Tom Redmond looks at sports betting companies’ oddsmakers the way opposing defensive linemen regard elusive quarterbacks — with a healthy appreciation of their skills.
The Ravens season ticket holder could have become overconfident after winning individual wagers on two NFL players — Tyreek Hill of the Miami Dolphins and Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers — to score touchdowns on Dec. 11.
But the Parkville resident knows better. Because he appreciates the many obstacles to beating the sportsbooks, he limits his online or mobile wagers to $5 or $10 and was neither surprised nor fazed when he lost his bet on the Arizona Cardinals to win the next night. That was less than three weeks after Maryland opened the doors to mobile wagering on Nov. 23.
“For me, it’s fun and I’m not trying to win a million dollars,” said Redmond, 76. “It can be difficult.”
Analysts interviewed by The Baltimore Sun agreed with Redmond’s assessment and offered tips on avoiding common beginner mistakes. Predicting players’ and teams’ performances and overcoming sportsbooks’ institutional advantages is hard, they said, sometimes deceptively so.
In many ways, sports betting is akin to a 2-point conversion attempt in the NFL. The ball seems tantalizingly close to the goal line, but teams convert fewer times than not.
Saturday’s NFL wild-card playoffs mark the beginning of sports wagering’s peak season in the U.S. The heavily bet postseason games lead to the Feb. 12 Super Bowl, the biggest American sporting event of the year. March follows with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — three weeks of nationally televised games. Globally, World Cup soccer matches generate the most action.
Part of sports gambling’s allure is that players occasionally win big, such as the bettor at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland who pocketed $714,000 on a $5,000 wager Oct. 29 after three NBA teams with losing records pulled big upsets — two in overtime. In June, a gambler at MGM National Harbor wagered $50,000 and won $67,500 on the Golden State Warriors, who were underdogs but not long shots, to win Game 4 of the NBA finals.
The prodigious payouts came after Maryland casinos began accepting sports wagers at their properties in December 2021, but before mobile betting — on computers, phones or other smart devices — began operating in Maryland the day before Thanksgiving. Mobile betting is expected to dramatically increase the volume of sports betting in the state. Maryland voters approved a ballot question to allow sports betting in 2020.
Redmond, a retiree, said he plays on the apps or websites of some of the larger companies such as DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM. Others authorized by the state are Caesars, Barstool Sportsbook, BetRivers and PointsBet.
To attract customers, the sportsbooks have been offering customers free promotional play amounting to $63.8 million in the final nine days of November, according to Maryland Lottery and Gaming, the state regulatory agency.
More than $478 million was wagered in Maryland on mobile sports bets in December, the first full month it was available in the state, according to Maryland Lottery and Gaming. Another $18.8 million was bet on sports at casinos and other retail locations.
States with longer gambling histories far eclipse Maryland in sports betting. Nevada and New Jersey have each had months where they handled more than $1 billion in sports wagers.
Like many players, Redmond said he bets to enhance his enjoyment of games.
“Everybody likes to wager, whether baseball, football, horse racing or anything else. It’s just an easier venue for them to wager now,” he said.
Six-figure wins like the one at Live! are, for the vast majority of players, fantasy.
Many Americans are familiar enough with sports, by watching or playing, to have an elevated sense of their prognosticating skills, said Rodney Paul, director of the sports analytics program at Syracuse University.
“We know sports more than, say, options trading,” Paul said. “You think, ‘Oh, yeah, I played baseball a bit, I can be able to predict how well this pitcher is going to do against another team.’ Once you are in the activity, you quickly learn how well [sportsbooks] are able to set the lines and totals.”
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Sports betting is challenging partly because the points spread — the amount that one team is favored over another — in effect equalizes good and bad teams.
A gambler who bet on the Chiefs game spread on Dec. 18, for example, would have needed them to win by at least 15 points on many sites because they were playing the lowly Houston Texans. A Texans bet would win if Houston came closer than that line. Bettors who make a more conservative wager, called “moneyline,” only need a team to win — no spread is involved — but receive smaller payouts.
Sportsbooks possess a built-in advantage — a commission of sorts — known as the “vigorish” or “juice.” The vig, built into the odds, provides the sportsbook a profit margin even if the money comes in equally from bettors on both sides of a wager.
The oddsmakers rarely make mistakes and, if they do, it’s hardly irrevocable. If they were to have established the Chiefs as only narrow favorites over the Texans, bettors’ money would have poured in on Kansas City, and the sportsbooks would have quickly adjusted their odds. Sportsbooks must honor wagers at the spread the bettor locked in, even if the line shifts.
Several analysts interviewed by The Sun neither discouraged nor encouraged Marylanders to partake in sports betting, but advised players to stick to spending limits.
The Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, affiliated with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, does not take a position for or against legalized gambling, but prepared for more people seeking help because of the new, wider availability of betting via mobile. Gamblers seeking help can call or text 1-800-GAMBLER and receive treatment for no cost.
“I think everybody should have a budget,” Paul said. “Recognize it for what it is — an enjoyable, consumption-based activity, as opposed to something you’re trying to be able to retire on.”