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Posted by on Jan 24, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas | 2 comments

Was “LA RAMS -1” the Worst Opening Line in Super Bowl History?



What were oddsmakers thinking when they installed the Los Angeles Rams as the favorite of over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII?

Oddsmakers don’t make many mistakes.  Otherwise, casinos and sportsbooks wouldn’t be in business.  They certainly don’t make mistakes on NFL games, which attract the vast majority of sports gambling activity in America.  And, it’s beyond inconceivable that a major attraction like the Super Bowl, which generates billions of dollars in betting action, would have a pointspread that’s quite possibly off by perhaps 4 or more points.

What were oddsmakers thinking?  Or smoking?

Installing the Rams as a -1 favorite was the worst opening line on a Super Bowl game in history.  Bar none.  It wasn’t just a terrible number.  The line was so bad that the wrong team was favored.

Westgate Las Vegas was reportedly the first local casino to open with Rams -1, although some offshore sportsbooks posted similar numbers in the aftermath of Sunday’s two championship games.  Other sportsbooks had the Patriots -1 and -1.5, which were numbers much closer to market perception.

My criticism of the opening line has nothing to do with an evaluation of the two teams, handicapping data, nor my personal judgment about what the final score might be.  The opening line isn’t a prediction on what will happen in a game, nor the expected margin of victory.  It isn’t that, at all.  In fact, pointspreads are intended to divide betting action as equally as possible.  That’s why lines move sometimes.  And line movement is usually bad for sportsbooks because it means they have to eat what’s called “middles.”  Middles are a sportsbook’s worst nightmare.  At least two Super Bowls ended up “middling” which meant the sportsbooks and many bookies lost money.  More money was paid out than taken in on the biggest sporting event of the year, which is no way to run a casino.

This is where expert oddsmakers come in.

An expert oddsmaker creates a number that cuts the amount of money wagered right down the middle — in half.  For sportsbooks, the ideal sporting event has an equal number of dollars riding on each side.  Hence, there’s no risk to the casino (or bookmaker), since the house simply scoops the vig (usually priced at -110) on all losing wagers.  It’s like banks charging interest, except users have to put all the money up front.  A proper opening line means there’s no risk.

I’m not interested in handicapping the game here or posting any predictions, just yet.  I’ll do that later on.  My commentary is intended only to address the betting market and the sports gambling industry.

I put the opening number at Patriots -4.  Several serious bettors I talked to had/have it at Patriots -3.  One very respected professional handicapper I know had/has Patriots -6.  No one had the Rams favored.  Nobody.  While these numbers are based on handicapping factors, in part, they also reflect some cross-section and also provide some indication of the minimum number of points it would take to bet on the Rams.  No one in their right mind would bet the Rams at -1, the opening number.

So, yes — installing the Rams as a -1 favorite was the worst opening line on a Super Bowl game in history.

Betting markets confirm this.  The line has shifted 3.5 points already in the direction of New England.  One casino (South Point) even had New England at -3, which means the line was off by 4 points, perhaps.  And, it’s not even game week yet.  We’re still 10 days away from the Super Bowl.  Prediction:  The public will be late to the party but still bet the hell out of the Patriots, because — hey, they’re the Patriots.  How the oddsmakers making the opening number Rams -1 didn’t see this is mind-boggling.  Haven’t they heard of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady?  Have they watched an NFL game the past 16 years?  Geeeeeez.

Reportedly, 96 percent of the money that’s come in (here in Las Vegas) has been bet on the Patriots.  That’s one helluva’ shit sandwich the sportsbooks might be digesting come Super Bowl Sunday.  If the line crosses the key number of 3 and reaches New England -3.5, which is certainly possible, Feb. 3rd, 2019 might go down as Sunday Bloody Sunday.

No serious bettor is going to touch the Rams at anything less than +3, right now.  Nobody.  Even +3 might be a bad number.  Until we see that “96 percent” figure shift much closer to “50 percent,” it won’t be the right number.

Rams –1 ? 

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry since I wasn’t able to get down in time to take advantage of this bad number.  To those who did, congratulations.

I guess sportsbooks are human, too — and to err is human.






  1. As you know, the books have to take two elements into consideration: reality and psychology. They can (and generally do) try to set a line that reflects what they judge to be the relative strengths of the teams. But they also have to take in account the psychological factors that cause bettors to back one team over another. This used to make books set unrealistic lines all the time with the ‘Boys — back when they were “America’s Team” and bettors backed them when they didn’t deserve it.

    I’m wondering if the “I fucking hate Belichick and Brady” sentiment, which is pretty wide-spread, may have been a factor here. The anti-BB feeling is a version of the “Damn Yankees” bit when they were winning every year and everybody just fucking couldn’t stand them. But …. who knows.

    FWIW, I agree. I thought it would open at NE -3 (though books hate 3’s. Push too likely.

  2. “No one had the Rams favored. Nobody.”

    For the record, my numbers make the line Rams -1, 58. I will be betting the Rams in this game at some point, in some manner, but I’m in no hurry. Of course, my line is not created based on market sentiment, it’s based only on what I think the median result would be if the game were played a large number of times. The books have other concerns, and it’s certainly fair to say that they didn’t take this into enough of an account.

    Also, just from a line movement standpoint this one isn’t nearly as bad, IMHO, as the 49ers chargers game. The “distance” between -1 and +2.5 is significant, but not that big. Yes, it moved 3.5 points, but it crossed zero key numbers. Crossing the 17 is much more damaging than crossing the 0. However, if the line for this game does get to 3 -110, then that would change my opinion. I hope it does get there though.

    Also, South Point’s line is a bit of an outlier. Michael Gaughan does not like his sports book to put juice on numbers. So if they’re taking a favorite at -2.5, instead of moving to -2.5 -115 or -2.5 -120, they flash the 3, take money to balance their books, and move back to -2.5. This is dangerous, but it’s a risk South Point is willing to take, but it’s certainly not a “market 3”.

    Finally, the money they took in the time it took to move the send out will be inconsequential compared to the overall handle on this game. It was a mistake, sure, but thus far I don’t think it’s a huge one. I predict it will be noise in the end.

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