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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Betting on the Super Bowl

Few of you who visit this site have any idea the depth to which this New York Giants Football Blog could easily become a "betting" or "gambling" site. (Don't worry, no plans, just a one day excursion.) I was raised in a household where playing games was a rite of passage. The point spread to the game was like breathing to life. I knew what the odds were on every bet on the craps table by the time I was ~9 yrs old.

At the very beginning of the blog a decision was made to avoid too many gambling discussions because I did not want to send the wrong message to anyone visiting. First and foremost, this a NY GIANTS BLOG. The point spread is discussed in its relation to how the Giants are perceived. In reality, there is so much more information in a point spread. Without sounding arrogant (my apologies in advance when I do), most visitors to this blog and 99.9% of the betting public have almost zero clue what gambling is all about and what these point spreads are really doing.

If there is one day that it is appropriate to really discuss gambling in a serious way, it is on Super Bowl Sunday. Super Bowl to gambling is like New Year's Eve to drinking. It is amateur hour. It is the single largest betting day of the year, when ordinary people become gamblers for a day.

Let me just get it out there before this discussion goes any further. Do not waste your time gambling. Not on the Super Bowl, not on anything. YOU CANNOT WIN. The gambling industry is a PROFESSION. The sole purpose of the other side of your bet is WINNING. What makes you think YOU are going to be smarter than that? If you want to make one bet a year or bet something small enough that your savings and your bills will not be altered to any significant degree, go right ahead and make your deposit. That is actually not gambling, that is called entertainment. (Entertainment? Try this for betting entertainment.) Do not confuse the two. When wagers become large enough or aggregate over time to become large enough, that is gambling. Gamblers NEVER win. The one or two stories of someone who gambled and won are the black swans. For that, you should read a very good book by Nassim Teleb called Fooled by Randomness.

Now at this point in the discussion there are a few of you who still do not understand or believe fully what I am saying when I say Gamblers NEVER win. The House, the Bookie, they work with vigorish, or "vig." The vig is the great equalizer on skill. And since you will invariably fall to 0.500 in your picks over time, you WILL be a loser because of the vig. I have stated it here on the blog before, but it is a rather enlightening saying: "Las Vegas wasn't built on winners." The game is stacked against everyone. So if you have a friend at the office and you bet the Super Bowl vs him straight up (without any vig), God Bless, be entertained, have a great time. But do not think for a second that you have the ability to conquer the point spread. If you are willing to dedicate the time and resources to become a professional bettor, then we are getting into the realm of something completely different.

Let me give you an example or two of where betting becomes professional. If you can spend your entire time studying football odds and analyzing trends, looking for inefficiencies and finding overlays that are systemic, then you are onto something. And then you have to determine what percentage of the time they occur, how much you can bet each time, what are your drawdowns on capital going to look like, what is your expected value, by how much will this EXCEED the vig, will that edge be ENOUGH to play because of the frequency of occurrence, will you be able to play every occurrence... in short, this becomes a FULL TIME business to beat the house's FULL TIME business. Now, if you are going to win, that is NOT gambling, that is work, that is a job. The glamour is gone, and those stupid zebras (aka refs, humans) who wreak havoc over individual outcomes (Pitt 11, San Diego 10 was this year's poster child, and if you have no idea what I am talking about, then that means you are smarter for not being involved in that world) better not drive you crazy and put you off your plan.

