As a seasoned oddsmaker, Jimmy Vaccaro remembers a time when posting football betting lines well before the start of the season was a venture fraught with peril. Sharp gamblers would attack those soft early lines, Vaccaro says, setting themselves up for potentially juicy “middles.” (Bettors hit a “middle” when they wager on both sides of the same game at different point spreads and win both bets.)
“Ten to 15 years ago, you would see these huge 8- to 12-point middles,” says Vaccaro, spokesman for the William Hill group of sports books in Nevada. “Now, the most you’ll see is maybe a 4-point move even on the earliest lines.”
In today’s more sophisticated betting marketplace, bettors and bookmakers are likely to see eye to eye on the strengths and weaknesses of pro and college football teams. “They get a feel for these teams, an understanding of where they’re at, early on,” Vaccaro says. “I just think that overall the oddsmakers are doing a better job. The better numbers they put out, the better it is for us on this side of the counter.”
The massive and ever-increasing popularity of the NCAA basketball tournament in Las Vegas sports books has also aided the house’s bottom line in football betting, Vaccaro says. Fans who pour into the city for the tournament are apt to risk a few bucks on the NFL or BCS championship future books while they’re here.
“The result is there’s not just smart money on football early on, and there’s more money from the general public,” Vaccaro says. Much of the money wagered in the run-up to football’s regular season has come on teams such as the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys, Vaccaro says.
The Cowboys, whose odds are typically somewhat deflated due to their perennial popularity among recreational gamblers, were installed at William Hill books as 18-1 shots to win the Super Bowl and 11-1 to win the NFC title. (Odds are always subject to change.) The Chargers were installed at 27-1 to win the Super Bowl and 12-1 to win the AFC title.
The Colts, in a rebuilding phase, are 100-1 long shots to win the Super Bowl. That hasn’t stopped some small bettors from taking a flier on them in an effort “to risk a toothpick and win a lumbermill,” Vaccaro says, using a great Old Vegas idiom we hope never goes away.