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Bettors Can Beat The Sportsbooks By Studying 'Totals' by Jeremy Martin
Weekend warriors make up a high percentage of the betting public. Whether they are betting at the ticket window on a leisure trip to Las Vegas or placing a wager online with an offshore sportsbook, they typically like to play sides. But the savvy bettor can increase the chances of winning by studying and playing the 'overs' and 'unders,' or 'totals.'
Many bettors consider wagering on totals to be boring. They want to pick a team to root for during the game instead of cheering just for scoring or a lack thereof. But smart players know that betting totals can be lucrative for their bankroll. Even bookmakers themselves admit they don't spend the time on totals that they do with sides.
"I would say that overall, totals in all sports tend to be and can be weaker lines than side bets," said Doug Beil, race and sportsbook manager for Terrible's Hotel/Casino. "You really see it more in college (football) than in pro and you also see it more in basketball than football. You have to be a good handicapper for totals, and there are a lot of people out there that bet that handicap totals and can do very well with them."
One of the main reasons bettors can gain an advantage over the house on totals is because not that many people are betting them and, therefore, the bookmakers don't spend sufficient time on the numbers. The general public does tend to play a lot of NFL totals, but those numbers are more apt to be fairly solid. The real value comes in studying the overs and unders in college football and pro basketball.
Rob Gillespie, president of BoDog Sportsbook & Casino, also agrees the numbers for totals are weaker. He also said that the totals lines are more likely to move, thus creating nice spots for the bettor to get value.
"Totals are less solid than spreads because there is less action," he commented. "Less action means you need to be more aggressive in moving the line to balance action. Also, there are no key numbers in totals so you can move lines a little more freely."
Totals make up only 14 percent of BoDog's total NFL action for entire game straight wagers, according to Gillespie. That number drops to nine percent for college football. With the high volume of games in college football and the low percentage of bettors betting totals, the bookies can't afford to spend as much time on them as they do with straight point spreads.
Most public bettors who do play totals tend to add them into parlays instead of betting them straight.
"I think the majority of football bettors, No. 1 prefer to bet the sides and No. 2 they throw the totals in sort of as a parlay add on," said Beil. "Unless you are a handicapper who is really focused on totals and has the discipline to determine (that a number is off) and just bet that as a straight bet."
Bert Osborne, director of sportsbook operations for Coast Resorts, believes bettors just don't have the interest in betting totals.
"I don't think people put enough effort into it and handicap them," he said. "I mean, when you sit down with a bunch of buddies, you are not going to be (talking totals), you are more likely going to be talking about a side in college football."
Osborne does admit he gets his share of totals players, especially for the NFL and key college games. If he sets a totals line that is weak, he added, it wouldn't stay that way for long because the smart bettors will bet it to where it should be. In order to reduce liability, Osborne usually releases his college totals towards the end of the week.
As the weather gets colder, it gets even tougher for bookmakers to post accurate numbers. Besides the normal offensive, defensive, game plan and injury factors that usually go into setting totals lines, the bookmakers must keep a constant watch on the forecast.
"This is the perfect time of year when the weather starts to play a big factor in the totals," said Beil. "That's the biggest single factor that really changes a total from, say, an opening line or a handicapped line to a closing line. So that's something we don't have to worry about too much in September. But now, this time of year, we have to keep our eyes open for that. (The numbers) tend to get lower, especially in the NFL and especially in the games that are in the east and north."
So as long as the general public stays away from betting totals, there will always be opportunities for people that do their homework to exploit the weakness in the numbers and cash in some winning tickets.
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