Sports Betting Is A Capricious MistressNovember 17, 2008
I don’t gamble on sports very often anymore, and weekends like the one that ended yesterday make me delighted that this is true. Gambling is by nature arbitrary, and losers are often prone to consider what wretched God would allow things to go the way they did. This is all the more true in sports betting, where you wager not just on a team to win, but on a team to win by a certain amount of points, a fact that has nothing to do with the team’s decision making process – for them, a win by a point is as good as a win by ten. For you, not so much.
Take yesterday’s Steelers/Chargers game. 66% of the money wagered in legitimate gambling venues was on the Steelers to win by five points or more (this is not great for the casinos, who would rather have about half the money on either side of the wager). With 10 seconds left in the game, the Steelers go up by one point and give the ball back to the Chargers for one final play. Now, there are a few options here for the millions of people who bet on the Steelers. End the game with no change, you lose. Other team scores a touchdown, you lose. Steelers intercept and run out the clock, you lose. The ONLY situation that has you winning is “Steelers get the ball (either interception or fumble recovery) and run it back into the end zone on the same play for a touchdown,” which is exactly what happened, and millions of people couldn’t believe their fucking luck. Then, a whistle blew, the referees called the play dead on a violation by the Chargers and took the points off the board. Steelers didn’t protest, they won by a point instead of 8 points, but they still won. Chargers didn’t complain, they lost by a point (instead of 8 points), either way it’s a loss. Tens of Millions of dollars didn’t care, they went to the casinos instead of the bettors. Later, the referees admitted their mistake, but since it didn’t change the outcome of the game, the score remained as it was, Steelers by one.
And it’s not just professional football that is arbitrary. On Saturday, the USC Trojans were beating the crap out of the Stanford Cardinal, when the Cardinal lined up to score a field goal at the end of the game. Now, a field goal doesn’t change the outcome of the game in any way, and apparently it just annoyed the coach of USC that Standford was prolonging the game to make the drubbing only marginally less impressive. In a bit of a petty move, the USC coach called timeout just to give the opposing kicker a couple minutes to stress about making the kick successfully. The coach of Stanford, upset at the pettiness changed his mind and called a different play, throwing for a touchdown; again no impact on the final outcome, a significant margin of victory for USC, just a mild bit of gamesmanship between two petty men. This play was successful, and the point differential caused by this touchdown allowed everyone who had wagered on Stanford to beat the spread to win, and everyone who had wagered on USC to lose. This bit of minor bad sportsmanship between two people who couldn’t (literally, are not allowed to) care one bit about the official wagering line affected the shift of millions of dollars nationwide.
All that said, I lost $5 on the Lakers Friday night. I think that fucking TripleSteak bartender is bad luck.