by Jeremy Martin
By the time the NFL playoffs take place in January, the oddsmakers have a fairly good read on the teams involved and, hence, the point spreads are going to be as strong -- or hard to beat -- as they are at any point during the season. Bookies only have to deal with a handful of games as opposed to a full NFL slate. College football is over and oddsmakers can devote their full attention to the pros. Information is so widespread about the games and the teams involved that there is less of a chance of a crucial tidbit escaping the bookmaker's desk.
If the lines are tougher to beat with straight bets, one could assume that makes teaser bets a stronger play. A teaser bet involves taking two or more teams and adding a set amount of points to the line for each team selected. All of the teams parlayed in the teaser bet must cover the teaser line in order for the bettor to win and the odds are lower (worse for the bettor) than your typical 11/10 straight wager. The most popular teaser bets in the NFL are of the two-team, six-point variety.
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Last week in the divisional playoffs, some teasers (depending on where they were bet and the lines that were procured) hit on both sides. The totals in the Jets/Chargers game, the Minnesota/Green Bay contest and the St. Louis/Seattle matchup all fell close enough to the number where bettors taking either the 'over' or the 'under' won regardless of their wager. This can happen when teasing the side as well. If the game falls close to the number, then all teasers cash in.
Having to pay out on both sides of a teaser in the NFL playoffs is a worry for bookies, albeit a minor one. Since such a small percentage of the weekend handle comes from teaser action, they are usually a secondary concern for the sports books. Nevada books generally have less teaser handle each week when compared to Internet shops. Last weekend, for example, the Las Vegas Hilton took in less than five percent of its weekly NFL handle on teaser bets. They are more popular on the Internet, however, where Bodog tallied 17 to 18 percent of its NFL wagers as teasers.
There is more teaser liability for the books during the playoffs because all of the teasers are spread across a small number of games, unlike the NFL regular season where players have 14 or 15 games to choose from. If several games land close to the number, it could cause problems for the bookie's bottom line.
"(Teasers) are a little more concentrated (during the playoffs)," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of race and sports for the Las Vegas Hilton, adding that he would not be a big teaser player if he were on the other side of the betting counter. "When we take a fifteen game schedule and reduce it to two games a day on Saturday and Sunday, what happens is that you get a lot of teaser money concentrated on the favorites.
"It just seems like people who haven't been playing teasers throughout the whole year all of the sudden go 'well, I don't want to lay the seven (but) one sounds a lot better.' You are looking at your ticket and you see two teams at minus one. I know a lot of these players walk away thinking that they have a winner right off the bat. It is a good feeling, like you just got the best number in the world. However, here you are late in the game and it's tied. It could go either way. And (you need) two of those games. As we saw (last week), anything can happen."
The public or recreational sector, which makes up the largest portion of the betting population, loves to take the favorite and the 'over' with straight bets and that formula generally applies to teasers as well. Therefore, when the books have a bad week (when all the favorites cover), teaser payouts are usually an added distraction.
"The teasers are just insult to injury," commented Kornegay. "Our discussion would go something like this, 'we really got killed on that game, and the teasers sure didn't help.' Any time you get those six to 10 point favorites, you are always going to have somewhat of a high-end liability on those teams like that. Some books don't even take (teasers) during this time, but we continue to do (so)."
Correlated teasers can also be a problem for the books. During the NFL playoffs, there tends to be a lot more situations where both bets in a teaser involve the same game (the side and total). If a bettor correctly predicts the team that will cover the teaser line, there is a strong chance that he or she will be correct on the total choice as well. According to Rob Gillespie, president of Bodog, "multiple games (are) preferable as it spreads the risk out and there is less correlation in results."
Sports books would never move their numbers off of teaser action during the regular season. But during the playoffs there is such a high concentration of handle involving these bets that teasers could become the deciding factor in making a half point move.
"Ninety five percent of the time we would not even look (at teasers)," added Kornegay, talking about playoff line moves. "But during the playoffs we will. It is something that would be the last resort that might influence a decision. All the other variables are obviously weighed more than teasers. Teasers are just a secondary factor that we might look at."
According to Kornegay, if he were a bettor playing NFL playoff teasers, he would not necessarily go for the favorite or the underdog, but he would instead try to get the most value by teasing through key numbers. The 'wise guys' or professional bettors who do play teasers, he commented, pick their spots carefully.
"If I was going to play teasers, I would want to tease them through the most valuable numbers for football wagering, and that would be three, four, six and seven," he said. "So any time you tease that 7 ½ down to ½, I would say that would be the most valuable teaser out there. Again, you have to take two of those and win them both to win your bet."
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