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It May Not Be Sexy But It Pays Off Better Than Other Sports
by Buzz Daly
Today, for some American men, trying to make a living betting on sports is the stuff that dreams are made of. During the year we receive many inquiries from aspiring handicappers who want advice on turning pro. But as long-time professional sports bettor Lem Banker says, you have a better chance of becoming a rock star. That's because most bettors opt for sports that are very tough to beat.
The NFL and NBA are seen as offering the greatest opportunities. Football with its once a week drama is a sport made for wagering. According to estimates, approximately $75 million is bet every week of the NFL season in Nevada and offshore with millions more wagered illegally. Bookmakers insist that football can't be beat by the players. Some betting syndicates are known to compile winning football seasons, but these are not individual handicappers. "If a bettor is looking to get an advantage over the books, he should look to baseball," advises Belize-based Carib Sportsbook (www.caribsports.com) managing director William J. Caesar.
After the football season, about 25 percent of the bettors drop out, said Caesar. Another 25 percent fall away at the conclusion of the NCAA basketball season, and when the NBA concludes its playoffs, still another 12.5 percent pack it in. The public has been weaned on point spreads, suggests Caesar. It's too much trouble to figure out the meaning of money lines, which are how baseball odds are expressed. For instance: Yankees -1.55, Indians +1.45. That means Yankee bettors must put up $1.55 to win $1, while Indian backers receive $1.45 for each $1 bet. The example uses the ten-cent line, which is the straddle between the favorite and dog price.
The existence of the ten-cent line is a significant erosion of the bookmakers' edge and is available only in baseball. In football and basketball, the standard 20-cent line prevails, whereby players lay -1.10 on both the favorite and dog. The 20-cent line is also offered by many sportsbooks on their baseball lines, which makes them less attractive for sharp players. However, when the number is right, the sharps bet into books that post 20-cent lines. Nonetheless, the purpose of the 20-cent line is to drive away the sharps and professionals, and limit a book's clientele to recreational players, or as they are called, by the books, "squares."
When offshore books started growing, in the early 1990s, baseball was a small staple, but when online wagering opened up the industry to a whole new market of players, betting volume spiked. Today, offshore books deal baseball primarily to wiseguys and scalpers. Carib's Caesar estimates that 20 percent of the players calling in bets or clicking away on the Internet are doing it for a living.
Some bettors follow syndicates by monitoring the Don Best screen for line movements or by checking other line services, however figuring out the syndicates' moves can be dangerous. Professionals despise the followers and go to great lengths to mislead them. Syndicates win because they simply have stronger resources than the oddsmakers and bookmakers, including software developers who have created sophisticated programs that give them a winning edge.
Here's how they do it. The starting lineups for a game, along with starting pitchers, are obtained. Then 50,000 or 100,000 simulated games are run on a computer. The results are compared with the game's opening line. When a bettable edge between their results and the line is seen, their movers or beards pound the books. Legions of movers-bettors with substantial post-up balances or credit at leading offshore books-swing into action. The syndicates give them a game to bet at a specific price, and instantly they are on the phone and computer getting down on that number.
Movers do not have discretion to take a game at a higher price than the order they've been given. Say, the game is the Braves at -1.25. If the line has gone to -1.28, the mover has to pass. If he finds the game is at -1.23, he'll put in the bet, and if it wins, pocket the two cents difference between the syndicate order and what was actually booked. When you're betting five to fifty dimes a game, those two-cent windfalls can add up to serious money.
We're not implying that the average bettor can replicate the advantages of a syndicate that, in addition to its odds making prowess, gets inside info from well-placed stringers all over the country. But a sharp handicapper who understands the dynamics of betting, and possesses the discipline to ride out a losing streak without blowing all his cheese, can show a profit betting baseball. One advantage often overlooked is that baseball parlays pay true odds, whereas the fixed parlay payoffs in football and baskets includes increasingly higher vigorish as the numbers of teams increase. Sure, it's tough putting together more than one winner. But at least in betting a baseball parlay, the player isn't bucking outrageous odds set by the house. Another advantage for the bettor is the inability of the books to move a line that will eventually cause the favorite not to cover, as can be done in football and baskets.
Earlier, we referred to the possibility of getting a bettable number from a shop with a 20-cent line. While we don't advocate betting into such a line, baseball odds are extremely volatile. Once the syndicates swing into action, a -1.25 favorite can go off at -1.60, or worse. And players with multiple outs can occasionally find the number they want at a book offering a 20-cent line. "The 20-cent line doesn't stop the wise guys," said Caesar, whose book has a 20-cent line. "It just slows them down a bit."
If you can crunch numbers and stay abreast of injuries, while factoring in the relative strengths of starting pitchers, available bull pen, managers, the home field, which way the wind is blowing, and any bias by the home plate umpire, you might be one of the few who can make money betting baseball!
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