by Rob Gillespie, Bodog President
No NHL season? No Problem!
Every May and June, we are normally treated to a scattering of terrific sporting events - NHL playoff games that go to overtime. Unlike overtime in basketball, hockey - and particularly playoff hockey - becomes a nail-biting adrenaline-filled affair in extra time as every rush up the ice and every shot have a possibility to end the game. So to be clear, the sports fan in every bookmaker does miss those games very much. But the bookmaking side hasn't missed the NHL season very much at all. Let me explain.
Let's start by thinking where books are based. Curacao, Antigua and Costa Rica are great homes for sportsbooks, but not for hockey fans. You can find local football leagues, and basketball and baseball are also common (and of course soccer is everywhere in Latin America), so your staff are familiar with those sports but there is no snow, no ice, no rinks, no skating and of course - no hockey. Likewise on TV, it is much easier to get the warmer sports on the Latin American satellites than it is to get hockey (the books in the Northern Caribbean can use North American satellite TV and so can get more hockey), so even finding a game to watch is tough at the office. At home, forget it. Unless one of the major US networks is showing a game, you just won't find hockey on the dial, maybe a dozen games a year.
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Why is this important? Well, for two reasons. First, when you are setting lines for a sport every day, being able to watch games to get a feel for the teams is of course a big help. Second, when you are trying to train your staff to deeply understand a sport they are taking wagers on, it sure helps if they can watch it on TV when they go home, or if they can play it or at least see it in their community. I've taught dozens and dozens of people in Costa Rica to play American football, but I've never even attempted to teach hockey.
Next, let's look at the workload hockey creates. In 2003-2004, the NHL generated 8 percent of the handle that basketball did over the same season (hockey was less than 4 percent of all bets during the season and about 3 percent for the year). Sure, there are more basketball games each day when college hoops is going, but the work required to set basketball lines is not 12 times greater, which it would need to be to get the same payoff per unit of effort. Then, once the lines are up, bookmakers naturally want to focus their efforts on the lines that are getting 92 percent of the action. Checking NHL lines becomes the work of a junior linemaker at many places, or even a distraction for the head guy at others. Not having to worry about one sport entirely allows us to focus more resources on the sports that have a much greater impact on the bottom line.
Lastly, do books miss that 3 percent of handle? No, because handle didn't actually dip 3 percent. Hockey is a nightly sport, but so is basketball and so is baseball. The money that would have been bet on hockey was mostly transferred to those other sports. For example, in November 2003, basketball generated 24 percent of the handle football did for the same month. In 2004, that jumped to 30 percent. Some of that was due to the number of weekend days in November in each year, but a big chunk of it was the moving of hockey handle to baskets.
So, if bookmakers can get the same handle with less work and fewer distractions on a sport they can rarely watch, why would we shed any tears for a lost season?
However, we are hearing rumblings of NFL labor unrest being a possibility in a couple of seasons and that is likely to keep me up late at night worrying. If only I had a quadruple overtime game on the West Coast that I could stay up and watch…
Good luck with your wagers!