Square Bettors Becoming Well-Rounded as Sports Betting Explodes in Popularity
The Internet has leveled the playing field.
Sharp bettors used to have it easy. They had plenty of outs to take their action. The best bettors had a network of contacts throughout the country to give them exclusive information on injuries or other factors that could affect a sports matchup. They often would get this information well before the oddsmakers. Wise guys were making money hand over fist.
Then the Internet happened.
As we moved into the Information Age, the opportunities for professional sports bettors dwindled. Those that didn’t embrace the Internet probably had to find a new line of work. The best old school sports bettors adapted, even though they knew the days of super easy money were long gone.
I’m far from a “wise guy,” but I have been betting on sports for as long as I can remember. It ran in the family. My father ran parlay cards and an NFL ATS contest from his 9-to-5 office job. One year, around the age of 10, I finished second in his NFL office pool that was comprised of about 30 adults. Even though I understood the odds and knew a bit about the teams, it was dumb luck that I did so well. But it just shows how many “square” bettors were out there that a kid could beat most of the competitors.
Years later, when I was in high school in San Antonio, Texas, I got heavily involved in fantasy football. This was the old days before the Internet, and probably about one percent of the population of NFL fans even knew what fantasy football was. Stats were literally compiled using box scores from the newspaper.
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It was very easy money for me back then. I dominated my fantasy leagues for years, winning first place maybe 6-7 years in a row. As a broke young guy trying to find my way in the world, the extra $2,000 guaranteed income around the holidays really came in handy. It usually wasn’t even close.
Things changed a lot once everything went online. The first few years, when everything moved to the Internet, things started to go bad for me quickly. Yahoo and other fantasy football outlets would recommend players to draft and had detailed statistics. This took away the big advantage I had by doing research on my own. Once the Internet made things easier for the regular players who were my competitors, I turned into an average fantasy football player and never won again until I quit playing for good.
That anecdote is a microcosm of the sports betting scene today.
I eventually moved to Las Vegas and graduated from fantasy football to daily sports betting. One of the first strategies I used when betting in Sin City was “fading the public”. I found out very early that the public, or square bettors, liked to play the favorite and the “over” on the total. This made sense, because a random bettor wants to see the better team succeed and score a lot in the process. So, my first betting strategy was to target the underdog and the “under”. It didn’t always work out that easy, but it helped me learn about sharp vs. square money, oddsmaking and line movements, and public betting tendencies.
Over the years, I started in sports betting journalism and would regularly interview the movers and shakers in the Nevada sports betting industry. I started to hear inklings that square bettors were bucking their normal trends of betting the favorite and over. I remember interviewing a Las Vegas bookmaker in 2003 about Super Bowl XXXVII between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, and that bookie told me he had expected heavy money to come in on the favored Raiders but that the public went completely against their normal patterns and hammered the underdog Bucs, who eventually won the game outright and caused a loss for the books.
Square bettors were becoming more sophisticated before my eyes. And if the “dumb money” was getting smarter in the early 2000s, I couldn’t even imagine how far we would come to the present day.
We are entering a new era in sports betting, with many U.S. states already legalizing sports wagering and others sure to follow. Whiz kids are making lucrative careers off Daily Fantasy Sports, scouring the Internet for the most obscure statistics to give them an edge. For every Joe Schmo that goes to Las Vegas and bets their favorite team during a weekend bender, there are five new bettors that wager daily, handicap the games intently, and follow all the betting tricks that were previously only employed by the sharpest of sharp bettors.
“Yes, bettors are more educated than ever before,” says Chuck Esposito, Race and Sports Book Director for Station Casinos. “We are definitely in an information era. There is so much more information available to guests that is now more easily accessible. Social media has become a game changer in sports information. With a little research, guests are able to get more stats, trends, selections and data. From our side of the counter, we are continually monitoring all the information out there, including rumors, to try and stay one step ahead. The important thing for us is to know what to do with the information and how to adjust. There was a time when we were doing the extensive research on injuries or changes in weather that could impact the line… guests are now getting that same information in real time!”
Today’s bettors, even those new to the endeavor, know where to find the latest information. Sharp bettors of old used to have connections to local beat writers and could get the latest info before the oddsmakers. However, almost all beat writers are on Twitter now, and the most current injury or pertinent info about a matchup can be found by an astute bettor sometimes before the oddsmakers even catch on.
Today’s square bettor is more sophisticated than ever before. Many have the skillset required to be successful in sports betting before they even make their first wager. As sports betting gets even more popular in the future, the bookies will have to work harder than ever for their revenue. Back in the day, the bookmakers could easily predict what the public was going to do before an event and set their lines accordingly, with some attention paid to protect against sharp bettors. Now they often can’t predict what will happen beforehand, and that creates challenges in setting the odds and creating revenue.
“I try not to ever predict which way the guests will play. I’m happy to root for whoever we need,” says Esposito. “However, I think we have a basic idea at times based on the event and teams involved, but sometimes they surprise us and go the exact opposite way.”
This new breed of bettor is always looking for a different way to score profits. In the past, the large percentage of bettors wagered on the main popular sports like NFL, college football, NBA and college hoops, and MLB. Less popular sports like golf, women’s basketball, tennis, and soccer were being bet on exclusively by sharps. Now bookies are seeing lots of action on these sports from the type of bettors that didn’t wager on them much in the past. As a result, the sportsbooks need to pay much more attention to sports that they previously would not spend much time on.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the sportsbooks, however, and they always find ways to stay one step ahead of bettors. Some estimates suggest sports bettors as a whole win slightly more than 50 percent of their wagers, so the sportsbooks make a lot of money on the vigorish. The more people that are betting, the better it is for the books. Even the new breed of more sophisticated square bettor still loves to play parlays, which have a built-in house edge with the odds. Most bettors don’t have the proper discipline and money management, the two most important facets to sports betting, required to profit long term. And there will always be total clueless squares that bet on their favorite team for fun or just throw an uneducated bet out to have some extra entertainment during the game with no real concern for profit.
“I think we’re always looking to expand what we offer, how creative and forward thinking we can be, and what our guests are looking for to help take us to the next level,” concluded Esposito. “It’s possible hold percentage could shrink (in the future), but the arrow continues to point straight up in handle, growth, creativity and visibility both locally and on a national stage! It’s fun looking back at the changes that have occurred in the last 30+ years that I’ve been in the industry. If the next 30 are nearly this much fun, this will be an awesome ride, and I can’t wait to see where this goes.”
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