While the sports betting industry has always looked to Las Vegas for the opening line ever since the trade was legalized in Nevada in the 1950s, it is now a sportsbook located in Central America that is the worldwide leader in this department.
During the mid-1990s, Costa Rica International Sports (BetCRIS) took a risk. Executives from the company decided that putting out the first lines on sporting events could help increase its profile in the international sportsbook scene. The book had been around since the mid 1980s operating a call center out of the Dominican Republic and it had recently relocated to Costa Rica (becoming the first sports betting operation to do so). Releasing the first lines for sporting events would no doubt transform BetCRIS into a major power player in the industry. But the move did not come without danger.
Setting the initial line is the equivalent of chumming for sharks - and in this case the sharks are professional gamblers. No matter how good your oddsmaking team is (and BetCRIS has one of the best), there are going to be some bad numbers released. When this happens, the professionals quickly circle and a feeding frenzy ensues.
But BetCRIS has made it work. The book is now No. 1 in terms of volume worldwide, according to General Manager Mickey Richardson. It is because of this high volume that BetCRIS is able to continue to lead the industry with the opening number. Even if the book releases a bad number on a game and that number is pounded by the professionals, sportsbook management is confident enough that they can write enough business to offset those initial bets.
"Our whole motto here is 'we are looking to write another bet'," said Richardson. "Volume is our key here. We started (the opening lines) for marketing reasons and it has become a winner for us. We are always looking to write more and more business. So we figured if we went up early we would do just that. We have some pretty talented people creating these numbers."
Most of the industry used to look to Las Vegas for the opening number, now even Las Vegas checks in with BetCRIS to find out what initial numbers they have released for games in all sports. Many offshore bookies use the numbers released by BetCRIS as a guideline to set their own point spreads. Some of the more conservative books will wait until the numbers are thoroughly flattened out by the professionals before setting their own lines. But BetCRIS does not have that luxury.
In order to reduce its exposure with its opening lines, BetCRIS takes bets at half its house limits for overnight lines until 8:30 PM PST when it begins to take full limit wagers. Once an overnight line is released, there is typically a flurry of action on the game almost instantaneously.
"(The professionals) flatten out the line quickly, especially in football," commented Richardson. "We don't have enough operators (to field all the calls) when we post the numbers up. Everybody is fighting for the numbers."
It is not just the professionals that take advantage of the opening lines, he said, as many recreational bettors have been able to attain value in the numbers that BetCRIS releases before the rest of the industry. "If you have a decent opinion, there is an edge to betting the numbers early," he admitted.
In fact, this book could never survive if its only customers were professional players. That is why the operators have made BetCRIS as accessible to the first-time player as it is for the seasoned sports bettor.
"We definitely cater to the recreational player as far as our props, casino and poker, gin rummy and skills games," said Richardson. "It's a give and take thing. We don't even look at the difference between professional and recreational. We take in one unit at this number and move to the next number. We get another unit at that number and we move to the next number. Okay, then the value players come back in and even your books out. That is the way it is supposed to be."
The straightforward bookmaking strategy that is practiced at BetCRIS has been another factor in the book's huge success. Many sportsbooks have an opinion on a game and set the line in a fashion in which they are gambling against their customers. Others profile their players and offer different lines to different players according to their past betting patterns. At BetCRIS, management likes to do things the old fashioned way.
"We are old school bookmakers with new school marketing talents," proclaimed Richardson. "We take a bet and we move off the number. We don't gamble. We look to grind a small percentage (profit) out every day. We are very conservative when it comes to the bookmaking end of things. That's what has allowed us to stay in business all these years.
"We take on all professional and recreational players alike - we treat everybody the same. We have never kicked out a player for winning."
BetCRIS has some of the most unique lines in the industry. Since they move their numbers solely off of action and release the opening numbers, they have lots of line movement. Anyone who is serious about shopping for the best number -- which is a practice often noted as the No. 1 key to successful sports handicapping -- must add BetCRIS to the list of books they wager at.
This book could not have grown into the huge operation it is today just because of the opening lines. BetCRIS is always trying to increase its offerings and it provides as many or more different ways to bet than anyone in the industry. A multitude of props are available on just about every sport and oddsmakers are always trying to come up with innovative ideas that their customers will find interesting.
Customer service is another area in which BetCRIS is a leader in the industry. A large staff is always on hand to help customers over the phone and live chat is available over the Internet in case a player has any questions or concerns about the BetCRIS Web site.
"We have the longest track record recorded probably in the world (dating) back to 1985," Richardson concluded. "Our reputation is pretty much impeccable when it comes to paying out. It is what we pride ourselves on. Our No. 1 goal is to make sure (the customer) is happy with our service."