Monday, May 9, 2011

Las Vegas Sports Book Notes: MLB Win Up and The Aftermath of No Kobe

By Micah Roberts

Baseball Been Very Good.....

Las Vegas Sports Books have done very well with baseball
These are supposed to be the dog days of baseball for the sports books, but so far, the books are loving baseball and having a great first few weeks of the season. The problem is that when the players lose at a higher rate, they lose the churn factory of volume which may cause some of the books to show lower handle despite the higher win.

If a regular bettors bankroll for the week is $100 and he loses it quickly, it doesn’t leave them much of a chance to create more action. Normal circumstances have the bettor being able to churn that $100 into $300 or $400 worth of action over the course of a week showing a small win or loss. With the way it’s going now, the books should expect to see some slight drops in volume.

Part of the reason is that there are no whipping boys any more. You can’t just pick on the Pirates or Royals on a daily basis, nor can you blindly hit a three-game parlay by just taking the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox like in years past. The pitching is better, less runs are being scored and games are tighter than ever.

Heat Are Who We Thought They Were, Crown Them!

We’ve come full circle on the Miami Heat index from being the clear cut overwhelming choice to win the championship when LeBron James made his announcement, went through some turmoil that caused skepticism, and now they are back on top in public opinion.

When James made that announcement, the Heat were 5/2 favorites (Bet $100 to win $250) to win the title. When the Heat started playing the blame game and pointing fingers at the coach, it was around the same time the Lakers kicked into gear which vaulted Los Angeles to the favorite and sent the Heat to as high as 5/1.

Now, with the Lakers gone, the Heat are 7/4 (Bet $100 to win $175) to win the NBA championship, a price much lower than when the season started even though they were expected to be in this situation. Their play, dominating at times, has validated all the initial trust on the early short price to begin the season.

The Heat look prime to win it all
While most basketball fans will be rooting against the Heat, a group of professional bettors here in town can’t wait until they spray the champagne. When rumors were circulating where James might take his talents to, this group took advantage of the Miami odds around town that were still on the board at 25 and 20/1.

Not every book offered lines on the NBA futures until James decision was announced, but a handful did so immediately after the 2010 NBA Finals. So needless to say, there will be a few books that will be rooting for the Heat Index to go cold quickly.

Because the Lakers are now out, so is a large portion of NBA bettors. Books can expect a 10% drop off in action from the last three year average of NBA Finals action the Lakers were involved in. Should the Heat get knocked off before the Finals, that number could fall even lower. It’s not that the Heat has that many fans, but they keep people’s attention just to see what they’ll do next with many rooting against them. Let’s face it, the Mavericks, Grizzlies and Thunder aren’t the most popular teams in the league and one of them will be in the Finals.

Champions League

With no Euro or World Cup coming up because it’s an odd numbered year, our summer fix of soccer will end with the UEFA Champions League final of Manchester United and Barcelona. The Hilton posted odds on the match immediately following their semi-final matches last week with Barcelona being a huge minus-200 favorite (Bet $200 to win $100) to win outright over the mighty Reds Devils.

Although soccer doesn’t generate the volume of other major sports, the last Cup action in June and July of 2010 were pretty large and the few hundred thousand in handle, and 16% win, will be missed during those months when baseball is the main source of action. June and July are usually the toughest months a sports book has with forecasted win being more unpredictable than any other set of months.

Sports Betting Systems

Last week I speculated about the impact of William Hill taking over CBS (Computerized Bookmaking Systems), the company that services many Las Vegas race and race sports books betting systems. I got quite a few calls on the matter from many different points of view, which makes the subject all the more interesting and warrants more discussion. Next week, we’ll explore all the options that Nevada sports books and bars have available to them in addition to CBS.

I also wanted to clarify something I mentioned last week regarding company financial records for the sports books. Under GCB (Gaming Control Board) regulations, CBS currently has to call their client to get approval should they need to enter the sports book's system or it becomes a violation. The hub operation usually keeps a hand written log for these types of activities which is most common when there is a system issue, stoppage or regular programming needs to be updated.

