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Year of the Square
A quick and dirty definition of a "Square" or public bettor is one that likes to play the favorite at any price. For these bettors, 2005 has been a good season. On the year, if you played every favorite against the spread you would have gone an impressive 85-66-4. If you played them straight-up on the moneyline, you would be hitting at a monstrous 114-40 clip (compared to an expectation of about 100-50). Underdog bettors finally had a winning weekend last week going 9-7 ATS, but this has been of little consolation.
In all my years of bookmaking, I cannot remember a single year where public bettors following the favorites cleaned up like this. There were plenty of years when dog players did well. In fact, that used to be a basic betting strategy – bet on any team that is "bad". So what happened? Where did all the good dogs go?
One possible explanation is that the sports betting market has finally become efficient. In the early years of sports betting, most of the bets placed were by recreational players and even large bettors were fairly unsophisticated. A vast majority of bets were on favorites and overs no matter what the line. Linesmakers could set the odds on "feel" and would not worry too much about how accurate they were as most players were winning fewer than 50% of their wagers betting inflated lines.
The betting markets had a reality check in 1984 with the beginning of the first well-funded computer group. Billy Walter's group was the first to blast the markets with statistically driven computer models. Although its members eventually went their separate ways, it gave others a proven way to beat sports – the computer.
Since that time, the Internet has revolutionized sports betting in several ways. First, the ease that you can place a bet on the Internet has created a true market in sports betting. For instance, at Pinnacle Sports you can bet online for as little as a dollar up to $30,000 on a football game and pay 60% less vigorish on NFL sides than at other bookmakers. As the sports betting world behaves more like an efficient market, a book that offers a price that is off-market will absorb a huge position.
Second, the Internet has made information far more accessible to bettors. Both updated team news and gambling methodology has become far more prevalent with knowledge shared. In fact, it’s now much easier to obtain detailed information on a sports team than on most blue-chip stocks. As a result, we are seeing more and more small computer groups (many led by former stock traders) coming forward and betting their numbers.
Perhaps the biggest effect of the new sports betting market is that "Joe Square" now has a fighting chance to win. He can play his favorites and overs at will, knowing that the computer groups are keeping the numbers honest. Perhaps the influence of sharp money is so strong that the market has now over adjusted? Are favorites now under priced? If you were playing the underdogs this year, you would certainly think so.
Consider the Indianapolis Colts who’ve been an amazing football investment at 7-3 ATS this year. When the Colts cover the number, it's usually not even close. If you bet Indy every game this year and gave up an extra 2 points they would still be 7-3 ATS. Are the Colts under-priced? If you think they are, you can leverage your opinion by backing the Colts and ‘selling’ half-points to receive a larger payoff.
At Pinnacle Sports, we allow bettors to adjust the spread on any NFL game with our drop-down point spread menu. For example, the price on the Carolina Panthers is -4 -104 versus the Bills. If your analysis suggests that the Panthers should crush the Bills, you could lay more points at a better price: -4.5 at +100, -5 at +104, or -5.5 at +108. Sell three half-points and Pinnacle Sports is paying juice to you on nearly any game on the card!
Another time you might want to use point buying/selling is when the market price on a game has moved, but a sports book or your local bookie is slow to change the number. Any time a spread or total has moved at least 1.5 points you can scalp that number with Pinnacle Sports. There may even be scalping opportunities against your regular book available now on our featured games below where we’ve seen some early line movement.
Florida State (+4.5) at Florida
FSU is coming off consecutive losses against NC State and Clemson. After averaging 40 points per contest in their first seven games, they’ve scored 15 points or less in the last two. In those two match-ups, the Seminoles managed just 259 total net passing yards while throwing five interceptions and allowing nine sacks. The Gators are also coming off a 30-22 loss to South Carolina in a lackluster performance where they were penalized eleven times.
We opened this game at Florida -6 and took nearly all dog money as Florida State bettors outnumbered the favorite backers by a ratio of 4 to 1. Some of our sharper players took the Seminoles, driving down on the price to FSU +4.5 -112.
Texas (-27) at Texas A&M
The Longhorns at 10-0 have only had one tough game this year when they beat Ohio State by 3. Since then, they’ve won by an average of more than 37 points per game and are just two wins away from a Rose Bowl berth. The Aggies are headed in the opposite direction having dropped three straight - with each loss by an average of 24 points – and haven’t defeated the Longhorns since 1999.
This is a classic betting match-up between the sharps and the public. We opened this game at Texas -26 and received four times as many wagers on the Longhorns as on A&M. The outnumbered sharp players like the Aggies and are betting far higher amounts on the game than the average public bettor.
New England (+3) at Kansas City
Priest who? Kansas City has nearly forgotten about the injury to starting RB Priest Holmes with the solid performance of Larry Johnson, who rushed for 211 yards on 36 carries last week. New England will be a tougher test for Johnson as the Pats allow only 3.9 yards per rushing attempt (14th in NFL). New England's real weakness is its pass defense, where they rank 31st.
We opened with Patriots +3 -120 and have seen moderate two-way action. The sharps however are not in agreement and we’ve seen sharp money show for both sides. Curiously, some of our sharper players are taking Kansas City and selling down to -3.5 +118.
San Diego at Washington O/U 43
Drew Brees has led the second-ranked scoring offense in the NFL to an average of 30 points per game, whereas Washington is in the middle of the pack scoring 20 points per game. Both teams are average defensively, allowing 20 points per game. With this information alone, you might be inclined to lean on the over, but both teams are above-average rushing teams. In a game like this, a lot of rushing could decrease the number of offensive possessions for each team — perhaps to only 11 possessions each, instead of a more typical 12.
We opened the total at 44 and received fairly balanced action from the public. The price has drifted down, but we’ve had no real guidance from our sharper players and our number remains based on a market price of 43-43.5.