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A Slam Dunk for Online Sportsbooks
by Buzz Daly

Traditionally, the Super Bowl has been the sporting event that generates the most wagering, but it is being superceded by the three-week orgy of betting on college basketball that takes place during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, popularly known as March Madness. While gridiron action is the engine that pulls the sportsbetting train, the emergence of offshore sportsbooks as an alternative to local stores has encouraged more and more punters to stay in action as football segues into hoops.
“The ability to bet over the Internet—easily, without a lot of fuss or computer smarts—has increased the sports betting market tremendously,” observed William Caesar, managing director of Belize-based Carib Sports. Like most offshore shops, Carib handles action via toll-free telephones and over the Internet. “But over the last few years, online business has dwarfed what we do on the phone,” said Caesar.

Bookmakers rejoice over the daily action that comes with baskets. Although baseball too is played every day, it has never caught on as a popular betting activity. Carib’s Caesar noted that the public doesn’t seem to understand or enjoy betting money lines, which is how baseball odds are expressed. Basketball odds, like football, are offered in point spreads. With sports bettors getting into action from their homes or offices, and the betting menus of offshore books bigger and more attractive than many of those in Las Vegas, business is booming. “The drop off after football used to be nearly 40 percent,” said Caesar, who opened Carib in 1993, “but now there is virtually no change in volume after the Super Bowl.”

The proliferation of computers—particularly among sports bettors, who tend to be young, upscale males—has altered the wagering mix considerably. Today, 90 percent of Carib’s action comes via the Internet. Other books report similar ratios. The main difference between betting over the phone and in cyberspace is the limits. Phone bettors are generally offered higher ceilings. Online action frequently tops off at $500 or $1,000, but more books are increasing what they will accept.

Curacao-based Aces Gold gives customers “very high limits on the Internet,” said the shop’s bookmaking manager, known as Charlie. “We feel we can put up as good or better numbers than anyone in the world. If we can’t, then we’re going to get our butt blistered. We’re going into our sixth season. Not too long ago it was 98 percent phone, 2 percent Internet. Now, we’re at 70 percent Internet. Some of our wisest guys have Internet accounts.”

For those who are thinking about opening an online account, you should select at least two books in order to shop lines, and take advantage of the volatility of basketball numbers, particularly totals. In choosing a place to play, personal recommendations from friends are a good way to start. You can also peruse posting forums at websites that encourage comments from bettors. But beware, sometimes people with an agenda use the forums to lobby for, or against, a book.

Checking out ads in reputable publications like Gambling Times is another method of deciding where to play. We’ll not recommend any specific books, but suggest you avoid being dazzled by those which promise the most freebies or biggest sign-up incentives. Savvy bettors—those who concentrate on books that emphasize professional management, competitive vig, and attractive but fiscally sound signup incentives—generally experience minimal problems. Happily for players, the marketplace is crowded and books are aggressively vying for customers. We can use that to our advantage by seeking out special offers that the books use to separate themselves from the competition.

Bet365USA.com screenshotAn excellent example is Bet365USA (www.bet365usa.com), a U.K.-based full-service sportsbook, has several unique features. In addition to the standard option of buying points, Bet365 lets players sell points as well, from one-half to seven points.

On parlays, Bet365 offers true odds instead of fixed odds, which often contain onerous vig. The book’s basketball parlays are computed just like baseball parlays, reducing the house advantage. It also has created a prop called the flexi-teaser, which lets bettors tease up to twelve teams with variable teases of one-half to seven points. We salute them just for having the software that can calculate such brain-twisting plays.

Yahoops.com screenshotAnother book, Belize-based Yahoops (www.yahoops.com), specializes in handling just basketball action. It offers NCAA, NBA and European leagues. The site takes wagers in seven different languages and claims its phone limits, handled over toll-free telephone lines, are higher than most Internet shops.
The aforementioned books are just two examples of what is out there for basketball bettors. Surfing with a purpose will likely turn up other appealing options. Some Internet books offer overnight lines on the following day’s games. Limits are relatively low, but serious players take advantage of this option. In fact, there is so much overnight business conducted by professionals and syndicate bettors that line movement tends to be hectic at times.

Beware of early line moves as a lot of it is influenced by those looking to set up middles. According to several offshore bookmakers, much overnight and morning play is from middlers. Wiseguys and the syndicates make their big plays in the afternoon. There is a lot of competition among these groups. It is not unusual for one outfit to come in strong on a side, then, after the line has moved two to three points, another group plays the other side.

Professional players feel betting baskets offers the biggest advantage of any sport. The sheer number of games and propositions that must be posted by the oddsmaker on a daily basis is overwhelming. This can work in the bettor’s favor. Unlike casino games, which have built-in negative expectations for players, sports wagering is beatable, as illustrated by a small number of professionals who regularly beat the books. The bookmakers know who they are, and while many shops keep them on a short leash, others use their action to balance the public’s play, which tends to be weighted towards favorites.

In sports wagering, even the rankest of squares is bucking only a house edge equal to that of 10 percent of a straight wager. For more than forty years, the standard 11-10 vig has been the bookmaker’s edge. What other business has had such strong resistance to inflation? During that time, the accessibility of information that helps bettors overcome the house advantage has improved dramatically. Today’s technology offers a vast array of convenient, cost-effective means to gather relevant information that only a decade ago was the private preserve of the oddsmaker and a few professional bettors. Casual/recreational punters can use the same strategy that gives wiseguys their winning edge. That is the ability to scan the board and make plays only where they perceive a line is out of whack or is a mistake by the oddsmaker.

Realizing that there are differences between the college and NBA game, and knowing what they are, is important. College hoops is one of the most volatile sports in terms of personnel changes and coaching movement. Tracking this is difficult, but serious players and the betting syndicates apparently do a better job than the oddsmaker, because books frequently lower limits on certain conferences and take games off the board with the slightest provocation. In the NBA, travel and injuries are the biggest variables that must be tracked. What bettors are looking for is something that is not generally known, so it can’t be factored into the opening line.

It is the little edges that give bettors an opportunity to win. However, if you are not a professional, chances are you find sports betting a challenging activity that provides a generous quid pro quo of entertainment. It is unrealistic to think showing a dollar profit is the only way to measure winning or losing. Most players bet enough to give them a rush when they win, and momentary angst when they lose. But year after year, they keep coming back for more. Let’s face it: sports bettors enjoy the hunt as much as the kill. As a wise man once observed, the best thing in life is betting and winning; the next best thing is betting and losing.




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