Not All Props Are Created Equal

            With football season about to start, I though I'd reflect upon last year's Super Bowl.

As I write this column, the world is getting all excited about the Big Game, this Sunday.  Oodles of money will be wagered on the game.  Here in Vegas, most of it will be legally wagered!  Some of the people might have a clue what they are wagering on.  For those that remember last year's column at this time, I had the pleasure of watching a man plunk hundreds of dollars on the game and then ask the man behind the betting desk what the +110 and +3 meant!  Nothing like betting first and then figuring out what you actually wagered on.


            Besides the obvious big decisions - who will win the game, by how many points and how many total points will be scored, a lot of people will be wagering on 'prop' bets.  These are all the other 'wacky' wagers on the game.  Who will win the coin toss, who will score first, who will score last, will the humidity in Houston be greater than or less than 80%?  For the sake of the bookies, the want half the money to go on each side of the wager.  They payout $10 for every $11 wagered so if they take in $1 million and payout on $500K of them, they'll still keep about $50K in profit and be very happy.  When the money is skewed in one direction, they might win more but they might not!


            To accomplish this, the props are set up to create this scenario.  For example, for the Super Bowl, I believe the under/over on Interceptions is set at 1.5.  This isn't arbitrary.  A great deal of modeling goes into determining this is the right amount.  If you were to simulate the game, you'd find that very close to 50% of the time the number of INTs will be 0 or 1 and the remaining times it is over 1.  If two lesser quarterbacks were in the Super Bowl, it might've been set at 2.5.  If we look at the list of prop wagers, we see that this methodology is used for most of them.


            But, not all props can be set in this manner.  For example, which team will score first?  There is no way to adjust this one to take into account the specific teams.  I won't claim any expertise in this area to determine which one will score first, but I'm sure there are expert with computer programs and a ton of data to look through that can make a determination that the Patriots are likely to score first X% of the time and the Falcons 100-X%.  And, there is no guarantee that X is 50% or necessarily all that close to it.  Now, it's probably not 75/25%, but it might be 55%/45%.


            Station Casinos here in Las Vegas offers up an annual football pool that is free.  For 17 weeks of the season, you pick the winners of every game with no point spread.  These 17 weeks are a little like the NHL Season - completely meaningless.  All that matter is the playoffs.  If you're lucky enough to pick all the winners in a week, you'll win.  Otherwise, you lose.  In the playoffs, however, things change.  There are 4 weeks of playoffs.  The top 200 people at the end of week 3 win $250.  After all 4 weeks, the top 100 win prizes ranging from $50 to $25,000.   There are about 50,000 people in the football pool each season, but only about 15,000 or so qualify or bother to do the playoffs.  With 200 prizes available after 3 weeks, the odds are not so bad.  Even more so, if you can take advantage of some of the props that aren't quite 50/50.


            Last year, after three weeks, I was set to claim a prize.  Until I realized that somehow I accidentally did not mark one of the wagers and thus lost 1 point.  That 1 point cost me money.  In the Super Bowl Week, I picked more wrong than right and so much for that.  This year, I made sure not to repeat my error.  As a result, a close family member who I assist in making the actual picks as she's not much of a football fan is in 28th place.  She won the $250.  Going into the big game, her score is 4 points off the top prize.  It is still a longshot, but it is hardly impossible.  Every little advantage that can be gained might mean the difference between losing, winning $50 or winning $1000 or more.


            I'd like to say I spent this past week pouring through all sorts of stats about the Falcons and the Patriots, but I didn't.  But one of the prop wagers in the pool I found quite intriguing.  It asked if the final score would be odd or even.  Some, at first glance might figure it is 50/50 or darn close.  Okay, the game can't end in a tie, which inherently means even.  But how many games are tied after regulation?  How much can this account for.  But, that's not the only thing swaying the answer.  This isn't baseball where you score 1 at a time.  You score mostly in 3's and 7's.  Occasionally, you have a safety for 2 or a 2-pt conversion or a missed extra point.


            I did some research and found that if you look at football games (NFL) over the past couple of decades, you'll find that Odd occurs more often than even by a fairly wide margin.  But, was this proof?  So, I checked some on-line wagering sites to see the odds (if offered) on odd vs. even.  I found my proof.  The casinos don't offer to pay 10 for 11 wagered when you wager on an odd final score.  It will occur in closer to 60% of the games. 


            In our football pool, there are no odds.  You get a point if you are right and you don't even you are wrong.  Regardless of what I might think the final score will be, there is only one correct pick to make given where we stand in the standings.  We pick ODD.  If we are right, which we are more likely to be than wrong, than great.  And, if we are wrong, then quite frankly, more people should have picked Odd and we won't lose as much ground.  Quite frankly almost everyone should pick Odd - especially those in the money.  But, no disrespect to Station Casinos, I'm sure that many of the people who wager regularly in the sportsbook are quite knowledgeable.  I'm not so sure the same can be said for the masses who wager on the free annual football pool.  We've already won money this year.  We should've won money last year, and the year before when they used a different format, I did win in that format a few dollars.   I don't claim great skill at picking football teams.  I just know how to use the odds to my favor when possible.