#107: The Hand of Vegas
The Pittsburgh Steelers won a football game today by the score of 17-10.
Or was it 11-10?
I am awaiting a video of the final play of the game, just to confirm that the first of three laterals by the San Diego Chargers was also a backwards pass, but I (and at least 3 others I've talked with so far) saw legal laterals.
EDIT (11/17/08 @ 7PM EST): A Yahoo! Story confirms that the ultimate ruling (and subsequent review) were incorrect.
It obviously didn't matter to the outcome. The Steelers were going to win, but the end of the game was held up an extra two and a half minutes while the NFL and Las Vegas connived their way into hanging onto millions of dollars.
Visual aid time (courtesy ScoresAndOdds.com):
A: Where Vegas initially set the Lines. The "43" was the Over/Under (or: Do you think the game score TOTAL will be over or under 43?). The opening line was Steelers -3.5 (or: Do you think the Steelers will win by at least 4 points?) When a team has a (-) in front of it, they are the favorite.
B: During the week and up until game time, those numbers move. They eventually settled on an Over/Under of 40.5 and a game line of Steelers -4.5
C: This tells you that 72% of bets came in on the Steelers to cover the spread (whether those bets came in while the Steelers were 3.5-point favorites or 4.5-point favorites, you cannot tell). 28% thought the Chargers would cover the spread (lose by fewer than the number of points, or win outright). In short the term "Side" means you're taking that team's side versus the spread.
D: "Money" indicates the percentage of bets that came in on the team to win outright. 61% put money on the Chargers to win the game, 39% put money on the Steelers to win straight up. The reason you do this is "Value". To bet against the spread (Letter C above), you usually wager $110 to win $100 (or the respective ratio, like $220 to win $200, $330 to win $300, etc). An 11-to-10 ratio. When you bet an underdog to win straight up, the value is more like wagering $100 to win $150. It's good value. You're trying to get more money than you put up. By wagering on the Steelers to win outright (meaning, they don't have to win by 4 or 5), you are betting more along the lines of $200 to win $100. The reward is far less than you're risking.
E: "Total" is percentage of bets that come on whether the game will go over or under the given total. 51% say over 49% say under. That's a pretty balanced book.
For those who aren't sure what the line means, or the term "cover": Suppose the Steelers actually won the game 17-10. You would take that spread (let's use the latest line of "Steelers -4.5") and subtract it from the score. If, after that quick calculation is done, the Steelers still have more points than the Chargers, they win the game.
So, for the example above:
17 minus 4.5 equals 12.5. So, Vegas' score in this example, is actually "Steelers 12.5, Chargers 10". Steelers still win, so they are said to "cover".
Now, the game ACTUALLY ended 11-10. Run the formula again.
11 minus 4.5 equals 6.5. So, the "Vegas" score is actually: "Steelers 6.5, Chargers 10". Steelers do not cover. You lose your bet.
(You can actually add the points to the underdog, if you prefer, instead of subtracting from the favorite, too, so, in example 1: "Steelers 17, Chargers 14.5"...Chargers don't cover, or, example 2: "Steelers 11, Chargers 14.5"...Chargers DO cover.)
What the reversal has done is simply bilked thousands of bettors out of money.
72% of bettors against the spread took Pittsburgh to win by at least 4 (if not 5).
61% of bettors straight up took San Diego to win (by any score).
The 61% already lost, regardless of what the refs call, so Vegas wins there (they only have to pay out to the 39%).
But, by negating the Troy Polamalu TD at the end of the game, Vegas made sure they only had to pay out to the 28% of bettors who took San Diego to cover.
Games like these are the reason why bookies usually have big, strong bodyguards.
(I will try to update this post later if I can get the video. Until I see it a few more times, this smells VERY strongly of the Hand of Vegas)