Baseball Betting Allows Bettor Chance For Profits
by Jeremy Martin
While baseball is as American as apple pie and Chevrolet, it has never caught on with bettors in the U.S. the way football and basketball have. Baseball is the No. 3 sport for most bookmakers coming in just above hockey. Still considered one of the big three sports in the minds of general sports fans, it hasn't managed to capture the interest of the masses of recreational bettors that the sportsbooks covet.
What is so surprising about the lack of interest in baseball is that it is actually one of the least profitable sports for the books in terms of hold percentage, thus making it an attractive option for bettors looking to make money. This can be attributed to the fact that there are more knowledgeable bettors playing the bases compared to other sports and that since there are so many games, teams and players involved in baseball there is more of a chance for bookmakers to make mistakes. Since there is no point spread involved with straight side bets in baseball, bettors can ride teams that are on hot streaks.
"People are getting good value (with money lines)," says Eric St. Clair, race and sports director for Cannery Resorts in Las Vegas. "If you think the Yankees are going to win that day, you really don't mind laying the price on it. All they have to do is win and the good teams find ways to win and the bad teams find ways to lose. So your percentage of hold on baseball is always very small."
Despite the opportunities for bettors, baseball still is lagging far behind the other major sports in terms of popularity at the betting window. While most sports pick up steam and peak during the playoffs or championship, baseball is more erratic. Bookmakers say that they get a good amount of handle at the beginning of the season but that they experience a big drop off during the summer months. There is an even further decline once football season starts and then the handle doesn't pick back up until the pennant races and the playoffs.
Some bookmakers try and offer extra incentives to customers to keep that interest in baseball going all season long. Bet Jamaica an offshore book based in Montego Bay, offers their customers a dime line with the intent of keeping them around as clients during the slow bookmaking months. Even though a dime line drops their hold percentage even lower than the norm, General Manager Scotty Johnson believes it is a crucial part of their overall business model.
"You are not going to make a killing, but you are hanging on to your customers for football," he says. "Because, otherwise, you lose them to other places and they might not come back."
In order to increase interest in baseball betting, many books have come up with new and innovative ways to bet on baseball. One of those options that is currently widely used is the runline, which involves laying 1 ½ runs for a favorite at better odds or gaining 1 ½ runs at a steeper price. While most bookmakers agree that the second option is probably more advantageous for bettors, that the most common use of the runline involves taking a big favorite down to a manageable price.
"Nine out of 10 (runline wagers) are taking a big favorite and laying 1 ½ (runs) and turning it into a small dog or a real small favorite," says St. Clair. "(But) +1 ½ (runs) is a very strong play in baseball. There are a lot of one-run games. It's like teasers in football, you are trying to make something unattractive look attractive."
Although runlines are steadily gaining popularity, Johnson says they are still behind sides, which account for the largest part of most book's baseball handle, and totals, in terms of handle.
According to Johnson, books must come up with new betting options in order to keep pace with the competition, especially in the offshore market. Johnson is considering offering some of the following options to his customers in the future because his competitors have raised the bar in the area of baseball betting:
--Alternate runlines: Just like the traditional runline, but bettors work with 2 ½ runs instead of 1 ½.
--Team totals: Gives bettors the ability to wager on total runs scored by individual teams.
--4 ½-inning lines: Allows bettors to bet on the first or last half of the game.
--Series prices: Allows bettors to wager on the winner of 3-game series.
Since approximately 90 percent of baseball lines are formulated according to pitching, says St. Clair, it pays to for bettors to do their homework on - not only the starters - but the bullpens as well.
"I think bullpens blow a lot of guys bets," comments Johnson. "But if you have a combination of a good pitcher with a good bullpen, it might make for a stronger play. Even with a good pitcher, as soon as he gets pulled anything can happen with some of these bullpens."
Most of the players who win over an extended period of time, says Johnson, do their homework and stay away from the big favorites.
"Your smarter players, your educated guys, rarely bet a game over -150," he concludes. "That's kind of where they draw the line. Once in awhile, if they see something with real value they will (make a play on a steep favorite)."