Without checking his computer, Esposito knows full well which teams need to win today for Caesars to make money. How do things look so far? The most certain way for a bookmaker to turn a profit is to balance his book -- that is, to set a point spread that produces an equal number of dollars wagered on both sides of the line.
Since only losers pay the house a 10 percent fee known as the vigorish, or vig on top of wagers, a balanced book guarantees the house a 5 percent gain. The conventional wisdom holds that bookmakers set point spreads to achieve this balance. The point spread is the equalizer, but you still can't talk the public into betting one side or the other.
The reason the public can't be talked into betting a particular side, at least not too often, is that the public has biases. For every bettor smart enough to stick to home underdogs, there are 5 or 10 bettors who systematically prefer favorites or who underestimate the impact of home-field advantage. It isn't clear why bettors prefer favorites, but such a tendency characterizes most betting against a spread.
Then there are the bettors who disproportionately take the "over" in an over-under bet in which a bettor wagers on the total number of points scored in a game , presumably because, when it's time to watch the game you've bet on, it's a lot more fun to root for points to be scored than for points to not be scored. So does Esposito exploit those biases to increase his winnings? I hear that all the time: 'You know who's going to win.
In determining where to set the opening line, and when to adjust it, Esposito works hard to read public sentiment. One good clue is when a team's jersey starts to spike in popularity among Caesars customers. This season it was the Cincinnati Bengals and the Chicago Bears. He notes which teams, despite their success, fail to become "public" teams. The Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers. But the most valuable tool is what Esposito calls "booking to faces" -- that is, monitoring the betting counter to note which bettors are placing which bets.
By Esposito's estimate, about 20 percent of the money bet on football comes from sophisticated bettors -- the "sharp guys" -- with the remainder. The trick is to set a line that will satisfy both constituencies and make the casino lots of money. Unfortunately, Esposito couldn't open up his books to show us just how this plays out at Caesars. Transparency has its limits. But a different set of data, taken from a handicapping contest run by the online casino CaribSports.
In these data, bettors made more than 20, wagers on N. What do these data show? The bettors exhibited the typical preferences mentioned above -- a strong bias toward favorites and a weaker one toward visiting teams. The bookmaker, meanwhile, didn't merely acknowledge these biases and balance the book down the middle; it appears that the bookmaker strategically set point spreads to exploit these biases. How does this work? Let's say that a bookmaker is handicapping a game between the Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He first studies every conceivable element of the game: strengths and weaknesses, momentum, injuries, tendencies, weather forecast, etc. He then decides that the true line -- that is, a line that he figures will give each team a 50 percent chance of winning the bet -- happens to be Denver minus 7 points. But because of bettor bias, perhaps as much as 80 percent of the money will inevitably flow to the favorite. So what if the bookie sets the line a little higher, at 9 points?
Denver is still likely to draw the majority of the wagering, but its chances of winning the bet are now slightly less than 50 percent. The bookie has thus managed to tempt the majority of the wagering toward an outcome that is unlikely, even if only slightly, to happen.
Over time, this pattern will yield the bookie a gross profit margin 20 to 30 percent higher than if he had simply balanced the wagering. In other words, why should a bookie play for the safe 10 percent vig when he can play it only slightly less safe and make much more money?
Chuck Esposito, though he is too smart to come out and say so, seems to be doing precisely the same thing at Caesars. What he will admit is that he doesn't mind if the wagering on a given game comes in at instead of , as long as he thinks that Caesars is on the right side of the imbalance. A look at the past reveals this interesting anomaly: whereas only one-tenth of regular-season N. Bad Beat - A bet that looks like the bettor is going to win but doesn't.
Chalk - The favorite in a game. Edge - The advantage a bettor has before a bet is placed. Favorite - A team favored to win a game. Handle - The total amount of money wagered on a game. Handicapping - Researching sports statistics to pick winners. Hook - A half-point in the spread In-game wagers - Bets made after a game started.
Juice - A commission books win on each bet. Limit - The maximum allowed wager on a single bet. Lock - A large favorite. Long Shot - A large underdog. No Action - A game that is no longer taking bets and all wagers are refunded. Oddsmaker Linemaker - Someone who sets the opening line on a game.
Off the Board - A game bettors can not wager on. Over - The combined score of two teams is more than what the sportsbook set. Pick'em - A game with no favorite or underdog. Sharp Wiseguy - A professional sports bettor. Steam - A quick change on a line due to heavy wagering.
Taking the points - Betting an underdog against the spread. Under - The combined score of two teams is less than what the sportsbook set. Underdog dog - A team not favored to win a game. Wager - A get placed at a sportsbook.
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