Fine line between profit & loss in Vegas

Small, elite group establishes spread for betting's big game

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/02/2011 (4205 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They were a higher seed in the playoffs, they were the champions in a superior conference and they have a greater record of accomplishment in recent years. Yet the Pittsburgh Steelers are the underdog in their matchup against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

To outsiders, the betting line seems counterintuitive — a curious number dreamed up by Las Vegas oddsmakers.

Yet, strangely enough, it’s the people who rarely wager money who helped make the Packers 2-point favourites in a sporting event that provokes both the habitual and occasional gambler to part with their money.

“The spread is based on the public perception of those who are going to bet the game,” said RJ Bell, founder of the handicapping information website Pregame.com. “There are more people who are going to bet this game that are casual bettors than any other game all year. And there is a strong feeling among the public that Green Bay is the better team.”

That belief, predicated primarily on the Packers’ recent success, has forced Las Vegas’ major gambling houses to respond accordingly.

At the Las Vegas Hilton, where Jay Kornegay is the director of the sports book, a meeting takes place among a small group of people to determine the line. It’s a daunting task, even though they’re rarely wrong. In the previous 44 Super Bowls, the favored team has won 32 of them. It’s a fact that should reassure Kornegay, but he’s more preoccupied with achieving another goal.

“We are trying to create a number that is going to split the bets,” he said. “But that never happens. We never get equal action.”

Still, Las Vegas tends to fare well in the end. The Nevada Gaming Control Board reported that its sportsbooks made money from bets on nine of the previous 10 Super Bowls. This should come as no surprise to gamblers. They know the house usually wins. And even when it seems to defy logic, so does the favoured team.

For oddsmakers, it is the worst-case scenario, a phenomenon that could unfold during the days preceding the Super Bowl. In the betting world, it is known as “middling,” and it occurs when the line moves, creating the possibility that gambling houses could lose to two different groups of wagerers.

This happened during Super Bowl XIII, remembered as “Black Sunday” in Las Vegas. Thirty-two years ago, Pittsburgh opened as a 3-point favourite over the Cowboys. But so much money was initially bet on the Steelers that the line moved to 4 points.

When the dust settled, Pittsburgh won the game, 35-31. The Cowboys, however, weren’t the only ones who lost that day in January 1979. So did Vegas. That’s because the winners included the bettors who placed money on Pittsburgh when the original line was unveiled and those who wagered their money on Dallas as the 4-point underdog.

If the Packers-Steelers line moves from 2 points to 3 points, a similar situation could develop if Green Bay wins by a field goal. But Kornegay does not anticipate that will happen.

“Bookmakers are smarter,” he said. “We hesitate to move the line. We have learned our lessons.”

— Dallas Morning News

Closest Super Bowl lines

Super Bowl XLV features the closest betting line in 29 years, according to VegasInsider.com. Here is a look at games in which oddsmakers determined the difference between the two teams would be a field goal or less:

S.Bowl Year Favourite Underdog Line Winner

XVI 1982 San Francisco Cincinnati 1 San Francisco, 26-21

VII 1973 Miami Washington 1 Miami, 14-7

V 1971 Baltimore Colts Dallas 21/2 Baltimore, 16-13

XLV 2011 Green Bay Pittsburgh 21/2 ??

XXXV 2001 Baltimore Ravens N.Y. Giants 3 Baltimore, 34-7

XXII 1988 Denver Washington 3 Washington, 42-10

XVIII 1984 Washington L.A. Raiders 3 L.A. Raiders, 38-9

XVII 1983 Miami Washington 3 Washington, 27-17

XV 1981 Philadelphia Oakland 3 Oakland, 27-10

IX 1975 Pittsburgh Minnesota 3 Pittsburgh, 16-6

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