I also regret that I forgot to mention horse racing handicapper Richard Eng in my Kentucky Derby piece last week who was doing a free seminar at Terrible‘s, after naming several others. The last thing I would want was for Eng to feel slighted in any way because he has been such true friend to me over the last decade. The man has done countless favors for me over the years with promotions and lent his time and name to those efforts.

He probably didn’t even read it, but I just wanted him, and everyone, to know that it was just a short mental lapse. Eng is one of the top horse racing handicappers in all the land.

Over the summer I’ll also have a few series of articles on the origins of some of the current sports book directors around town. It’s a small community of people that many would be surprised how closely linked they all are. We’ve all heard of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon or the branches of Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick‘s trees, soon you’ll read about the roots of the bookies, many of which began in Pittsburgh.

MLB Betting Notes

Guyer after hitting a home run
You have to love the story of the Rays prospect Brandon Guyer in the same sense that we loved the plight of Moonlight Graham in ’Field of Dreams’. Guyer, a 25-year-old outfielder, was called up from the minors last week after starting pitcher Jeff Niemann went on the disabled list because the Rays thought B.J. Upton might be suspended and wanted fill the possible hole.

Upton put in an appeal and wasn’t suspended, but the Rays inserted Guyer into the starting lineup for Friday’s game against the Orioles anyway. In his first major league at-bat, Guyer hit a home run and ended the night 1-for-3. Now that’s how you make a first impression. Guyer was one of the key players received in the Matt Garza trade with the Cubs. After a great first month at Durham where he was smoking the ball, he had to be thinking he was up ‘in the show’ to stay.

Guyer didn’t play Saturday, which wasn’t alarming because Joe Maddon constantly shuffles his lineups around utilizing his entire bench as starters. But on Sunday morning, before their game, Guyer was informed he was being sent back down to Durham because they needed a pitcher. Maddon said he’s sure Guyer will be back up and make an impact with the team, but you never know. At least his cup of coffee in the majors was of the bold and strong flavored variety.

Phenomenal Phillies
The Phillies may have had a set back when pitcher Roy Oswalt went on the DL last week, but don’t feel too sorry for the team tied for the best record in baseball. Oswalt’s replacement, Vince Worley, has fit right in and has dominated his two starts going 2-0 and allowing only one run.

The Phillies also have a couple of amazing trends going right now. They are 10-0 this season in day games and have gone 9-1 against lefties. They play two day games this weekend against the Braves, but won’t face any lefties against either the Marlins or Braves.

The Marlins are still nipping at the Phillies in the NL East, but unlike the Phillies, they don’t play at their best in day games. Florida’s win Sunday was only their third day win in eight games, making them a really dangerous night club going 17-8.

Definitely Not a Number One

Lee has lost his last three starts for Philly
Many thought Cliff Lee was crazy for not taking the big New York money, opting to take less and pitch in Philadelphia with all kinds of reasons given such as his wife didn’t like the city. But the real reason was him probably not wanting to be so visible in the brightest spotlight of such a big contract.

Lee has lost his last three starts, yet has remained out of the storylines because of how well the team is doing. He doesn’t have the weight of the team on him, letting Roy Halladay handle that department. Although Lee has pitched very well in those three losses, you have to believe the New York media wouldn’t have been so kind to Lee in the same situation which makes his move to Philly look like the smartest thing he could have done.


The run-line can be a nice way to pull some edge back to the player in the right spots, but certain teams should almost always be advised to stay away from. The Royals have played in 14 one-runs games this season, winning nine of them, while Reds lead the NL with 13 one-run games, only winning six of them. The best teams to be on or against on the run-line are the Orioles and Tigers who have each only been involved in five one-run games.

Power Outage

We’re seeing the lowest home run ratio in baseball since 1992 with pitchers quickly getting ahead in the count and showing no fear like we saw through an era that seems to have just passed us by in 2009. The last two seasons have seen batting averages and home runs decline while also seeing ERA's drop. This has become a pitchers game again and more emphasis than ever should be put on the pitchers and bullpens when it comes to handicapping the games.

Tigers Ready the Growl?

Penny has come on strong over his last four starts
After a sluggish start that carried through last week with a seven-game losing streak, the Detroit Tigers might be a team we can expect to start coming around. They’ve won five of their last six through Sunday and most of that can be attributed to good starting pitching.

