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Gambling on the NFL is big business, especially after a 2018 Supreme Court decision striking down a federal ban on sports betting. Recent estimates suggest that as many as 46.6 million people will place a bet on the NFL this year, representing nearly one out of every five Americans of legal gambling age. As a result, there's been an explosion in sports betting content, most of which promises to make you a more profitable bettor. Given that backdrop, it can be hard to know who to trust.
Fortunately, you can trust me when I promise that I'm not going to make you a more profitable sports bettor. And neither will any of those other columns. It's essentially impossible for any written column to do so, for a number of reasons I'll detail shortly. (I'm not saying it's impossible to be profitable betting on the NFL, just that it's impossible to get there thanks to a weekly picks column.)
This column's animating philosophy is not to make betting more profitable but to make betting more entertaining. And maybe along the way, we can make it a bit less unprofitable in the process, discussing how to find bets where the house's edge is smaller, how to manage your bankroll, and how to dramatically increase your return on investment in any family or office pick pools (because Dave in HR and Sarah in accounting are much softer marks than Caesar's and MGM).
If that sounds interesting to you, feel free to join me as we discuss the weekly Odds and Ends.
Reasons Why I Won't Help You Win More Money (And Neither Will Anyone Else)
There are three main reasons why I'm confident a weekly column isn't going to improve the quality of your picks.
Reason #1: Beating Vegas is Hard
This is the first and most obvious factor. Sports betting is a massive-- and massively profitable-- business for sportsbooks. It's profitable because they spend a lot of time and money ensuring that the lines they set will maximize their profit. Crucially, this isn't because they will make you lose more than you win. Quite the opposite-- if a bettor was winning only 40% of his bets, he or she could just reverse every pick and make a killing. Vegas maximizes its profit by ensuring everyone wins about as many bets as they lose and then skimming the vigorish (or "vig") off the top. (The vig is the fee bookmakers charge for accepting a gambler's bet, usually by changing the amount paid out if the bet is successful.)
This isn't to say that no one has ever been a profitable bettor. But if it were easy to do, as they say, Vegas wouldn't keep building more casinos.
Reason #2: If You Can Beat Vegas, You Don't Talk About It
Imagine for a second that I actually was one of those sharp bettors who could beat Vegas often enough to overcome the vig. Vegas would figure it out fairly quickly and simply stop taking my bets. If I were a profitable bettor, the absolute last thing I would want to do is talk about being a profitable bettor. Instead, I'd want to shut my mouth, keep working whatever edge I found, make as much money as I could before Vegas caught on, and retire young.
Reason #3: Even If You Did Talk About It, Vegas is Listening
This is by far the most important point. Vegas is not a passive observer in this game between bettor and bookmaker. I have spoken to people who really are sharp betting analysts and who actually do publish some of their information, and you know what they've told me? Within five minutes of publishing a new piece, Vegas has moved the betting line so the "good bets" aren't available anymore.
If you take nothing else away, let it be this: the best bettors don't "like" the Raiders or the Chargers this week. Instead, they like the Raiders at one price, the Chargers at another price, and neither team in between. Top bettors are exquisitely price-sensitive, and Vegas has a ton of tools at its disposal to manipulate those prices to eat away at any edges someone may have found. Consider the following tweet:
The difference in implied probability:— betstamp (@betstamp) September 6, 2022
2.4% difference in break even percentage. This is massive.
The inability to be price sensitive will be the death of most rec bettors.
Price reigns supreme above any trend or handicap ðŸ“š #GamblingTwitter https://t.co/57GSvTKME8
In a column like this, it's very easy to say, "I like the Raiders this week +3.5 points". But there's a big difference between the Raiders +3.5 (+105) and the Raiders +3.5 (-105). (In gambling terms, "+105" means if you bet $100 and win, you'll get $105 back. On the other hand, "-105" means you need to bet $105 just to get $100 back. On the exact same $100 bet, it's the difference between a 105% return and a ~95% return on winning bets.)
So let us pretend for a moment that I had some secret edge over the sportsbooks, and I was willing to share that edge with anyone who read my column. The simple fact of the matter is once Vegas figures that out (and they will, sooner or later), the lines I see when I'm betting will not be the lines you see when you're betting. You and I could both pick the same teams in the same games, and I could turn a profit while you lost money.
In short, the game is rigged.
If You're Almost Certain to Lose Money, Why Bet?
Because betting can be fun. I've had a Netflix account for hundreds of months, and there hasn't been a single one of those months where that account has turned a profit. I lose money every single time I go to the movies. I've seen a negative return on investment on every instrument, video game console, and book I've ever purchased. And that's perfectly okay because I've enjoyed using those things.
Similarly, betting money on NFL games can be a good way to add interest or excitement to a contest you might not otherwise care about. Sweating out the end of a contest with money on the line can be a huge thrill. If you don't enjoy it, certainly don't do it, but if you do enjoy it and you are honest and responsible about the costs, betting on sports can be a fun way to increase your enjoyment. So that's what we're going to focus on. I can't make you more profitable (though I do have one surefire tip to make you less unprofitable: wager less money). But hopefully, we can examine what it is about gambling on football games that makes it fun and emphasize that so we're getting maximum returns on minimum losses.
Lines I'm Seeing
Revenge Game(s) of the Week:
Tennessee Titans (-5.5) vs. New York Giants
There's a lot of bad blood between Titans fans and Giants fans over which franchise got the most out of quarterback Kerry Collins. Collins made one pro bowl with each franchise and finished runner-up in AP Comeback Player of the Year voting with each team, too. Collins' most promising season with the Giants was ended in the playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens, as was his most promising season with the Titans, but the former game came in the Super Bowl while the latter came in the wildcard round. Advantage: Giants.
Denver Broncos (-6.5) at Seattle Seahawks
You're probably surprised I didn't lead off with this game since I'm sure it's at the top of everyone's mind. It's rare to see a Hall of Famer change franchises, and it's memorable when one does, which is why this game has come to be known as the "Jerry Rice Bowl". Rice, as I'm sure you are aware, set numerous NFL receiving records with both the Seahawks and the Broncos. In his first game in a Seattle uniform, Rice became the oldest player in history to catch a pass in an NFL game (a record he would go on to break ten more times). Meanwhile, the following season in Denver, he set numerous records as the oldest player to catch a pass in a preseason contest. Regular season is better than preseason, so give me the Seahawks and the points.
Lead-Pipe Double-Extra Cinchy Lock of the Week
New Orleans Saints (-5.5) at Atlanta Falcons
The Saints' team abbreviation might say NO, but I say YES. Saints march into Atlanta and win in a laugher.