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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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Top 10 takeaways from betting Week 1 of the NFL

14 Sep 2015

By Gary Trask

Golden Nugget - Las Vegas Director of Race and Sports Tony Miller was, for all intents and purposes, speaking for his entire booking brethren late Sunday night when he posted on Twitter: "Walking out of the Nugget with my ass handed to me."

Yes, it was that kind of an NFL Opening Sunday for bookmakers as the majority of public sides and totals cashed in. So, if you added to your bankroll this weekend, congrats, but also beware. Bookmakers tend to rebound eventually, so don’t expect every Sunday to be as welcoming going forward.

But before we look ahead, let’s recap what transpired with a little help from a couple of our favorite bookmakers, who were nice enough to chime in even after suffering through a turbulent Week 1.

10. Favorites and overs rule the day
Anytime favorites and overs are commonplace, it spells doom for bookmakers, and that was the case this week as that combination went 18-10, heading into Monday night’s two games.

The final kick in the pants for bookies came with seven seconds left on Sunday night when the Cowboys scored the winning TD that pushed the game over the total and helped anyone with a Dallas teaser ticket in their pocket – and there were a lot of them – go to bed with a big smile on their face (more on that later).


Despite a losing day for sportsbooks on Sunday, legendary bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro was encouraged by the bustling handle across Las Vegas and says it’s time to legalize sports betting.

The Green Bay-Chicago game also went over the total on a TD with 34 seconds remaining, adding fuel to the favorite-and-over fire.

By comparison, last year on NFL Opening Day, underdogs covered 10 of 13 games and unders cashed in eight of 13 games on the board. What a difference a year makes.

9. The Giants saved bookmakers from utter disaster
The favorite-and-over combo is especially lethal for sportsbooks when it comes to single-standing games like the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. After a “chalky” Sunday morning and afternoon, a winning Dallas and over ticket in the night game would have been a knockout blow to bookies.

The Cowboys never threatened to cover the six-point spread, which helped the sportsbooks’ cause big time, despite the late TD that helped over bettors cash in.

“The Giants probably saved us six figures, at least,” said South Point Hotel Casino and Spa oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro on Monday morning as he drove to work. “Most of the marquee teams and popular sides came in during the day, so there were a ton of parlays and parlay cards alive with Dallas as the final leg. We dodged a bullet.”

8. SuperBook Contest consensus sweeps
The Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino Football SuperContest is renowned among sports bettors. This year’s contest drew a record 1,727 entries and features a prize pool of $2.59 million. Participants pick five NFL games against the spread each week, and cumulative standings at the end of the season decide the payouts. This year the winner will claim $906,675.

In Week 1, the five most popular picks among all the entries were Miami, Arizona, St. Louis, NY Jets and Green Bay. Go ahead, read that again. Yes, that’s a 5-0 sweep.

7. Public prevails on Dolphins, Packers
The side that claimed the majority of betting action in each game prevailed in 11 out of 14 games. In addition to the SuperBook contest, the most popular plays on Sunday – judged by number of tickets written at sportsbooks – were Miami (-4) over Washington and Green Bay (-6) over the Chicago. While neither game was a blowout, both favorites pulled away in the second half for straight-up wins and covers, much to the delight of the public.

“If the Bears had covered we would have had a break-even day and we may have even won a little,” Vaccaro said. “It was that big of a game for us. But we were on the wrong side. Then when Miami covered we knew it was going to be a losing day, it was just a matter of how much.”

6. 'Sharp' money prevails on Buffalo
While nearly 75% of tickets written were on Indianapolis over Buffalo, the “sharp” money was on the Bills big time, driving the line from the Colts -2.5 to -1 and pick’em at some shops by kickoff.

This was a classic “sharp vs. square” game and the smart money cashed with ease as the Bills led 24-0 in the second half and rolled to a 27-14 victory.

