I hope you and your loved ones are well as we make our way back from the most stressful three months in a very long time. Many areas of life have been rife with tragedy and sadness. But just when it looked like baseball would fall into the abyss, the owners and players agreed to play a 60-game season, giving us a diversion — and a chance to make some money.
Immediately after the agreement was announced, I was asked how the amended schedule and rule changes would impact the odds and betting. The first adjustments we made were on the World Series futures. The Marlins, Orioles, Tigers and Royals, who were 1,000-1 at the time of the shutdown, are now 300-1 to 500-1 at the most. Baseball is such a streaky sport that in such a condensed season, more teams will be alive for most or all of the season. If those four teams get off to solid starts, they could even be in the hunt.
It could work the opposite way too. Consider the Nationals last year, who started the season 19-31 yet won the World Series. Obviously, that record in the first 50 games this year would likely eliminate them. By the way, the Mets reopened at 18-1 and the Yankees at 3-1 at the South Point Hotel and Casino.
Here’s another factor: While the divisions will remain intact, teams will play only regional opponents. So teams will play their division opponents 10 times each and teams in the other league’s corresponding division four times each. Pay close attention to this because strength of schedule will be a considerable factor. Seven teams in the Eastern divisions played .500 ball or better last year. But only five in the Central and four in the West did.
Another immediate adjustment will be on game totals, or the combined runs scored by both teams in a game. With the designated hitter, we generally post American League Overs/Unders slightly higher than National League matchups. This season, every team will play with a DH, so we’ll adjust accordingly. Professional bettors look to play underdogs more often than do casual bettors. With the condensed schedule and every game having more importance, we should see pitching aces go on regular rest and less time off for position players. Underdogs will be alive, and I’ll lower the prices on favorites on a day-to-day basis.
As for getting back to business, since Nevada casinos reopened June 4, visitors and locals have demonstrated a consistent behavior: They’re glad to have the action and the ability to interact — with protocols, of course. For most people, gambling is a very social endeavor that connects them. Whether it’s a poker game, dice, roulette, 21 or a particular slot carousel, people come together and interact. And the race and sportsbook is the best example of this social experience.
Q: How did sportsbooks survive the shutdown, especially with none of the four major sports available? Rick, Commack, N.Y.
A: I’ve been in this business since 1978, and never had I seen a time when all hotels and casinos were closed. When the mandate to close came down the second week of March, all sports shut down as well. As several other countries began to play games or matches, the South Point requested and was granted permission to open the sports betting mobile app. We offered drive-up service for account sign-ups and funding in the valet area. The response was tremendous, and we went international. We offered Australian rugby and Aussie rules football — first time I ever saw a parlay between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Gold Coast Titans! People bet soccer matches from Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Portugal. Since reopening, we’ve continued with these and have added the Japanese NPB League, the English Premier League and the Professional Bull Riding Team Challenge taking place at the South Point. The PGA and NASCAR events have seen four to five times their typical handle. And the UFC cards have been by far the most popular with the betting public. Of course, we have Super Bowl futures and season-long proposition bets available, plus odds to win the NBA title and Stanley Cup along with the daily horse racing menu. It’s not March Madness, but it is June gladness!
Q: Die-hard Jets fan here. With Tom Brady out of New England, I think the division is wide open. What are the betting numbers for Gang Green? Eileen M., Staten Island, N.Y.
A: Brady’s departure has certainly generated opinions by bettors — and that’s good for business. We have written plenty of tickets on all AFC East teams. We posted the futures in February, and the Jets have seen action, especially since the draft. As of this writing, they are 100-1 to win the Lombardi Trophy and 50-1 to win the AFC. If you think they will make the playoffs, you can get + 375 (the no is -475). Their season win total is 6.5 Over -120, Under is even. I think this will be an entertaining division.
Q: I’m very excited to see the Giants in prime time in Week 1 against the Steelers. What’s the number? Carl, Bronx, N.Y.
A: That will be the first game of the “Monday Night Football” doubleheader, which we love on my side of the counter! The Steelers are four-point favorites with an Over/Under of 48. This will be one of the most highly bet games of Week 1 given its position in the rotation. By the way, like the Jets, we currently have the Giants 50-1 and 100-1 for the conference and league titles. Their season win total is set at 6 Over -130, Under + 110, and their odds to make the playoffs are the same as the Jets. You and Eileen in Staten Island can go head to head for a steak dinner.
Q: Without fans, how will home-field advantage be impacted? Anthony, Perth Amboy, N.J.
A: Great question, and one that bettors and bookmakers will watch very closely. Not all home fields (or courts) are equal. For instance, one school of thought holds that the home field in the NFL is worth three points. Not true. Consider this example: At Lambeau Field, 95% or more of the fans are die-hard Packers fans; they are co-owners of the team. If you’ve been to a Chargers game the last two seasons, 95% of the fans are rooting for the visiting team! While this is an extreme case, it bears noting that some teams have a more emotional fan base with a national following, and their backers travel too. Examples of stronger NFL home fields are Seattle, Kansas City, Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I would include the Browns, Bears, Cowboys, Raiders, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Jets, Giants and 49ers in the next tier. The remaining teams’ best advantage playing at home is that they don’t have to travel that week. This is no knock on any fan base. It’s part of the oddsmaking and bookmaking reality we see very day. The home field in college football is much stronger, especially in the Power Five conferences. Without fans, in any sport, it’s less intimidating for the visiting team. Also consider this intangible: Game officials are human. Don’t think they aren’t subconsciously influenced by the crowd’s noise and reaction. I think we’ll see numbers adjusted to the visitors and higher totals as well. In my opinion, the home advantage from most to least impactful in the four major sports is: football, basketball, baseball and hockey.
Have a question for Vinny? Email AskVinny@vsin.com