Indiana wow! That pretty much sums up the Final Four doesn’t it? I asked Bodog’s top bookmaker Kent how that game was for the House and he just smiled. This week, I’ll talk a little more about the games from this weekend and close the book on the rest of the tournament before, and then look forward to this baseball season as the boys of summer take to the field.
First, lets talk about the Final Four. Talking to players and book managers alike, it appears there were very few people outside the state of Indiana who thought the Hoosiers had a chance. The line opened at Oklahoma -5 and was quickly bet to -5.5. According to Kent “We thought the Sooners were the play so we were aggressive in moving our lines all week.” Money poured in all week on Oklahoma and by Saturday the line was 7, 7.5 and even as high as 8. Kent mentioned that at each line move there was initial resistance as dog bettors bet the higher number, but inevitably the Sooner money would build and build until another move was required.
At tip-off, Bodog had heavy action on Oklahoma, as did most books. However, because of the aggressive line moves, Kent was comfortable with his position on the game: “As it turns out, we could have made a lot a lot more by not moving the lines aggressively, but I’m quite content with the big win without taking on any unreasonable risk.” It was interesting to see that both the public and the sharp bettors were on the same side on this play, and only the value seekers taking back the value profited.
Doc (of www.docsports.com) showed the logic and foresight that has made him a great in the handicapping business when we talked on Tuesday. At that point, the line was 6 or 6.5, and he forecast 8 as the final number. He predicted that if the Sooners didn’t cover the spread, then it would be because Indiana shot the 3-pointer well and kept Oklahoma in the 60s. Sure enough, Indiana shot 61.5% from behind the arc, and held the Sooners to just 30 second half points in a 73-64 win.
The other semi-final game between Kansas and Maryland (dubbed the “Unofficial Championship Game” in some media circles) had a lot less line movement, and was far more balanced. The line opened with Kansas as a -1 or -1.5 point favorite and pretty much stayed there the whole week. A little Maryland money late in the week brought the line down to Pick ’em, but the Kansas bettors jumped in and the line closed with Kansas as a 1 point favorite. Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to the hype, and Maryland cruised to a 97-88 win (despite a late rally by Kansas that cut the lead from 20 down to 5). According to Kent, both the public and the wiseguys were split on the game, so if you went 0-for-2 on the day, don’t feel bad, as there were a lot of pros in the same boat.
The action on the Championship game (later today as I write this) has also been equally split. The line opened at Maryland -7.5 and is still there (although I have seen dips to 7 and jumps to 8 for brief periods at some books). Kent says there is a little more action on the Maryland spread, but it is countered by money on the Indiana moneyline. When I pointed out that this meant a Maryland win by less than the spread would mean the House wins both ways, Kent chuckled. “It doesn’t happen very often that middles fall in the House’s favor,” he explained, “so if it happens, I certainly won’t complain. But there would have to be a lot more games like this to make up for all the other games that have fallen on the number this year.”
I asked Kent to summarize the season and the tournament. “The season started slow as it was kind of in the shadow of September 11th, but action on college hoops really took off in January. The tournament got off to a great start for us (see my last column for more on this) and we’ve held on and managed to be profitable each of the first two weekends. Unless the action gets very lopsided in the next few hours, we will be profitable this weekend as well, thanks to the Hoosiers.”
I also wanted to hear how the handicappers fared this season, so I asked Al McMordie (of www.bigal.com) for a recap. “I had another great March Madness. My picks were 28-20. My best pick was my only 5* play, a win on Wyoming +6.5 over Gonzaga. My worst pick was a 4* play on Florida -10.5 over Creighton.” I am sure that was a tough loss with the Gators up 7 at the break and then losing in OT. I also asked how the season was, and it sounds like he was hot all year as well: “I’m wrapping up another great basketball season, as I’m up 56.7 stars (on a 3 to 5 star scale), and it’s my 9th winning season in the last 10 years.”
All right, enough about hoops – lets talk baseball. I am a big baseball fan, second only to football. As an example, when my apartment in Costa Rica was robbed a couple of years ago, the first thing I reported stolen and the only thing I begged the police to find was my baseball mitt. My computer was gone, my TV was gone, my clothes were gone, but those are all replaceable. It was my ball glove that I missed most (but only because my official NFL football was left behind…). You get the point.
Why is baseball so good? First off, it’s on every day. Not just nights like basketball and hockey, but they play games in the middle of the day. I always loved getting calls from guys with office jobs that were betting on daytime games. I can imagine them sitting in their cubicle refreshing a baseball scores page on the Internet or listening to the radio through their headphones. There is nothing better than a Wednesday afternoon baseball game to take the edge off a stressful week.
Secondly, where else can you bet with such a low vig? The dime line in baseball has to be the best deal in all of sports wagering. With the house take in the 1-2% range, rather than the 4-5% range of other sports, baseball moneylines offer a lot of value.
Third, not only do you get the best value when betting, but you also get to impose conditions on your wagers. When you bet on football, your bet goes even if the starting QB for your time breaks an ankle in practice, and when betting basketball, you can’t get your money back if the starting point guard gets food poisoning an hour before tip-off. So why, then, in baseball can you specify which pitchers must start for your moneyline bet to have action? Simple – summer is traditionally a quiet time, and sportsbooks want your business, so they make baseball as attractive as possible. I think competition in the sportsbook business will make some of this feature show very soon in other sports at the more progressive shops. There are lots of strategies on when to use Listed Pitchers, and I’ll talk about these in the weeks ahead.
I happened to be in Las Vegas at the end of the 2001 baseball regular season. I was having dinner with Big Al, and I asked how his season was. He shrugged and said, “I just finished #1 for the season at www.thesportsmonitor.com”. I would have been screaming for joy, but he was very calm. I asked him this week for some insight into baseball, and he was kind enough to indulge a little bit. “I believe baseball is no different than basketball or football. Each sport offers the opportunity to make money if 1) you have a methodology that wins; and 2) you have the discipline to follow that methodology.”
Now we just have to find that winning methodology, and that what we’ll talk about next week. Tonight I think the Terps will cover but what do I know – I didn’t pick Indiana on Saturday.
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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino