Anatomy Of A Point Spread Betting Line
by Jeremy Martin
Three bookmakers detail the life of a betting line in college football and in the NFL.
For the purpose of this article, we have decided to examine two games: Arizona at Purdue in the NCAA and Cleveland at San Francisco in the NFL. We spoke with three bookmakers: Bob Scucci from the Stardust sportsbook, Bert Osborne from Coast Resorts and Rob Gillespie from BoDog sportsbook to find out how they set their betting line and where it went through the week.
PURDUE (-21) against Arizona
SAN FRANCISCO (-7) against Cleveland
If a point spread betting line was a newborn baby, then it would be given birth to at the Stardust Hotel & Casino, where the opening betting line in football is released every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. PST during the season. Although several offshore sportsbooks release their betting lines prior to the Stardust, it's the Las Vegas opening number that sets the tone for the betting action for the week, both offshore and in the "city that glitters."
While some sportsbooks set their line completely in-house, Scucci, race & sportsbook manager, prefers to use outside consultants, especially since he has an increased vulnerability from the sharp bettors as a result of posting the first Las Vegas betting line. In order to determine his numbers, Scucci starts off by consulting the power and ability ratings that he keeps for each team, college and pro. When examining a game, he comes up with a base number, which is established by those ratings in addition to statistics and win/loss record. The previous week's results and public opinion are not taken into account when coming up with this base number, said Scucci. Once the base number is down on paper, it's time to see what his consultants think. The Stardust sportsbook uses the services of Las Vegas Sports Consultants and Ken White.
"We basically look at the three numbers that we have and decide (where to set ours)," said Scucci. "Sometimes they are all the same and that makes for an easy line. If everybody is at -14 ½ then that's an easy one. Sometimes we come up with a -4 on one side, a -5 on the other and a 'pick'em. So we could open up anywhere in the middle."
The Purdue/Arizona game was one of those situations when Scucci was looking at three different numbers when trying to set his opening betting line. He said the reason there was so much discrepancy was that Arizona had looked much worse than initially anticipated, as displayed in blow out losses to Louisiana State and Oregon the previous two weeks. And Purdue was hard to gauge because they opened up with a loss to Bowling Green, but they came back the following week with an impressive win at Wake Forest. As of 5:30 on Sunday, Scucci hadn't pinned down an exact spot where the teams should be. Hence, an opening betting line of Purdue -21 that quickly shot up to -24 Sunday night due to heavy action by the sharp bettors during Stardust's lottery session (bettors are allowed to bet into the opening line at the Stardust in the order of numbers drawn during the lottery).
"Sometimes it takes two or three weeks to get the number to where it should be," said Scucci. "Sometimes we over adjust and sometimes we keep adjusting and adjusting until it comes back the other way, and then we end up losing because we adjusted too much. So I think that's the case with Purdue; that we are still in the process of adjusting. (Arizona and Purdue) are volatile right now. Purdue was supposed to be one of the teams that was in the Top 20 and they were supposed to cover a lot of spreads and they lose to Bowling Green straight up. So now the number gets adjusted a little too much the other way. Against Wake Forest, Purdue comes out at 'pick'em, which, if they would have played them the week before they played Bowling Green, they would have probably come out -4. That made Purdue a little bit of a play. With Arizona, we are still in the process of adjusting. Because (last week), apparently, we didn't adjust enough."
In the NFL, the San Francisco/Cleveland game opened at 49ers -7. During the lottery, heavy betting took place on San Francisco. Scucci eventually moved the betting line to -7 ½ for a short time in the hopes of getting two-way action. It didn't happen, however, and the manager decided to bring the number back to 7 in order to limit his liability. Seven, three and four the key numbers for the bookmaker and it usually takes a lot to move them off those digits. "Seven is a critical number, so the difference in hanging a 7 ½ and a 7 can be a lot of money," said Scucci. He added that a limit bet will usually move the betting line in most games (Stardust limits are $10,000 for NFL sides and $5,000 for college sides) but that on the "key numbers" it usually takes at least two or three limit bets to move the number.
PURDUE (-25) against Arizona
SAN FRANCISCO (-7) against Cleveland
Bert Osborne, director of sportsbook operations for Coast Resorts, releases his opening betting lines between 10 a.m. and noon PST on Mondays. All of his numbers are determined in-house as he keeps tabs of what everybody else in the industry is doing and bases his number on that and what he thinks his customers will do during the week.
"My whole belief is that, the number is not the key to start, it's what you do at the end of the week," Osborne said Monday afternoon. "Because there's numbers painted all over the world right now because you have the offshore numbers and you have the in-town numbers. So, (later in the week) you are going to see what your business is and then you can do certain things with certain games once they get rolling. I try and stay alert and see what's going on and I respect certain people. A lot of times if I know people are playing certain games I may move (the numbers). But I usually take a bet and then move them."
