I know I promised all the NASCAR fans out there a behind the scenes report of betting on racing but March Madness has been too interesting to pass up. The first 48 games produced some big upsets and lots of nail-biters, especially for those playing the pointspreads.
I talked to Bodog’s top bookmaker, Kent, at length today, and I wanted to pass on some of his comments to all of you, as you get ready to make your wagers for the Sweet 16. I want to thank Kent in advance, again, for his openness with all the results, and I hope you can benefit from the discussion.
First off, Kent says the hardest part of March Madness is the shift in routine. All of a sudden, sportsbooks need to handicap rarely televised teams like Florida Atlantic and Siena, and that’s not part of a regular day. Then they are putting up lines three or four days in advance, so they must pay extra attention to the news for injuries, etc. for the whole week. In Kent’s own words “You are in a state of alert for the entire week. It’s not until the last games tip off Sunday afternoon that you can relax for a little while, and even then you know you are going to have to post lines for the next week’s games in just a few hours. Week 2 is a lot easier though, as all the teams have been seen in action so there are fewer surprises and with just 12 games to week one’s 48, there is a lot less homework to do.”
I asked Kent how the weekend went. “Thursday couldn’t have been any better for the House,” he said. “Just about every score broke our way. Friday was very good for us as well, but Saturday and Sunday were the player’s turn to get some back.” Kent was kind enough to provide me with a game-by-game breakdown of where the action was, and I will share that with you so you can compare your picks to the pros.
Thursday’s early action (8 games) had public money on Valparaiso (+7), Miami FL (Pk), Pepperdine (+3.5), Alabama (-18), Marquette (-4.5), Ohio St (-12.5) and Oregon (-21). The sharp money was on the same sides except for Miami FL, where the action was even. Overall, the heaviest action was on Valpo, ‘Bama and Marquette with only the Kent St./Oklahoma St. game having balanced action. Incredibly, all 7 games went the House’s way! If you think you had a bad Thursday morning, you weren’t alone. Also, only the Oregon and Pepperdine games finished within teaser range so players got beat there as well.
Thursday’s late games weren’t much better for the players, but the Blue Devils and Fighting Irish provided some sparks. The public favored Gonzaga (-5), Kansas (-28), USC (-11), Duke (-34) and Western Kentucky (+3.5). The public was all over Notre Dame, and drove the line a full 2 points – from pick to -2. The sharp action also had Notre Dame, USC, Duke, and Western Kentucky. The sharps played against the public, taking Wyoming over Gonzaga and also liked Utah (+2) vs. Indiana, but didn’t play on Kansas. The action in both camps was evenly split on Santa Barbara/Arizona. Notre Dame started the night off with a big win for players, but losses by USC and Gonzaga as well as Kansas not covering evened the score. Duke hammered Winthrop to give the players another win but big losses by Western Kentucky and Utah tipped the evening’s scales in the House’s favor as well. Not a single evening game finished within teaser range. In fact, all but the Arizona game finished at least 10 points off the spread which shows you that maybe the oddsmakers were a little surprised by some results as well. Overall, 12 of the 14 games that were lopsided in action went the House’s way, and I am sure Kent slept very soundly that night.
Friday morning produced a lot less lopsided action than Thursday did. The public leaned only slightly to Michigan State (Pk), Central Connecticut (+14.5), Oklahoma (-18), Cal (-5) and UConn (-12.5). The sharp money was also slightly on Michigan State, Oklahoma and Cal, but balanced the public action with Hampton vs. UConn and also leaned a little towards San Diego St (+11). Cal was the only loser for the House with UConn falling on the public side. Both Creighton/Florida and Hawaii/Xavier had decent handles and balanced action. The House was sitting at 16-2 going into the late games on Friday but at least 3 early games had finished close to the line giving players who bet teasers and/or buy points a few needed wins.
Friday night had the House giving a little back to the players as the house lost against public action on Cincinnati (-24.5), Wisconsin (-2), Mississippi State (-10), UCLA (-1), Georgia (-9) and Texas (-6). The players lost big on Texas Tech (-3.5) and Maryland (-26.5) but overall the night still belonged to those making the bets, and not those taking them. Sharp action seemed fairly split on the evening games, but there was a tendency towards Mississippi State, UCLA and Texas with the pros’ lone loss being on Maryland. With only one favorite losing outright and just one more not covering despite winning, the bettors seemed destined to take their turn. However, just a single late game finished within 7 of the spread so it was another tough night for teaser/buy points players. Friday turned out to be profitable for the book, but was more of a typical day with a mix of winners and losers than Thursday’s whitewash.
Saturday only had 8 games, but handle for each game was roughly double that of the Round 1 games on Thursday and Friday, according to Kent. Part of this may have been the absence of lines in the 20s and 30s, but it also has to do with the quality of games as perennial powers like Duke, Arizona, Kentucky, Stanford and Kansas took the floor. The public was split on Missouri/Ohio St. but had a feeling in each of the other seven games. Money leaned towards Duke (-16), Alabama (-2.5), Oregon (-4.5), Kentucky (-6.5), Arizona (-8) and NC Wilmington (the only dog play of the day at +9). The public also heavily favored Kansas (-6.5) in the late game despite rumors that Kirk Hinrich wouldn’t play for the Jayhawks. The sharp action went the same way on every game except Duke where the pros balanced out the public action by playing on Notre Dame. The sharp money also liked Ohio State (-2). As a result of this action, Saturday started well for the house with a balanced (and exciting) Duke/Notre Dame game and then wins against Ohio State and Alabama. The next two games split with the players cashing in on Oregon and losing a tight one on Kentucky. The last three games were hard on the house as both the Arizona and NC Wilmington games fell right on the line and then Kansas beat Stanford easily to end the day with a big win for the bettors. Overall three games went the House’s way, one was balanced, two were pushes and two were losses. With 4 of the 8 games falling within a basket of the spread, there were lots of winning teaser/buy points tickets, and the day finished up slightly to the players’ advantage.
Sunday ended up being the House’s turn to lose. Public and sharp action was split on UCLA/Cincinnati, Texas/Mississippi State, Southern Illinois/Georgia and Wisconsin/Maryland. The public went 4-0 on the day with plays on Illinois (-10.5), UConn (-2), Pitt (-3.5) and Oklahoma (-7). The sharp bettors didn’t have as great of a day, cashing in on Illinois and Oklahoma, but losing on Cal against Pittsburgh. With three games landing within a bucket of the spread and a fourth within 5, it was another good day to tease or buy points.
The only game total of the weekend to get really lopsided action was the very last game, and the sharp bettors missed by just a basket as the Wisconsin/Maryland game total finished Under 145 with a total score of 144.
For the weekend, 22 of 39 lopsided games (on the spread) went in the House’s favor and 15 went to the players (two were pushes). Biggest win for the House was Maryland not covering against Siena on Friday night, and biggest loss was a tie between Notre Dame on Thursday and Kansas on Saturday night. Overall Kent was very pleased with both the handle and his profits, despite giving up a little on Sunday. After getting a little sleep Monday morning, he is back on full alert and ready for another big weekend.
I’ll be back next week with an extra edition to review next weekend’s action and to preview the Final Four. After that and an article or two on baseball, I promise all you race fans that I will finally publish an article on NASCAR. Good luck on your plays.
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Good luck with your wagers!
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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino