It was the 4th century BC when the first known use of the proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” occurred. It was found in a Sanskrit treatise on statecraft.
And while Chanakya, the author of this section of the text, was certainly not considering how much someone could get down on the Bears +5.5 at home this week against the Packers, he would probably nod his head knowingly at what’s going on today in the sports betting industry.
Basically, the old way of doing things — Vegas sportsbook and sharp bettor at odds, pushing and pulling at each other — has been upended by a third party, namely the new brand of sportsbooks and their mostly European model of doing business.
And how does this Euro model work? Well, if you’re anything like me — not a pro bettor, which is probably north of 99% of most of us — you’re not going to know the difference. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, life goes on. But for the pros — or if you show any medium-to-long-term skill at beating the book for big money at the new sportsbooks of the world — you’ll be limited to the point of not being able to get down a buck on an NFL prop.
As a result? A new coalition is emerging, namely the old-school, Las Vegas-style sportsbooks and the sharps, teaming up to alert the upstarts that their business model ain’t kosher by their standards.
Let them bet
“If the pro player bets and beats you, you don’t kick them out,” said Robert Walker, the director of sportsbook operations for USBookmaking, a sports betting service provider based in Las Vegas. “You learn from them, you tighten up your ship, you learn from your mistakes. You ask, ‘Why did he beat us, what can we do better?’ Doing that just makes you a better book. Kicking them out, or limiting them to egregious numbers, that’s not how we do it.”
Walker, who has previously served as sportsbook director for the Mirage and the Stardust, insists he isn’t telling anyone how to run their business. But he knows how he has run his, and that’s allowing bettors to bet and then using their knowledge to get the lines right.
“My opinion is always the same,” he said. “We’re not linemakers, the pros are. We put up the line and the pros put us in our place. They tell us what they think the right number is.”
And Walker believes by limiting pros, sportsbooks are not only limiting their handle, they’re also limiting their ability to set the right line. And not only that — they’re also limiting their ability to figure out who the actual sharp bettors are.
“If you want to break it down to the simplest elements, it’s that we want to get to the right number, and if we kick someone out and someone takes their place, we don’t know who they are,” Walker said. “It will take us a couple of weeks to figure out we have a new sharp player. Why not just let the sharps in and allow them to bet accordingly?”
I think it is pretty clear now that Nevada and the new model of booking are at opposite ends of the spectrum. I'm generalizing here but for the most part Nevada bookmakers want the sharp player input, while offshore/new players only look at them as trees instead of the forest. https://t.co/Jwa0QIxKx0
— Robert Walker (@robertusfsports) December 10, 2020
This sentiment is echoed by Brad Feinberg, a professional bettor who was thrilled with the idea of sports betting post-PASPA until …
“It’s the same story you’ll hear from all of us,” he said. “You first get welcomed with open arms, and before you know it your limits get cut severely, then cut again, and right now, my limits are basically zero.”
And while Feinberg understands the business side of all this — “I get it, they’re trying to make money” — he agrees with Walker that the limits are making the sportsbooks themselves less sharp.
“I think they can still make money and take bets from sharps and use it to their advantage,’’ he said. “They should welcome the sharp action and use that information to move the line.”
Limits can be reasonable
Feinberg, in fact, doesn’t even think the limits need to be all that high, given the post-PASPA proliferation of sportsbooks.
“They should allow at least $500 on any bet,” Feinberg said. “If you can’t do that, why are your doors open? Don’t you want handle, don’t you want volume? This can be fixed in such an easy way, but these corporations are scared to show any kind of loss. They want to beat 100 percent of their customers.”
Walker agrees. Enemy of my enemy …
“I think the pro players’ problem is that sometimes they can bet $500, sometimes they can bet $300, sometimes they can’t bet at all,” he said. “So when you go on your app and you’re looking for a number and then you don’t know if you’ll be able to get a bet down, that’s frustrating. And it doesn’t have to be a $10,000 limit — just the knowledge they can get down $500 or $1,000 or whatever the number is. That’s what’s really ticking [the pro bettors] off. If they got $1,000 everywhere on college football, they’d be fine. At least they know what they’re going to get.”
So is there any chance the new entrants into the field who are utilizing this so-called European model — basically, limiting out the winners — will change their tune?
“I don’t think so,” Feinberg said. “If anything, it’s becoming more prevalent.”
Tax dollars rule the day
Another pro bettor — who goes by the nom de plume “Porter” in the industry — is even less confident.
“It doesn’t make sense to change,” he said. “At the end of the day, the state wants tax dollars. The industry has no incentive to go the other way.”
Porter says successful sports bettors these days need to hone their networking skills in an effort to grow their PPH (pay per head) footprint. That is how Porter said he spends most of his time: collecting a network to be able to get bets down with operations outside of the United States.
“They’re forcing us to go to this market because they’re removing us as customers,” he said. “It doesn’t sound very American, does it? I’m actually surprised Americans are accepting this model. Not very manifest destiny-like, is it?”
on a side note thanks @DKSportsbook which employee decided 92 cents was the max I am allowed to bet? What happens if the casual realizes this is what you do to winners. pic.twitter.com/Vg5lQjUuvP
— BAanalytics (@MLBksPSYCHIC) October 11, 2020
Porter goes one step further than Walker and Feinberg — he doesn’t think a bettor even needs to win to end up limited to the omega point. All they need to do is demonstrate they know what they’re doing.
“If the line opens at -7 and you bet it, and it closes at -8.5, you have a theoretical advantage,” he said. “If you consistently get numbers better than closing, that’s all, folks. Listen, at the end of the day, it wouldn’t make financial sense to allow successful bettors to stick around. The state wants tax dollars and they don’t get it if the books aren’t profitable. The states are on the sides of the books. Legalization is the beginning of the end of the golden age of sports betting.”
Not everyone marching to same tune
Of course, not all sportsbooks are subscribing to the Euro model. Circa Sportsbook — based in Vegas, with a Colorado online presence and plans to expand — sets its limits and allows all comers to wager. Sky Ute, a Colorado tribal sportsbook that is operated by Walker at USBookmaking, does the same thing.
Porter calls it “’70s, ’80s style, gambling against the customer.” Feinberg is more direct in his assessment: “It’s phenomenal, it’s outstanding.”
One thing it’s not, however, is common.
And this upsets both the big bettors and the old-school bookmakers greatly. Former nemeses, now fighting together to preserve what they perceive is the right way of doing business.
“Imagine a stock market where you kick people out because they were on the right side of a trade,” Walker said. “That’s unthinkable. Unimaginable. But that’s the kind of thing we’re creating in the sportsbook world. Maybe people like me are going to be labeled dinosaurs, but this is what I believe.”
Feinberg is Tyrannosaurus rex-ing in step with Walker.
“If you’re running your sportsbook properly, you should welcome all business,” he said. “I feel fiercely about that.”