.

As a postscript, I want to emphasize the importance on shopping around any futures play for the best price. Shopping points is a smart thing to do on any wager, but the differences from book to book are frequently most extreme with futures plays. A little legwork can yield a substantially better price and the resulting better value.

In the next part of my analysis of futures wagers we'll talk about what not to do. Look for that in the next couple of days.

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