There was one time ~7 years ago when I noticed a trend which I believed was statistically significant. The New Jersey Nets were new and fresh, and Jason Kidd had two forwards named Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson who could run like the wind. They were a team with a gimmick, the transition fast break. That was their EDGE. Kidd was never a consistent and reliable shooter in the half court game, Jefferson was too young at the time to have the polished game, and Martin was the leaper, the power forward whom my father called a glass-wiper for his tremendous ability to pull down rebounds. If Kerry Kittles could have ever stayed healthy enough and been consistent enough as an outside shooter, the Nets would have had a (legitimate) chance at winning a title. But as long as their half court game was flawed (despite the great assists of Kidd), the key to understanding the success of the team was their transition offense and those jackrabbit forwards. The betting seam (scheme?) was simple: short (bet against) the Nets when they played a second game back to back. The tendency I was noticing was that the team became quickly and incredibly average when they lost their legs. The transition offense deflated, the advantage of youth was lost. It was a good idea, but the problem was that there were so many other variables to research and quantify. Back to back home games? Back to back road games? Home and then away? Away and then home? What if the opponent was also playing its second consecutive night? What if the first game saw a Net blowout and the stars not even playing in Q4 of the first game, so that their legs would be fresher? And what would happen if I missed one or two games to bet on? Maybe it was better to bet WITH the Nets when they were well-rested? Maybe both? THIS WAS A JOB FOR WHICH I WAS NOT GOING TO BOTHER INVESTING THE SERIOUS AMOUNTS OF TIME TO FIND OUT THE ANSWERS.

Summary: if you ever think for a second that you can WIN in this racket, you can email me and I will do my best to talk you out of it. Good luck with your bet this evening, and if you win do not begin thinking about your next career as a sports handicapper. The odds are against you.


James Allen said...

Thanks for the shout out yesterday. It's always somewhat surreal to see my own words represented to myself after a period of time. I was 100% correct of course, but I was merely echoing the theme that been bouncing around here for a loooong time.

For the past two weeks I've been pretty much trying to avoid (and rather successfully) all the media bullshit about the Super Bowl (can I use those words without getting sued?) Which means, pretty much, not watching ESPN at all for 2 weeks. Not a bad thing, when you think about it, for in addition to avoiding all the SB blather, I avoid Dick Vitale as wll. A bonus, if you will.

But as I ponder this game, I am immediately disgusted by the fact that the Giants beat both these teams, on the road, and both rather convincingly (they made the Steelers game harder than it should've been, but all they did was move the ball up and down the field the whole game.) It grinds my gears no end. As far as who's going to win? Meh. I have some thoughts, but who really cares? I barely care. I don't think very much of either of these teams, especially the Steelers and their vastly overrated QB. It seems that the "sentimental" feeling is going to Warner, a sentiment I do not share, as Warner didn't do much for our own Giants, so I don't feel all warm and fuzzy for his current success.

The Giants should be here. They really should. Yep, I'm still in the anger phase, I mean, why not? That game 3 weeks ago is still sticking in my craw. The non-adjustments on offense. The squandering of home field. The looks and their faces (particularly Eli and Coughlin.) They pissed it away, I hope they never forget that. Despite the fact that they won it all last year, you still don't get that many chances, and I hope they don't assume they are just going to get right back there next year without a lot of hard work and soul searching.

Enjoy the Super Bowl everyone! Final score, Cards 29, Steelers 22 (the exact score wished for the obvious reason.)

P.S. As far as the gambling thing goes, I couldn't agree more. I'm not going to bore everyone with my personal bouts with gambling, but to put the present situation simply: there's not a day that goes by where I don't think about putting down some action on a game and the high I get when I win, and not a day I don't remind myself how miserable I was in the end, forking over my money over and over to some douchebag.

Now I see other people doing the same thing, and I look at them and think, "so that's what I looked like to everyone else." Meanwhile, I always have money in my pocket. Sure I get into the box pools this time of year, but I haven't bet on a sporting event in over three years, and more than just my bank account, my sanity is intact.

Peter Furman said...

I think that the whole country learned about gambling in 2008.I am what most in my business would deny. I am an investment professional investor which makes me a professional gambler.Investing and gambling should be two very different things. Unfortunately, they are not.There is the spread between bid and ask which is the "vig" and thanks to politicians and the regulators the average person doesn't stand a chance.
Andy mentions the points and he is 100% right. Where else can you pick winners and still lose? The steroids,the coaching, the refs on a given day, players like Pacman and Plaxico and so many others. It's not what I grew up with but, it's all we got.
I think the Giants should have kept spags at all costs. Coughlin is neat the end and dissension is rearing it's ugly head. It doesn't take a genius to realize that Spags made the difference.
If they can dump Toomer and others why is Gilbride still there?
Yep, these are my thoughts.
Peter Scott Furman

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