Some advice: No one should give a damn what bet some anonymous millionaire made, nor should we care how much he wagered. Instead, what I want to know is — which side does the bettor who actually earns his living from sports gambling like? That's the (winning) ticket.
A few years ago, a highly respected sports gambler who happens to be an associate of mine (who shall remain nameless) used to fly into Las Vegas for one reason only — to bet on the Super Bowl.
He’d show up at the Westgate Sportsbook on the big night when all the Super Bowl props were first released.
The Westgate (formally the Las Vegas Hilton) was, and remains, the bellwether of Super Bowl propositions. They post hundreds of props — on everything from the coin flip to what the exact time the game would end. Props have become more exotic in recent years. Now, you can even wager on the odds of something happening in the Super Bowl combined with the outcome of another sporting event in a different part of the world, including basketball, hockey, golf, and even soccer.
Here’s just one example: Will there be more interceptions thrown in the Super Bowl versus total goals scored in the English Premier’s Liverpool-Tottenham match? More Interceptions is listed at -145.
My associate, who has made quite a successful living exploiting margins wherever and whenever he finds them, would show up carrying a $15 knapsack. But that knapsack was worth far more for what was hidden inside. Some years, he’d come into the casino staked with $250,000 in cash.
The Game Plan
There was a specific routine. A plan was necessary because it was impossible to get down that much action on the juiciest betting props, those obscure and often absurd betting exotics that most typical football fans wouldn’t notice. My friend couldn’t walk up to the betting window and plunk down $60,000 on the number of catches by a tight end. No casino, not even the Westgate Sportsbook, would accept that volume of action (not all at once). Hence, most props were limited to $1,000 and $2,000 per-bet limit maximums.
An even more annoying obstacle for serious bettors is the serpentine parade of bettors who gum up the works. Long lines slow down access to getting the best numbers. Hundreds of casual fans waffling around at the betting windows fishing out $20 bills on a parlay ticket was like molasses glued to the fuel line of a Ferrari.
While standing in line and waiting, those precious outlier betting values were steadily being hammered into shape by the sharps, minute by minute, bet by bet. It’s a cliche, but time is money in sports betting. Waiting around usually means getting the worst of it — and by that I mean the worst price. It’s why most successful sports bettors usually wager early in the week. They don’t wait around for stale leftovers.
The routine was for my associate to bet as much as he could on as many props as possible and go through the line multiple times until every single prop was covered to the greatest extent feasible.
The knapsack would get lighter with each visit to the betting counter and by the time the night was done, my friend would be holding a fist full of tickets, perhaps 200 in all — the equivalent of juggling five decks of cards. Armed with a quarter million in paper confetti, he’d quietly exit the rear door, wave bye to the old Man O War statue in the back parking lot, start the rental car, take his wife out to a nice dinner, and they’d fly back home the next morning.
That’s a real “pro.”
Call Him ‘Mr. Anonymous’
You don’t see news about these guys (okay, except for the rare article you’re now reading). Successful sports bettors don’t parade around town bragging about the size of their bets. You don’t know their names. Instead, the media often report trivial news of no significance. Social media is even worse. It’s mostly fluff. Worthless peanut gallery garbage.
Consider a report from ESPN this year — one of several reports as it turned out — that BetMGM had reportedly accepted a huge bet totalling $2.3 million on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Someone bet $2.3 million dollars on the game in a single wager. My first and last thought was, and remains, so what? That's basically a stock trade. Who cares?
To be clear, I understand these tidbits tickle the public’s fancy. But unless the identity of the gambler is disclosed, why does this matter? If a celebrity makes the wager, sure, that’s news. Entertainment news. Not gambling news. It would also be newsworthy if my friend with the knapsack made a wager of that size. But this bettor was likely a nobody, except that he’s got money to bet.
How can we tell? Easy: The line didn’t move.
That tells you everything.
It tells you the casino doesn’t respect the bet, nor the gambler. Another schnook. A fish. A dope.
The Super Bowl Offers a Huge Menu, but It’s Just Another Meal
Successful sports gamblers know the Super Bowl is just another football game. Very often, neither side is a bettable situation.
What makes the championship unique (for gamblers) is the bacchanal of bizarre bets in the form of odds and props, which no sportsbook in the world can possibly get 100 percent correct in their assessment of actual probabilities. This is where some bettors — often math gurus and nerd analysts like my associate — are truly smarter than the house. And that’s why they win.
Smart money, if it’s smart, moves the line (perhaps not at that instant, but over time). Stale public money doesn’t move anything. It just goes into the vault.
Can a Small-Time Bettor Move a Line?
For many years, the offshore betting market displaced Las Vegas as the real epicenter of wagering. In that murky, mostly undocumented world, $200 bettors could move lines. This is a fact.
Another of my associates (again nameless, unless he wants to step forward) was beating the hell out of Canadian College Football. Until I heard the story, I didn’t even know Canadian College Football existed, let alone was bettable.
He was crushing the offshore sportsbooks so badly (and sharing his analytics with friends — wink, wink) they cut him down to $200 a game.
Now, if he even opens his account and blinks at a game, the line jumps a couple of points. Last time the subject came up, I think he can only bet like $50 or $100 per wager. So, he’s betting peanuts. But he’s a line mover. He’s a shaker, not some millionaire media creation.
Suckers vs. Sharps
The flimflam of misperception bears remembering since we’re just a week away from the Super Bowl, and an avalanche of gambling is on the horizon. Seriously, I don’t give a damn who the millionaire bet on. And neither should you.
What I want to know is — what bets did my friend with the $15 knapsack make? Or the Canadian Collage Football handicapper. He’s probably got the goods.
Oh yeah, speaking of “Mr. Knapsack,” you’re probably wondering — how’d he do on his quarter-million in Super Bowl wagers? Or, how does he usually do every year?
I can’t divulge specifics. It’s all a numbers game for him, but here’s the short answer:
Out of 200 wagers, it doesn’t really matter which team wins or loses. Some percentage of those wagers will fall into line with the predicted analytics. It’s all numbers.
For every bad beat on a prop, a lucky break results in the cashing of another. Since his early calculations are (usually) superior to the initial openers, “Mr. Knapsack” simply relies on the 10-15 percent edge he’s uncovered on most of his props. So, if he goes close to 50/50, he still pockets five figures. The years he shared profit data with me, his earn was between $20,000-$30,000. Best of all, this was without even breaking a sweat.
And now for the real kicker to the story — he doesn't even bother watching the game.
Note: Sportsbooks such as the Westgate Las Vegas are often packed with $20 bettors sitting beside a $20,000 bettor. Don’t be fooled by the size of a wager. Sometimes, the minnow knows more than the whale. (Image: Westgate)