by Jeremy Martin
Bettors are evidently just as fickle as the general public when it comes to college and pro football. When the St. Louis Rams made their remarkable rise to powerhouse status in the NFL a few years ago, 'fans' from all over the country began sporting Faulk and Warner jerseys - fresh from the shelves - that still had the fold creases showing on them. At the same time, in the sports betting industry, money started to funnel in at books all across Las Vegas as the Rams took on 'public team' status. Of course, when they started to lose during the 2002 season, the public jumped ship. And all those fans sporting those Faulk and Warner jerseys promptly exchanged them for Tampa Bay attire.
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Although the public is indecisive when picking a team to back for the long haul, it does go all out at the betting window when a team is doing well. In fact, oddsmakers in Las Vegas and around the world participate in the practice of 'shading,' which is the process of adding extra points to the line for a public team that is going to see a lot of one-way action in a particular game. Shading reduces the liability on a game for the books and gives them a chance at two-way action from the sophisticated bettors who find value in going against the inflated number.
"(Shading) is done to a degree by the oddsmakers and then again by the sportsbooks," said Bob Scucci, race and sportsbook manager for the Stardust Resort and Casino. "If a team is legitimately a six-point favorite and they are a public team, you may want to shade them up to that critical seven because you know it is going to be bet up to seven anyways eventually, or you may want to draw some initial money on the underdog by some of the professional bettors who see value there.
"Sometimes the shading happens on too many levels. The oddsmakers may shade it a little bit when they send out their opinions and (then the sportsbooks will also shade it). By the time it hits the board it has already been shaded two or three times (by the oddsmakers and the sportsbooks) At that point, the sophisticated bettor may see a lot of value there and there can be a lot of money made betting against public teams."
Even though issues such as power rankings, trends and injuries are an important part of the oddsmakers process, there is no more significant factor than anticipating where the money will go on a particular game, according to Doug Beil, race and sportsbook manager for Terrible's Hotel/Casino. A good example was the Tampa Bay/San Francisco match-up last Sunday. The Buccaneers had been on that list of squads that were considered public teams, and they ended up opening at -3 ½ and moving all the way to -5 ½ before kickoff. Beil states that the true line should have been closer to three and that smart bettors found great value in the Niners, who ended up winning the game outright. It's safe to say that after the loss, Tampa Bay lost their public team status.
"The true number based on home-and-away and the teams was probably Tampa Bay, -3, but we know we are going to get money on Tampa Bay here - the Niners had looked like crap and the Buccaneers are the defending champs, the public team - so (we) open them at -3 ½. You can usually get a better number late or closer to game time. (The Tampa Bay game) was at -3 ½ Saturday at noon. Before kickoff it was as high as -5 ½. At five or 5 ½ that number is kind of dead. But if you go from -3 ½ and you cross four, well four is a key number so that's an advantage if you really like the 49ers."
Public teams change every year. Often times, a team can gain public team status and lose it in the same season. During the current season, there have been no bigger public teams than Kansas City and Minnesota. Of course, these two squads are the lone undefeated teams in the NFL. Other teams like the Broncos and Buccaneers have held public team status at times throughout the season, but lost it when they started losing on the field.
Back in the days of dynasties in the NFL, public teams could hold on to that distinction for years. A perfect example of this is the Dallas Cowboys. During the 1970s and the 1990s, 'America's Team' won several Super Bowls and always received heavy action at the betting windows. But once they started to have some losing seasons, the public quickly lost its enthusiasm.
"Typically, in the last couple of decades, you couldn't get a more public team than the Cowboys," said Scucci. "Then they went into some of their down years, after Aikman left and they went through some rough times. Now it seems with (Coach Bill) Parcells, they have come right back to form and they have become as public of a team as they have ever been in the past."
"Certainly if you go back to the Dallas teams that were so good for so long, they were a public team for 5, 6, 7 years in a row," added Beil. "But now in the NFL teams can drastically change so quickly it really goes year-to-year. The bettors adjust quickly. Last year they were betting Oakland every week and now they are not. With the salary cap and the current situation in the NFL, it is going to be that way. It didn't used to be that way. The teams that were great could stay together for years and years. But right now it is a lot more difficult to do that."
College clubs actually have more of a chance to hold on to public team status, because there are programs like Miami and Oklahoma which have been able to put together great seasons on a consistent basis. But college bettors are also fickle. If a team doesn't live up to expectations, the bettors will abandon them and they won't look back.
"This year, after Michigan routed Central Michigan, Houston and Notre Dame, we had an unbelievable amount of money bet on them against Oregon," said Beil. "So people were all ready to jump on the Michigan bandwagon. You know, when they lost a couple of games that was the end of that."
Although there can be advantages to betting against public teams, Beil said that there are also dangers. "Public teams are teams that are hot, and they tend to win and cover (the spread)," said Beil. "But the good handicapper can really look for the spot when it is right to bet against these teams. It's not always right to bet against them."
Despite the fact that the favorite teams of bettors are always changing, some Las Vegas books that have regular visitors from certain geographic regions deal with some public teams that may differ from the rest of the industry. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has a high-volume of guests from California and, according to Jamie Shea, race and sportsbook director, these visitors will bet the Raiders, 49ers and Chargers no matter how bad the teams are playing on the field.
"We get so much of a California crowd, that I end up shading the Raiders a lot, the 49ers a little bit and the Chargers a little bit," she said. "It's the same with USC and UCLA - all the California teams. I might be ½ point off (from the rest of the betting industry), but that's about it. I may shade the money line a bit, but that's about the extent that I am going to be off from everyone else."
Just like there are public teams, there are also teams that the public always bets against. These are also situations where shading takes place and bettors can gain an advantage if they pick the right spot.
"There are teams that people bet against no matter who is playing them," added Beil. "Right now I would have to say that Detroit, Arizona and Chicago fit into that category. It doesn't matter who plays the Lions right now, people are going to bet against them. Sometimes you have to shade against them, the 'anti-public teams.'"