The Reckoning – Super Bowl

by dave on February 7, 2013

Rather than looking back at specific bets laid on the Super Bowl, instead it is time to have a reckoning with a couple lessons learned thanks to the Super Bowl.

I have spent this season educating myself about sports gambling – fighting my way down the path to becoming a Wiseguy. Each week I have learned a new lesson that I incorporate into my mindset going forward, so it is only fitting that in the biggest betting weekend of the year, I learned two lessons important for anyone to follow if they truly want to be a sharp bettor.

First, never get wrapped up in the ‘eventness’ of a game, and end up betting more than your system says you should.

As with most things in life, lessons aren’t learned in triumph. They are learned in defeat. I lost significant money on the Super Bowl. I lost too much even for someone who handicapped the game completely incorrectly.

I can lament the missed calls by the refs, or the fact that apparently the only thing that Ray Lewis’ God loves more than cheaters and hypocrites are hail may passes, but I won’t. Instead, I will take some blame myself (one thing that Ray Lewis’ God apparently dislikes). This was the ultimate example of why anyone that wants to be a professional or long term gambler needs discipline.

In my handicapping of the game I projected a spread and Over/Under very close to those being offered by the casinos. There was little value. Yet, given this was the grand finale to the season, I bet heavily regardless. Between large bets on the Forty-Niners and the Under, coupled with a multitude of small prop bets, I had significantly more money bet on this game, than any single game all season. With little value I should have bet small or looked for hedges, yet I didn’t. I went full-bore with what I expected to happen.

It is easy to lay thousands of dollars when you come to Las Vegas once a year for the game. You can show up for the game and feel like a big deal – especially if you flipped the coin and it landed on the correct side. It is a completely different animal to bet every week. The only way to win consistently is to govern the size of your bets based on your confidence level. Just because a game is the final one of the college or pro season doesn’t mean you should bet more. Especially if your handicapping system has thrown up its hands and told you ‘your guess is as good as mine’.

So I lost a lot. In fact, the only bets I won were the small bets I laid just in case the game didn’t go as I expected, which is never a good thing.

But it was this outcome that leads to the second lesson for aspiring wiseguy; don’t let a bet’s result impact your approach – there is always another game to move on to.

I remember reading Jimmy Buffett once talking about how he hates New Year’s Eve, because he thinks of it as ‘amateur night’; anyone that thinks they are a musician plays on New Year’s Eve. The same could be said for going out on New Year’s Eve. Every man and woman – people who only sip alcohol once a year – end up going out somewhere on New Year’s Eve – it is amateur night for party goers as well.

For gamblers, the Super Bowl is New Year’s Eve. Everyone wants to bet on THE BIG GAME. People who have yet to bet all season lay large sums of money solely because it is the culmination of the NFL season. Whether they know anything or not, if they are part of the half that got lucky and bet on the winner, they spend the rest of the year convinced they are some sort of gambling genius. Convinced their real calling in life is to be a professional gambler.

On the day before the game, I met old friend Peffer (in town with his wife for the weekend) at the LVH. Upon entering the sports book, we saw the betting line wind from the betting windows up stairs and partway into the main casino floor. When you are known for your broad menu of 300+ prop bets, everyone stops by to throw some money down in the days leading up to the game. After standing in line for 30 minutes, we laid a few prop bets for fun and then proceeded next door to the theater that houses Football Central on Sundays all fall. On this evening, it was hosting the world premiere of a movie entitled Life On the Line, a documentary that followed around several pro bettors in the days leading up to the Super Bowl in 2011.

We were a short walk from that line of bettors, but a greater contrast couldn’t have been drawn. While amateur hour reigned outside, people making their out-sized once-a-year bet, the movie showed the small set of men that make their entire living by gambling. While they all laid bets on the Super Bowl (bets bigger than 95% of the public), there was nothing special for them. It was just another game to bet on. In fact, if anything it was the opposite – with so much attention it is hard to imagine finding a lot of value to bet on. One of the gamblers (I don’t recall which) admitted in the movie he actually keeps his Super Bowl bets (relatively) small. Like virtually none of the people standing in line outside, the Super Bowl isn’t the end of the betting year for these guys. It is just time to transition to the next sport – NBA, college basketball, NHL.

This is the final lesson that I need to learn to continue my progression from pure public bettor to being at least a “wise-ish-guy”. A loss can’t be obsessed about. A loss needs to be forgotten in preparation for the next bet. It is always onward and upward for pro bettors. A cold streak is to be endured with the confidence that a hot streak is on its way.

One of the wiseguys in the movie, while acknowledging he lost money on his Super Bowl bets, actually felt positive because he believed his system and approach had been validated. Unlike someone looking at a team failing to convert a 4th down as proof they shouldn’t have gone for it, wiseguys know that outcomes can’t dictate what was the correct decision. A wiseguy focuses on process not outcome. A missed call by a ref. A shanked field goal. An unfortunate fumble. A gambler can’t control every aspect of a game, the most they can do is follow their approach and maximize their chances of winning. A loss needs to be shrugged off in pursuit of the bigger goal. Lose a battle but win the war.

There is no such thing as a bad taste in the mouths of a pro bettor. Money lost today can always be won back tomorrow. While it is an admirable trait and a professional necessity for wiseguys, unfortunately for me that isn’t quite the case.

While this season I started on the journey to becoming a gambler more educated than most, my time dedicated to betting football has come to an end. I didn’t quite complete the journey before the season closed on me. Trace elements of amateur bettor still inhabit my DNA. I will spend the off-season kicking myself for over-betting and figuring out how to improve my system. I need this time to gain some distance before coming back and laying money on the NFL again next fall.

But, in the meantime, while I am still in Las Vegas, I can continue progressing down the road to wiseguyville.

After all, I won an NBA bet the night after the Super Bowl. A small bet, because I wasn’t overly confident in it.


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