Justin Verlander (3-3) has been getting all the headlines after throwing a no-hitter last week, but the real ace of the staff has been Max Scherzer (5-0), who just wins. The pitcher that has really made them tough to beat in a series now is veteran Brad Penny (3-3), who has been outstanding over his last four starts going 3-1 allowing two runs or less in the three wins.

If Rick Porcello (2-2) can stay .500 and give them innings and Phil Coke (1-5) can start showing some of that promise, Detroit should be able to make a good run at the Indians for the division quickly. The Tigers are currently 30/1 to win the World Series at the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.

The Bucs Don’t Stop Here
Calling a .500 record somewhat of accomplishment on May 8 may not be a big deal for most teams, but for Pittsburgh, they’ll take it. The Bucs haven’t had a winning record since 1992, the last of their three straight NL East titles, and also last year of Barry Bonds in the steel city. After winning their home series from the Astros on Sunday, the Pirates went to 17-17 and tied their season high with a two-game winning streak. It’s been six years since the Pirates have been .500 this late, and it’s only May.

If it weren’t for the Marlins (0-3 record against), Brewers (0-2) and Rockies (1-4), Pittsburgh would be starting a catch phrase, or cling to a song for this year’s version of the team. Even though two games in a row doesn’t sound like much, it’s when the Pirates win them that matters, like the front and back end of three-game series. The key to their success thus far has been terrific play on the road, winning four of five road series. Their win Sunday was their second home series conquest of the season.

This week the Pirates welcome the lackluster Dodgers for a four-game set before traveling to Milwaukee, who has dominated Pittsburgh. The Brewers are 48-17 against the Pirates since 2007, including the two-game sweep in April.

Those of you thinking that this could be the Pirates first World Series win since 1979, check out the 300/1 odds offered at the Las Vegas Hilton.


Peavy should make his first start Wednesday
Welcome back Jake Peavy! Wednesday looks to be the day 2007 Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy makes his return to the rotation for White Sox. He threw over 100 pitches in a rehab assignment last Thursday and had no pain. For some bettors, they may be happy to see Peavy back as well or at least for his first start.

Pitchers coming back from an injury can be a great spot to bet against them, as was the case last week with Zack Greinke. Some pitchers take it to the extreme when they come back like Ubaldo Jimenez has in losing all three of his starts since returning to the Rockies rotation. Jimenez pitched very well his last time out which may put a stop to that gravy train.

Others, like the Reds Johnny Ceuto, have come back strong. In Sunday’s 2-0 win at Wrigley Field, Cueto didn’t allow a run in six innings of work after struggling somewhat in four previous minor league rehab appearances.

Rangers OF Josh Hamilton is coming back in two weeks. He‘s been swinging the bat and is ahead of the timetable set. He went on the disabled list Apr. 13 and was then expected to come back in six to eight weeks. The Rangers were 9-1 when he went on DL and are 9-16 without him. Over that losing stretch, it hasn't helped that Nelson Cruz has also been banged up which forced the Rangers to put him on the 15-day DL on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Las Vegas Race and Sports Book Notes: Derby Week

Derby Day A Chance For Race Books To Shine

By Micah Roberts

Derby day is a huge event in Las Vegas Race Books
This weekend’s Kentucky Derby is more than just the biggest horse racing day of the year for Las Vegas race books, it’s a showcase event. Race books around town get show everyone how polished they are from guest service, cleanliness, video presentation and amenities offered. This is their chance; their one shot to win over a new crowd that rarely visits the book, but now does so because of tradition. Derby day in the book is almost like church where we see the two busiest days being Easter and Christmas.

“The Derby is the most well known horse racing event and attracts the average guy, where as the Breeders Cup attracts most from the horse racing community,” says Cantor Gaming’s Race and Sports Director Mike Colbert, “With the Derby you get both factions making it a huge event. My parents even bet the Derby every year and they won’t make a horse bet for the rest of the year, which is kind of what we get with the Derby most of the day.“

Race books around town know the people are going to come and some offer enticing little gifts to ensure a visit to their property. Jay Kornegay at the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book will be giving away commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses with every $20 wager. Kornegay is also using the day to try and educate many of the first time bettors with hopes of making them regular bettors throughout the year.

