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Oddsmakers Explain How Their World Really Works

“The best guys I’ve seen have their “thing” that they do best. “He’s a golf guy.” “That guy is sharp with totals.” “He is a prop man.” Find yours and go at it 100%.”

Vik Chokshi

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On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the federal law that effectively  limited sports betting to just Nevada. That ruling gave each state the individual right to decide whether to legalize gambling, and since that time 22 states, plus Washington D.C. have adopted sports betting in some capacity.

That decision also opened up the floodgates for the sports betting industry as a whole, and with that came an influx of new bettors. 

First time bettors come with a lot of questions, and understandably so. Since I’ve been writing about the gambling industry for a few years now, I was frequently getting asked about how it all worked. I decided to go straight to the source, because who better to ask than Oddsmakers themselves? 

What are sports odds and betting lines? | IntelligentBettingTips.com

So I chatted with my guys in Las Vegas: Chris Andrews, the SportsBook Director at the South Point Casino; Alan Berg, the Trading Manager at Caesars/ William Hill and long-time Vegas oddsmaker Dave Sharapan to gather their insights on commonly asked questions by beginners.

How do oddsmakers set their lines? 

Chris Andrews: I, along with most oddsmakers I know, start with keeping power ratings. Everyone has their own methodology for doing that, which is good. We all don’t want to come up with the same number.

Alan Berg: Usually a place has a set of ratings and opinions based on their staff. And depending on the shop they are aggressive, indifferent or passive on activating the lines. The world market is key to many books turning on their lines, if you are off that market at all there will be bettors willing to oblige you with a bet. 

Dave Sharapan: You’d be surprised how the lines are set.  There is no magical formula or one way to do it. Ideally, you have an odd number of guys (3 or 5 works best) who do power ratings and “make” numbers. They are independent of each other and have their own methodology to arrive at the number. You take them all, mix ’em up all together, and you have a number. The reason for the odd number of guys is so there is never a tie. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks are not big fans of pushes.

What’s the toughest part of the line making process?

CA: The toughest part is making the right adjustment after an upset or a blowout. Both circumstances mean something, but you don’t want to overreact or underreact.

AB: Preseason stuff is always the toughest because so many things change. As the year goes along in any sport all your stats, bets and opinions are based on what you are seeing vs. predictions. 

DS: The discussions are fun, but they can get heated. A lot of ego gets involved, and nobody likes to admit they might be wrong. It’s a lot like making a case in a courtroom, only you don’t have a judge and bailiff to maintain order.

I respect the hell out of guys on both sides of the counter who have models, use algorithms, and rely on the data. Same goes for the guys who do it with number two pencils and paper.

Sports Betting Systems, Software, Parlays, Football, Soccer

Ultimately, someone who comes up with good numbers and can tell me why BEFORE the games are played and bets are made…that’s the tough part.

For a lot of new gamblers out there, they always ask the same question, ‘how is it that Vegas’s line is always so close to the final outcome’? 

CA: First of all, we’re not always that close. Just when we are, people make a big deal out of it. Secondly, we don’t want to be close. That’s when we get hurt is when it falls right on the number.

AB: A lot of times that’s an illusion, but using the NFL as an example. The numbers are a whole lot closer near the end then the beginning. Mainly because the math is based on what’s actually happened. 

DS: I laugh when I hear this. Only because people only remember the ones that landed close to the number. There are way more that aren’t close than are. Oklahoma was a 28 point favorite and lost outright to Kansas State. And the Ravens were a 3.5 favorite on Monday night in prime time to the Chiefs and never had a shot. 

I am impressed with the totals more than anything. Like Game 3 of the NBA finals, line closed Lakers -10, total of 219. Final score, Heat 115, Lakers 104. Side not close, total right on the number. Which one is the story?

One piece of advice you’d give to bettors on increasing their odds to win?

CA: The juice will kill you more than bad numbers. It’s important to get a good number, but look at a bookmaker. They never get the best of the number, yet they mostly win because the juice is on their side. Depends on the situation, because there are many different scenarios, but if you can sacrifice the best number for a better money price it might be worth it. Be careful either way. The other thing I would tell you is constantly evaluate your method. Don’t just ‘believe in yourself.’ Question yourself. Constantly. 

AB: I think learning to make your own numbers through stats, research and matchups will help if you put enough work in. You’ll know when you start doing a good job when your openers are close to the world market. 

DS: Narrow your focus. Get good at one thing, one conference or one sport. The best guys I’ve seen have their “thing” that they do best. “He’s a golf guy.” “That guy is sharp with totals.” “He is a prop man.” Find yours and go at it 100%.

Can you explain the importance of bankroll management? 

CA: Tough one. You have to bet enough to mean something but not enough that it can break you. I would also tell you if you’re serious about betting don’t piss away your money screwing around with TV action or parlays. You’ll blow a lot of money before you know it. And the tables and slot machines are a no-no.

AB: More than bankroll I think just making sure you get the best number you can at the time is the most important. People always think it doesn’t matter for one bet, but you’d be surprised how fast that adds up if you bet multiple straight bets every day. 

DS: Bankroll management is essential to being successful. It’s not just about picking winners and losers. Usually takes some hard lessons to really learn how to do it…or, if you are lucky, a really good mentor.

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Like anything else, you can read books on how to manage your bankroll, but until you do it, you don’t truly understand it.

Is the rapid growth of media outlets producing and promoting sports betting content good or bad for the industry?

CA: Good overall for the industry, but there is a lot of bad advice floating around out there.

AB: Combination like most things. I would like to see a niche carved out in the mainstream for people who have actually bet or taken bets to help educate the people who watch all these shows. Someday we will likely get there but it will likely be a painful road. 

DS: The growth of sports betting content is both good and bad for the industry. It’s good because it’s opening up opportunities for people in the industry who otherwise would be kept in some back room somewhere. It’s fun to talk shop with guys like you who want to cover it and give guys like us a forum to do it.

It’s bad for the industry in a way. In that there Is just bad content out there too. Stuff that paints the industry a certain way or takes advantage of novice bettors, man, it’s hard to stomach sometimes.

Finding a happy medium is the sweet spot. Good content that is entertaining without being too in your face.  With everyone in a race to get customers, it seems like it can be too much at times.

It’s all exploding so fast. You just have to see what works for you and what you want to consume. And just like bets in a book, opinions will vary on what is and isn’t good content. 

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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