“That game actually helped us,” Vaccaro said. “Yes, there were some big-money tickets on the Bills. The pros were right on this one. But we had a lot of parlays and money line bets that went down on the Colts.”

5. Late TD by Steelers made an impact
When Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown caught a touchdown pass with two ticks remaining in the game Thursday night, anybody with action on the game took notice. The “meaningless” score turned a 14-point lead for New England into a 28-21 final, meaning the majority of bettors pushed the game, which had the Pats favored by seven in most spots at kickoff.

“Usually a push sucks for the house, but this one actually helped,” said BetOnline Sports Brand Manager Dave Mason. “Surprisingly, this game was a small winner for the house. If the game went over (the total of 51) it would have been real bad for us.”

Of course, there were some sharp Patriot backers that won the game if they bet it a few months back when the line plummeted to under three points after Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” suspension was announced.

4. Profitable week for teaser players
The late score by Pittsburgh did hurt the books in that it ensured all teaser bets from the game were alive entering the weekend, always a dicey proposition for bookies.

And when nine of the 13 favorites won outright on Sunday, it proved to be a great week to be a teaser player, especially with both teams in the Sunday night game also covering the six-point advantage play.

“The Packers, Patriots and Dolphins were all big teaser plays and it cost us,” added Jimmy V.

3. Overreaction to Colts loss
My colleague Dan Podheiser picked the Colts to go to the Super Bowl in his Top 10 futures bets for the 2015 NFL season, and I don’t think he should be ripping up that ticket as a result of yesterday’s results. Look no further than last year, when after the Patriots got drilled by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, the TV talking heads and “Joe Public” were calling for Tom Brady to be benched and said the Patriots were on the decline. We all know how that turned out.

True, Andrew Luck and Indy did not look like a Super Bowl-caliber team against the Bills, but, trust me, the Buffalo defense is going to hold multiple teams to season-low outputs this year, especially when at home. That hasn’t stopped the betting public to overreact, however.

Last week at Westgate Las Vegas, the Colts opened as a nine-point favorite in next Monday night’s home game against the Jets. Today, the line has gone below the key number of 7 and dropped to 6.5 at some books.

2. The gig is up for Peyton Manning

In Peyton Manning's first three seasons with Denver, the Broncos went “over” 61% of the time. With that history in mind, the over/under on Denver's season-opener against the Ravens opened as high as 52. But the betting public was on to the fact that Manning’s arm is shot and the Broncos will be leaning more heavily on the running game. The total fell to as low as 46.5 by kickoff. Of course, the game was never close to going over, with Denver winning 19-13.

This Thursday night’s game between Denver and KC opened with a total of 45, and by Monday morning it was immediately bet down to as low as 41.5, which would be the lowest total on the Broncos game since the Tim Tebow Era.

1. It’s time to legalize
Vaccaro is a 40-year veteran of the industry and is known in Las Vegas as the dean of bookmakers. He said Sunday was the busiest NFL Opening Day he has ever witnessed.

“It was like Super Bowl Sunday,” said Vaccaro. “Our handle jumped 20% from last year’s Week 1 NFL Sunday and we wrote 500 more tickets compared to last year. And I’m pretty sure that’s how it was everywhere.”

The popularity of sports betting and football in particular is at an all-time high, something Vaccaro sees as a compelling indicator that it’s time to legalize.

“Hey, forget the winning or losing part. We got kicked in the teeth yesterday. That’s part of the racket,” he said. “Despite all of that, I am so encouraged by the wave of momentum we are seeing with sports betting. It’s so clear to me that we simply have to legalize it. We are so far behind what the rest of the world is doing in this industry, it’s stupid. Let the government come in, take their piece of the pie and then everyone is happy.

“The bottom line is that this is entertainment. People love to come in with their friends, place down a few bets, have a few drinks and go crazy cheering on their teams. It’s just like going to a show or the movies. The fact that it’s not legal to do it in every state is insane. Absolutely insane.”
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