Osborne's limits are considerably higher than the ones at the Stardust sportsbook. He takes $20,000 to $50,000 on NFL sides and $5,000 to $20,000 on college sides. On Monday morning he makes a limit sheet for colleges and sends it out to all his properties. Some games take less money to move the line than others. Especially with games that have point spreads in the double digits, such as the Purdue/Arizona game, Osborne typically sets his limit at $5,000.
For the week's games, he believes that there will be lots of action on Purdue. "I can't believe how weak (Arizona is)," he said. "When you are getting in the high double-digits like that in the 20s, it may shy the public away from a game like that. But that's one game I could see rising."
As for the San Francisco/Cleveland game, Osborne predicts limited mobility on the betting line. "You are going to maybe get -115s or -120s, you may get a bit of fluctuation," he said. "I'm not even sure which way to go. The public is probably going to take San Francisco, even though they played a tough game (last week against St. Louis) and lost. But Cleveland has done nothing in their first two games. It looks like that will be at 7 next Sunday."
BoDog Sportsbook & Casino:
PURDUE (-27) against Arizona
SAN FRANCISCO (-7) against Cleveland
BoDog sportsbook posts its NFL betting lines on Monday evening at 3 p.m. PST and its college betting lines on Tuesday at the same time. Rob Gillespie, president, and his team use a combination of a few sets of power rankings to come up with a base number, and then they adjust that number according to their customer's betting patterns. Once they come up with their initial number, they look at what the rest of the industry is doing and then, if their betting line is far off, they re-examine in more detail in order to get closer to the average.
"For San Francisco, we had a base line of 6 ½, based on power ratings, and we adjusted a half a point for public sentiment," said Gillespie on Wednesday. "For Purdue, the base spread was 22 and that's where it opened at many places. Larger spreads require larger movements for the same effect so to adjust for the big Purdue win last week and the big Arizona loss, we were going to open at -24. By the time we were ready to open our line, the consensus was -25 or -25 ½ so, because we see Purdue as the public play, we opened at the high number."
BoDog sportsbook puts out its betting lines so late in order to limit its liability and give the best chance for two-way action. "Opening lines late means initial shocks have been ironed out," added Gillespie. "College betting lines can move a couple of points before Tuesday and every ½ point move adds potential risk of a side or middle to the house. Purdue moved from -21 to -25 in two days without any major injuries to justify such a move. By opening late, we are now in a better position if the score is Purdue -21 to -24."
Moving the San Francisco/Cleveland game off of 7 would be tough, according to Gillespie, because 11.3 percent of games landed on that number in 2002. "It would take a lot of action to make us move off 7, given that one-in-10 games lands there," he said. "The risk just isn't worth it. So what we do instead is simply move the juice to make the one side more expensive and the other side more of a bargain."
Purdue 59, Arizona 7
Cleveland 13, San Francisco 12
The Stardust had one-way action on the Boilermakers all week, and the betting line closed at Purdue -26 ½. Because of the blow out, Arizona covered and Scucci was beat on the game.
However, in the San Francisco/Cleveland game, there was heavy action on the 49ers all the way up to game time and the manager even decided to bump the betting line up to -7 ½ after seven favorites covered in the morning. Since San Francisco is traditionally a bettor's team, there was a lot of action on the game and it ended up being a big win for the house because the Browns won the game straight up.
"On the key numbers, we are a lot less inclined to move (the betting line), even off of a limit bet," said Scucci. "Even though the (San Francisco/Cleveland) line only moved ½ point, that was actually a bigger game for us that we won than the Purdue game, which moved 5 ½ points and we lost."
Osborne also received one-way action on Purdue and he closed his line at 28 on Saturday. "I ran with it because I have seen (Arizona) play too many times," he said. But he added that there wasn't a huge amount of handle on the game, so the liability wasn't that great for the house.
The San Francisco/Cleveland game stayed at -7 all week. Osborne also needed this game because of the bettor-friendly results of the first series of games on Sunday. He said that it was a key win for the house.
The Purdue/Arizona game was one of the contests that received the most even action of the weekend, according to Gillespie. "Purdue closed at -27 ½," he said. "I'm glad we didn't open at -21 or it would have been worse." The closing line brought some last-minute action on Arizona and BoDog actually wound up with a mere $97 more in handle on Arizona. "With Purdue, all we cared was that the final score wasn't Purdue by 26 or 27," added Gillespie. "Anything else was good for the vig."
For the San Francisco/Cleveland game, Gillespie was almost to the point of moving the line to -7 1/2, but that never happened. He did go to -7, -115, and -7, -120.
Jeremy Martin is the newest member of the Doc's Sports team. His work has been widely published in both print and online media.