by Mike Hayes - 10/12/2005
While most gamblers would bet on a cockroach race if they thought they could collect with any regularity the same cannot be said for wagering on the National Hockey League which attracts a very small percentage of the betting dollar. Significant rule changes, however, have resulted in significant changes in betting on hockey -- changes which might make wagering on NHL action a more attractive option in the future.
In an attempt to boost interest in the game after losing an entire season to a lockout the NHL finally came to the conclusion reached by legendary Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian many years ago when he declared that "a tie is like kissing your sister" and decided that games that remained tied after 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of four-on-four overtime would be decided by a shootout.
The move spurred great debate in the sports betting industry and resulted in significant change, namely the elimination of the split-goal -- or Canadian Line as it is known, and a move to a money line for all games.
"There was a lot of debate between the books on this topic right up until a couple of days before the first game," said Rob Gillespie, President of Bodog. "Many books were considering staying with the Canadian Line but settling the game after OT and before the shootout. I fought against this because I knew it would be confusing to bettors, especially those that had the winning team minus half-a-goal, saw the 3-2 final score (after the shootout) and then couldn't understand why their bet was a loss"
A review of a number of sport books shows that a clear consensus has not yet emerged though all have eliminated the split-goal line in which for example a team would be a 1.5-two goal favorite, meaning if you took the favorite you needed to win by two or more to collect and if you selected the dog a one goal loss resulted in a win and a two goal loss in a push.
Bodog, Legendz and BetCRIS are offering only money lines on NHL games while Bet Jamaica, Pinnacle, CanBet, Nine Sportsbook and Betcom offer the money line as well as a straight -1.5 goal line on games.
Gillespie said Bodog concluded that the money line was the easiest way to deal with the rule change and while the jury is out on whether it will increase hockey betting handle he is certain the Canadian Line would have resulted in even less NHL action.
"Moving to a baseball system with all lines -1.5 was a possibility but just impractical for the bulk of games. That leaves the money line as the best alternative to deal with the new rules. Will it help? Maybe. Would booking on a Canadian line have hurt? Absolutely. That was the crux of the decision."
The shootout will have a minimal effect on over-under totals as the team that wins a shootout will get credit for just one goal in terms of the final score regardless of how many goals are tallied in the shootout. Luke Martin, CEO of Legendz Sports, doesn't believe the elimination of ties will have much of an impact in NHL handle but increased scoring that can draw a television audience might. "In my opinion the only thing that will have a bearing on increased volume for hockey wagers is the NHL continuing their aggressive marketing campaign to generate more public interest," said Martin. "A game with limited scoring potential doesn't seem to have the viewing power over other high action sporting events. In addition, hockey season is in direct competition with higher spectator sports such as the NFL and NBA."
Gillespie concurs, noting that hockey betting accounts for just 4 percent of Bodog's handle compared to 16-22 percent for each of the "Big 5" NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA football and basketball, and that a lack of television exposure is a problem. "Television drives sports betting and hockey just doesn't get the eyeballs," Gillespie said.
If this is in fact the reason the NHL lags well behind the Big 5 in terms of wagering interest it will likely be some time before the effect the elimination of ties and other rule changes implemented to boost scoring (smaller goalie equipment and legalizing the two-line pass for example) will have in grabbing a bigger chunk of hockey betting handle because the only national television deal the NHL has is with the Outdoor Network and I have to believe you're a diehard if you can find that on your remote.