This was the column I was going to send out last week but the debate about the controversial calls that weekend was just too good to pass up. In other words, sorry for the delay.
This past college football season was a great one for books. There is often a lot of talk that betting on college football is easier to win at than betting on the NFL and until this year our numbers supported that theory. This past college football season was our best ever and the NFL season was really only average. Of the 16 weeks that comprise the regular season, the House came out ahead 13 times and two of the losing weeks were the first and last with much lighter handle than all those in between. Incredibly, we did not have a losing week from August 31st (Week #2) until November 16th (Week #13) and we promptly followed that one mid-season loss with the best two weeks we have ever had.
Overall, we saw our handle jump 233% and our profits jump 276%. Good numbers by any standard and we were very pleased as it exceeded all of our budgets and personal expectations. The big difference this year was totals. Over the past few seasons, we had been holding 1-2% on college football totals but this past year we held an incredible 6.3%. Moneylines also experienced a turnaround. We actually lost money on moneylines in 2001 but managed to get them into the win column in 2002. Pointspread percentage also improved, although far less dramatically than the other two line types. Parlay and teaser percentages were virtually unchanged despite the higher hold percentages on straight plays and I think that is largely due to bettors becoming more sophisticated and playing 2, 3 and 4-team exotics rather than shooting for big paydays with 10-team teasers and 12-team parlays.
As I mentioned, the best weeks were Weeks 14 and 15. Week 14 (Nov 23rd) saw players have a tough afternoon with TCU, Rutgers, Washington State and Northern Illinois not covering and followed it all up by chasing losses heavily on Hawaii only to see them barely edge out Cincinnati and not cover. Week 15 (Nov 30th) was similar with the players suffering afternoon losses on TCU, Pitt and Kentucky before chasing heavily on Notre Dame at USC. Carson Palmer took over that game, won the Heisman and handed us our biggest winning day in college football ever. The worst week was Week 13 (which probably explains why Week 14 and Week 15 were good as players had some extra money to put into play). Bettors cashed in big with Alabama, Iowa, Colorado, Boston College, Maryland and Colorado State. Our best game of the regular season was the previously mentioned USC win over Notre Dame in Week 15 and our worst game would have been either the Alabama win over LSU in Week 13 or the Washington State win over UCLA on December 7th.
The Bowl season was very good as well, especially over the last week. In previous columns, I covered the early Bowl games but let me recap the games from New Year’s Eve on.
The 31st got off to a good start with Boise State blowing out Iowa State in the Humanitarian Bowl 34-16. We took a lot of Cyclones action, especially on the moneyline, but it was never really close. Next up was the Sun Bowl and bettors had their revenge taking Purdue heavy. It looked good for the book with the Huskies’ early 17-0 lead but they looked bad after that as Purdue rallied to win 34-24. Players also had moderate success with TCU’s win over Colorado State in the Liberty Bowl as a 3-point dog. This was one of the few bowl games where the public was betting the Under and the 17-3 final score paid out for them there. In the Silicon Valley Classic, bettors were mildly favoring favorite Georgia Tech so their outright loss to Fresno State 30-21 was good for the House. Again, players evened things up with Maryland over Tennessee 30-3 in a Pick’em affair at the Sun Bowl. The last game of 2002, the San Francisco Bowl, was ideal for the book however. We had heavy action on Virginia Tech -11.5 and moderate action on Air Force on the moneyline looking for the upset. This was expected to be a high-scoring affair and bettors flocked to the Over, moving the number from 54 to 57. Final score was 20-13 for the Hokies so the House won all 3 ways and our Book Managers slept a little better that night (it may have been the champagne at midnight as well, but we’ll never really know).
New Year’s Day saw big handle up and down the board except for the Cotton Bowl, which was a little surprising. Perhaps 11am is too early, maybe the line (Texas -10.5 over LSU) was just one of those lines that nobody liked or most likely, everybody was going to watch the Outback Bowl that was on at the same time. For whatever reason, there was limited action on the game and it was one of just a couple of Bowl games this year where the House didn’t care what the score was as it was balanced all the way around. In fact, I couldn’t even remember who won until I looked it up today (Texas 35-20). This wasn’t the case in the Outback Bowl where bettors were heavy on Michigan (line moved from +1.5 to -2) so they capitalized on the Wolverines’ 38-30 win. Notre Dame’s 28-6 loss to North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl was good for the book as was Auburn’s 13-9 upset of Penn State in the Capital One Bowl. The Rose Bowl was a big win for the book as players bet Washington State from +7 to +5 on the spread and from +250 to +180 on the moneyline. The Cougars’ 34-14 lost to Oklahoma. The late game was the Sugar Bowl and bettors were scrambling after going 1-3 in the early games. They chased their losses with Georgia over Florida State and their QB problems. In a game that wasn’t too pretty to watch, or pretty for the house, the Bulldogs won 26-13. The book was 3-2 on the day but basically just flush on the sides, but the fact that the last four games all finished Under started 2003 off with a decent winning day.
The Orange Bowl on January 2nd saw a steady stream of Iowa money until just before kickoff. The line had come from USC -6 to -4.5 and it looked like USC bettors had been hoping to get -4 but jumped in at higher numbers when it didn’t get that low. When the game started the book was still cheering heavily for USC so the Trojan’s 38-17 win was great. The total had slipped from 57 to 55 so that side out there took some of the profits back but overall it was a good game for the House.
The Fiesta Bowl saw truly divided action. We opened Miami at -13.5 and it slipped all the way down to -11 in the weeks before the game on light-to-moderate action. As of January 1st, it looked like we would be cheering heavily for the Hurricanes but from New Year’s Day on the action came in heavy on Miami, moving the line back up to -11.5. The moneyline started Ohio State +350 and went as low as +300 as Ohio State bettors looked for the big payoff of a straight-up win. A Miami cover and we lost the spread and won the moneyline. An Ohio State win and we won the spread and lost the moneyline. A Miami win but non-cover meant we would have won both ways and perhaps may explain why a lot of bookmakers found that pass interference call tough to take. The total moved from 51 to 48 but we did take a little Over money after we locked it down at 48 on game-day so the extra points from a double-overtime game helped more than a few bettors. The Buckeye’s 31-24 win was not ideal but it did wipe out a lot of pending teasers that had Miami so, the House came out ahead in the end.
We took a couple of large futures bets on Ohio State after they beat Penn State in October at 20-1 and 18-1 so we did come out slightly on the losing end in that department.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with the 2002 College Football season. We had record sign-ups, handle, profit and oh yeah, there were some pretty good games along the way as well. After all, book managers are sports fans too. I’ll be back next week with a look at the NFL regular season.
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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino