Can you be a sports bettor and a fan?

July 27, 2022 05:51 PM
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Sports fans becoming sports bettors. 

It’s a logical progression. 

All those diehards attending and watching games were bound to look for some added action.

Exactly what was anticipated by lawmakers and sportsbook operators who pushed for the expanded legalization of sports betting and continue to do.

Sure, this new, legalized group includes some quantitative-based bettors who don’t view the game as a source of excitement as much as data points on a screen. Call them the minority, the day traders of sports gamblers. 

Most, though, are the random strangers who talk about last night’s game while standing in line at the grocery store. Those who wear hats with their favorite team’s logo. Possibly even those who punch a hole in the wall after a season-ending postseason loss.

That emotion isn’t necessarily advantageous behavior for a sports bettor. 

Professional gamblers suggest the other route, of finding ways to calmly ride out cold and hot streaks. 

Not so easy for some sports fans. There’s going to be an internal battle between their hearts and minds. 

Since more sports fans are also becoming bettors, we talked to some industry professionals, recreational bettors and VSiN personalities about managing the relationship between wagering on games and fandom. 

Identity crisis

Adam Burke is VSiN’s resident baseball handicapping expert. He also has another title attached to his name — lifelong Cleveland baseball fan. 

In order to combine his betting and devotion to the Guardians, he remains objective during the handicapping portion of the day.

When that work with the analytical side of his brain is done, his heart takes over. 

“I'm an analyst until first pitch and a fan when the game starts, whether I have action on them or against them,” said Burke, who finds this Cleveland team a far more enjoyable product to watch compared to recent ones. “I haven't been on this recent swoon as much as I should have been. But, last month during their good stretch, I talked about some of their unsustainable numbers. Runners in scoring position, lack of contact quality and some of the pitchers, namely Zach Plesac, in line for regression.”

Brady Kannon is also someone who analyzes, bets and talks about sports wagering as a VSiN host. One of his favorite topics to discuss are his beloved San Francisco area teams. In particular, the recently crowned NBA champion Golden State Warriors. 

“I grew up watching and rooting for the Giants, 49ers, Warriors, so it’s still with me,” Kannon said. “When I moved out here (to Las Vegas from the Bay Area) and became involved with the profession I was aware it was going to change in some way. And it has.”

Kannon knows of professional bettors who still remain fans of teams. However, he mentioned others such as VSiN colleague James Salinas, a noted professional gambler who has no affinity for his hometown Denver clubs. 

“James likes to say his favorite team is the one he is holding a ticket on.”

Burke, a Cleveland native who now calls Vegas home, has experienced a change in his Guardians fandom. It’s common for transplants living in a new locale. 

“I think another big reason why I've gotten into this year's team more is because I moved away from home,” Burke said. “They're my connection to where I grew up and it's almost like keeping tabs on them keeps me closer to my friends and family. That adds another wrinkle of difficulty because you have to keep more layers of emotion out of the handicap, but being a stats-based analyst helps because I'm interpreting numbers and data, which forces you to remain impartial.”

For those fans looking to profit from betting, a situational mindset is mandatory. Like it is for a marriage. A difference, though, is many fans have been with their favorite team longer than their significant other. 

Like Kannon and Burke, Keith Stewart (@readtheline_) is a sports fan who is also a handicapper. As the CEO/creator of Read the Line (readtheline.com), Stewart’s focus is on golf. He too doesn’t let any personal feelings about golfers enter into his analysis. 

“When you create gambling content, you must be agnostic,” Stewart said. “I have a few golfers who I like, but if you read my work week after week, you’ll never know who my favorites are.” 

Jeff Sherman is another professional who maintains a longtime allegiance to a team, the Los Angeles Lakers. He stifles it during work mode as the VP of Risk Management for the Westgate SuperBook. 

“I do my job first, oddsmaking and bookmaking, and if the Lakers are involved, treat it like any other game,” Sherman said. “We had a large liability on the Lakers for the NBA title last season, so I hoped they did well but not win it all.”

Sherman is aware of how his fandom has changed because of what he does for a living. As a result, he calls himself “a fan of who the book needs.” 

Working in any industry long enough is going to have an effect on an employee’s feelings. For those surrounded by sports gambling, it is bound to curtail their passion as a fan.

Still, there could be another reason Kannon and Sherman, two men well past their days of skipping class to watch their favorite teams play, have seen a drop in their enthusiasm.

“As we get older we lose that fanboy mentality like when we were kids and teenagers,” Kannon said. “You get older and become jaded to what you see. So I have toned it down as a fan, probably some from the betting aspect but more from just getting older.” 

Sherman adds: “I’m just not emotionally invested like my younger days.” 

In tune or tune out?

Kannon recently cashed a playoff futures ticket on his Warriors. It brought a boost to his bankroll and personal satisfaction. That ticket, though, wasn’t purchased out of blind loyalty. He backed the Warriors since he was “in tune” with how they were playing and what could happen come playoff time. 

“I will be on or against the teams I rooted for as a fan,” Kannon said. “I bet the Warriors to win the championship because I have been following them so closely. I knew about their roster and had innate feelings about what could happen when Klay (Thompson) came back.” 

All that time Sherman gives to the Lakers also assists him when setting lines for the SuperBook. 

“It helps me that I pay such close attention to them,” Sherman said. “We offered the fairest market price on the Lakers as my evaluation didn’t have them as a championship contender.”

Burke believes being a fan of a team provides important data for handicapping purposes. He recommends not letting that work go to waste by using it only for one side. 

“Sometimes I think it makes sense to bet on or against your favorite team because it should be the team that you know the best,” Burke said. “If you're watching games, you know hitter and pitcher tendencies. You know the pulse of the team and whether or not they're tired or less engaged. You know the nagging injuries that guys are playing through. All of that can be helpful information for making a bet.”

For those in Vegas, a city once shunned by the major leagues, being a fan and a bettor has taken on new meaning since it now houses the Golden Knights and Raiders, with possibly another pro team coming in the future. 

Kannon says the addition of those teams to the Vegas scene has created a bettor-fan connection the city never had before.

“I think there’s a lot of casual betting on our new teams,” Kannon said. “Recreational bettors in town are going to Knights games and putting a couple of bucks on them. They’re betting on the Raiders. Even some pros I know go to the games and put some funny money on them.”

Count Sherman as one of those locals now supporting the hometown team — to an extent.

“I'm a Golden Knights fan too, and I book the game as I book any other hockey game,” Sherman said. “When going to the game, if it is a large decision for the house I just have to temper my enthusiasm.”

The recreational side 

For professional bettors, they must be open to go for or against any team on the board. Limiting options out of fan loyalty would be counterproductive to their business.

This mentality doesn’t necessarily align for some recreational bettors, a group that often makes wagers for fun or the thrill of the action. 

Since it doesn’t involve their primary source of income, recreational bettors can be more selective and might institute a personal set of rules regarding how they approach games with their favorite teams. 

Tom Furer, a northern New Jersey recreational bettor who works in the banking field, is a fan of the New York teams like many who reside in his area. 

“I try to stay away from betting on the Yankees and the Jets,” Furer said. “When I do bet on a Yankees game, though, I will always bet on them and won’t oppose them.” 

This side of Furer is synonymous with recreational betting. Sometimes he wants to act like Burke or Kannon. Unfortunately for him, his fandom gets in the way. Years ago, Furer never knew that rooting for Richard Todd could somehow limit his opportunities to profit off a Zach Wilson team. 

“I wish I could bet against the Jets; they stink. I would probably make a lot more money on the NFL if I did. But when it comes to making a bet on the other team, I just can’t do that. I bleed green.”

This collective mentality of not going against a favorite team has a noticeable impact on the market. The books are well aware of the large swaths of fans for marquee squads such as the Dodgers, Cowboys, Notre Dame football and Duke basketball, to name a few. Hence, when bettors back those teams, they will pay a tax. 

That certainly relates to the New York teams. According to VSiN's Ben Fawkes, in April 2022, New York had the highest betting handle of any state at $1.4 billion. 

Matt Haney, who works in financial services compliance and lives in the Philadelphia area, is also a recreational bettor. Unlike Furer, he isn’t shy about betting against the Phillies or Eagles if the line is right. Still, his fandom does alter his decision-making. 

When he does go against his teams, he is more inclined to use free bets or promos instead of using his own money. 

Whatever it takes to reduce the potential of getting hit in both the gut and the wallet. 

Another recreational bettor in the Philadelphia area, Jeff Michinok, shares some of the betting tendencies shown by pros while also rooting for his teams.  

“I love the Eagles but will bet against them sometimes,” said Michinok, who works in the insurance field. “I feel like all my knowledge of them can help. I know trends, the players, and try to use that when I bet for or against the Birds.”

Keep it in play

When people say they are a fan of golf, it’s not exactly the same as being a fan of a team sport. Golf fans are predominantly players themselves. Stewart says the fandom of the game is why betting on golf has become so popular.

“Golfers have an excitement about the game and want to form emotional bonds,” said Stewart, also a teaching professional. “And betting on golf gives them that.”

There are a number of ways someone can be a golf fan according to Stewart. It could be playing multiple times a week, occasionally hacking it around on the weekend or spending a night out at Topgolf with friends. Any exposure to golf can lead to an inherent aspect of the game: Putting some money on it.

“Even a lot of grandmothers play for like five bucks a round,” added Stewart.

He believes more golf fans are interested in the gambling aspect of the game than the playing part. Stewart cited that only 11% of golfers actually take lessons while millions of dollars are bet on the golf course every year. 

Shared interests 

One of the most prized commodities valued by both sports fans and sports bettors is information about teams and players. The more fans know about what is going on with their teams, the closer they feel to them. The more bettors know about what is going on with teams, the closer they are to finding value. 

Since fans and bettors covet information, Stewart feels it’s possible to maintain being both. In fact, today’s media makes it even easier. 

“I grew up a Redskins fan,” Stewart said. “It was hard to get information on players like John Riggins or Joe Theismann. Now look at how much information we have about players. Fans know more about them and connect with them. 

“Just look at what is happening in the same market as a comparison. Think about how much more Edmonton fans know about Connor McDavid compared to Wayne Gretzky, and as good as McDavid is, Gretzky is like five times the player.”

Fans crave McDavid information to determine if the $150 jersey with his name on it is a good purchase. Bettors want McDavid intel to uncover where the edge lies on his 2.5 shots on goal prop. 

Those we talked to believe the same person can be satisfied simultaneously by playing both roles. 

Moving forward

When asked if he predicts his Guardians fandom will change in the next decade as his handicapping career progresses, Burke had an interesting look into the future. 

“Admittedly, I'm not sure. I'll be in my mid-40s by then and maybe I won't watch as many games or dedicate as much of my free time to following the team. On the other hand, with the prospect pool that they've got approaching the big leagues, I might be even more invested. And that's not to be a fair-weather fan. 

“If I'm still studying all 30 teams inside and out on a daily basis, there are only so many hours in the day and it'll be over 20 years on the grind.”

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