I was lucky enough to have been recently invited to participate in a night school class on sports wagering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Las Vegas is one of my favorite cities and getting to talk about sportsbetting with a large group was a lot of fun; a big thanks to those who attended and endured my presentation! The topic I was asked to speak on was the difference between Internet sportsbooks and Nevada sportsbooks. I thought that might also make a good Frontlines topic, so here goes…
What are the Differences?
The single biggest difference between land-based books and Internet books is that there are no face-to-face transactions over the Internet. That difference is manifested in a variety of ways. First, with internet-based books there are no line-ups. Vegas books can process maybe 20-30 clients at a time, while Internet books can process thousands simultaneously. (Note: I know Vegas is now allowing some Internet betting from within the state, but based on people I talked to there, it has yet to take off.) And because there is no need to have people on hand to personally process every bet means that the Internet books have much lower costs per wager and they can pass this type of savings on in the form of deposit bonuses or reduced juice to bettors.
Second, with Internet books you can shop lines very quickly and act accordingly when you see a line you like. Going from the Mirage to Bally’s to the Bellagio to Mandalay Bay to check lines would take at least an hour, whereas you can check the lines at dozens of Internet books in mere seconds. You don’t have to drive through traffic, pay for parking, walk through the casino maze, and then wait in line to get a bet in. By the time you realize that the line you saw at the first book you checked was the best line after all, it is more than possible that the line has since changed! The Internet makes it very easy for you to get the best line on any event. When you consider that an extra half-point gives you roughly a 2% better chance of covering a football or basketball spread, you can imagine the compound effect of getting an extra half-point or full point on every bet over the course of a full season.
Third, it changes the way lines are moved. There is an old Vegas bookmaking mentality that you never move lines until you write action at that number (unless there is an injury or trade, etc.). For example, if the posted line at a land-based book was -6, they wouldn’t move to -6.5 unless they had action at -6 to justify the move. Moving to -6.5 because other books were moving their lines without action is called “moving on air”. The logic is sound when you can control the number of bets you take at a price. For example, if two bettors bet $1000 on -6, the bookmaker could move to -6.5 and call out the change to those standing in line.
With Internet books, there can be thousands of wagers placed inside a minute so you don’t have the luxury of waiting for action before moving every line. As our head bookmaker puts it, “It is better to move on air than to die from lack of it.” If the line is moving from -6 to -7 everywhere else, staying at -6 is risky. You are presenting bettors the opportunity to play for a side (bet -6 and +7 at the same time and profit nicely if either of those scores lands). Also, you will get a flood of favorite money and dog bettors will be looking elsewhere to get more points, and favorite bettors will see the value in your line. If a book was looking to get favorite action, they could do so with a line of -6.5 so comparing prices is a huge key in setting lines. Vegas books obviously does some comparison-shopping as well, but not with the same sense of urgency (this is changing with the addition of Internet betting though I am sure). This is the reason cell phones and pagers are not allowed in Vegas sportsbooks, they don’t want to facilitate line shopping or syndicate betting (where dozens or even hundreds of bettors bet the same line at the same time to take advantage of a line…a very big reality for Internet books).
Vegas books also suffer some geographical influence. Their clients are predominately from California, Nevada, Arizona, and other nearby states. Many of these clients bet their favorite teams and that drives the price up on west coast teams a little. Internet sportsbooks can suffer the same thing if their marketing is heavy in one city or state for some reason, but with line shopping being very easy, those biases don’t last long as value shoppers see the line and move in to take advantage. In other words, you generally get a fairer line on the Internet.
There are a lot of advantages to sportsbetting online, but Vegas books will always have a place in the market as well. It is just too much fun sitting in a huge room looking at hundreds of lines and dozens of screens while being served ice cold free beers and eating 99-cent hot dogs!