NFL: Books Bank On Sunday and Monday Night Games
by Jeremy Martin
The NFL realized in the early 1970s that showcasing a game on Monday night to a national television audience would create a windfall of interest and permeate some demographics that might not be familiar with the league. In the late 1980s the league partnered with ESPN to provide a game on Sunday night. In the following years these two primetime games have become incredibly popular with viewers.
One reason for the immense popularity of these primetime games - even though the NFL would never admit it - is sports betting. Monday Night Football usually gets the top matchups as the NFL tends to schedule the best pairing of the week for its marquee telecast. ESPN Sunday night games are usually hit or miss. Sometimes the matchup is great, sometimes it leaves a bit to be desired for the average viewer.
As far wagering is concerned, however, the two worst teams in the league can line up on the field and the bettors would still be lining up in droves to place their wagers. Sunday and Monday night games are the two highest-volume games for the sportsbooks each football weekend. When it comes to betting these primetime games, everybody gets involved. Sunday and Monday night games are a favorite of the public or 'square' bettors. And whenever there is heavy action from the public, the professional and syndicate players are never far behind. 'Scalpers' and 'middlers' play these games because they can find the numbers they want during the tug-of-war between the first two groups. Heck, your grandmother is probably even betting the game.
Sportsbooks in Nevada and offshore see two to three times the handle of an average Sunday daytime game for these primetime contests. It doesn't matter who plays in these games - those who wager on football just love to bet an isolated game that is on national television.
Since so many public bettors play the Sunday and Monday night games, the oddsmakers usually 'shade' or add points to the favorite and the 'over,' since those are the sides that the public tends to wager on. Therefore, the sharp bettors tend to go against the public and take the underdog and the 'under.' In addition to the shading that is widespread in the industry, the public tends to play the favorite close to game time, causing the oddsmakers to move the number even further in the hours leading up to kickoff. This makes the underdog an even more attractive play to the savvy bettor. The books see a lot of two-way action in the hour before the game.
"We always make our base number what we feel the number should be before the public perception comes into play, and then we shade it off of that" said Bob Scucci, race and sports book director for the Stardust Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, of Sunday and Monday night games. "We try not to adjust too much (due to) public perception but there is an adjustment just because the average recreational player loves to bet on a game he can watch at home that's on national TV. So any of the nationally televised games are going to draw more action from the public than the non-televised games."
Bookmakers must be even more careful when moving the lines for Sunday and Monday night games than they are with average daytime NFL games. They are getting hit in all different directions from a variety of bettors - each with their own agendas. In addition to regular straight bets that are placed on these games at a high volume, many parlays and teasers come down to the Sunday and Monday games. Bookmakers must take this into account when trying to balance their books. Some bettors who have winning parlays going into these last two games of the week may attempt to 'hedge' their bets by taking the other side in an attempt to ensure a profit.
Some bettors will attempt to middle a book by betting the line at its lowest point early in the week and then, after the public had driven up the number to its highest point close to game time, they will take the other side in an attempt to cash in on both bets if the number falls in the middle. According to Bodog.com President Rob Gillespie, the smart money is crucial to the book in order to get a balance on these games.
"There's some (rare) games where the public and the (professionals) are on the same side and the line gets up real high real fast and then the sharp money pulls out because they don't like the value (in the new number)," he said. "When they are split then you are going to get a lot more sharp action. The public is in on these games every week. They don't play every game on Sunday, but they play every Sunday night and every Monday night game. The pros sort of dip in and out where they see value."
In Las Vegas the Sunday game is the biggest game of the football weekend. This is because of a couple of factors. Most of the weekend visitors who are vacationing in Las Vegas are going to be gone by the time the Monday Night game takes place. In addition, many bettors attempt to 'chase' - or recoup their losses - from the Sunday daytime games by betting the Sunday night game.
"(The Sunday night game) has really become what the Monday night game used to be 10-15 years ago in terms of the volume," commented Scucci. "We have more liability on the Sunday night game than any other game (of the weekend)."
On the Internet, however, Monday Night Football still reigns supreme. According to Gillespie, Bodog takes in four times the handle of an average game for the MNF game.
With such diverse groups of bettors playing the Sunday and Monday night games, one would probably assume that the books could get in trouble if the game does not go their way. With such a high volume of action on the games however, bookies are usually assured a nice profit because of the vig - or commission - that is charged on sports bets.
"(For lower-profile college games) you may have $5,000 on each side and you only have $500 in vig to work with so you have to be balanced pretty close," said Gillespie. "When you have $500,000 on each side of a game, now you have $50,000 in vig to work with and you have a lot bigger margin of error. When you get $1 million on each side or $2 million on each side or $3 million on each side, you can see how you can be within $300,000 and still be in a profit-profit situation. Our risk is slightly lower (on games with increased handle)."
"Sunday and Monday night games have such a high handle because the entire nation gets the same game on a major network during primetime," added Scotty Johnson, general manager for Bet Jamaica. "Of course some people are chasing their bad day while others having a good day will increase their wager size because they are firing with the book's money instead of their own."