“I like to use this opportunity, with having so many new faces attracted to horse racing for the day, to try and create more horse racing fans long term,” Kornegay explained. “Beyond just teaching them how to correctly place a wager for the Derby, I like to show them how much of an opportunity there is for getting a piece of the huge pools in all the races.

Derby day attracts them all
“Most bettors like to bet a little to win a lot, whether it’s a parlay in sports or hitting a big price in the horses. For a small amount in horse racing, you can really hit something large when playing some of the exotics. I want them to know what a pick-4 is, or how a trifecta works where they can experience some huge payouts and then, hopefully, endear them to horse racing on more days other than just the Derby.“

That kind of forward thinking by Kornegay is what is needed for not only every Nevada race book, but also for the entire Horse racing industry as the sport has kind of lost a generation to sports betting and poker. Pari-mutual handle in Nevada has been sliding the last five years, yet Derby day still holds its grip year-over-year with slight increases or flat numbers.

The art of handicapping a race is somewhat of a lost science, but hopefully all the wisdom from the likes of local handicapping legends like John Kelly, Pat McQuigan, Richie Saber, Ralph Sciroco and Dave Tuley can be extracted and bottled up for the current generation to tap into. The Palace Station and South Point are offering free handicapping seminars on Friday to not only help novices better understand horse racing, but also educate the regulars on what horse might be good plays to cash in on.

Most of the Las Vegas race books are pretty nice as is, but the angle of getting something for free is always a huge catch. Local bettors have come to expect some kind of gift for their wagers. This year the South Point is giving away food and drink vouchers with a $20 wager along with expanding their race book for the day.

The South Point already has one of the nicest race books in the city simply because it doesn’t have any conflict with those noisy sports bettors. It’s the only real stand alone race book in Las Vegas and has and old school type of feel of feel. It’s not old by any means, in fact it’s brand new, but it’s old in the sense of having that horse racing feel like so many of us know from midwest and east coast OTB parlors.

Lots of free stuff being given away 
Despite having a huge room with nine betting stations, South Point race book manager Mary Jungers is opening a brand new extension of her race book in the giant ball room upstairs just to accommodate the thousands expected to come through the door. She’ll have seven bet stations giving her a total of 16 windows that will all be open throughout the day.

Over at Station Casinos race books across the valley, bettors get the best of both worlds with free stuff, $20,000 up for grabs and watching the races in luxury. Stations has the biggest conglomerate of large race books in town with the best combined viewing experience. Have you seen those video walls? No matter where you are in the casino, you’ll be able to see the massive movie screen HD picture of the Derby.

If that’s not enticing enough, for a $20 wager, every Station book will be giving away free Derby t-shirts while supplies last. For a $2 wager, bettors also have the opportunity to get a piece the guaranteed $20,000 Twin-Quinella, a massive overlay that the Station books combine to pay for.

Bob Scucci’s chain of sports books for Coast Resorts will also be giving away official Derby t-shirts for a $20 wager while supplies last. His Orleans race book will be expanded for the day to the ball room to accommodate the crowd.

I don’t even know who I like to win, but I’ll keep a close eye on what our local experts like and try some of their strategies. What I do know is that I want some free stuff. I’ve got a collection of Derby glasses that need this years version, so a visit to the Hilton is a must. I’ll also re-gift the t-shirts I collect to family across the states who love that kind of stuff. It’s a total win-win for me and the results of the race aren’t even in yet.

How Many Race and Sports Books Will Stay With CBS?

T-3 terminal
Whenever the GCB approves William Hill to begin business in Nevada, there is likely going to be a chain reaction of changes that occur in regards to one of American Wagering’s subsidiary companies, CBS, which has agreements to operate and maintain several Nevada race and sports book betting systems.

CBS has lost quite a bit of business over the last six years after being the only show in Nevada since the early 1990’s when it was mandated by the GCB that all race and sports books have a computerized system. Vic Salerno was the brain child of the operation and pretty much saved the day for the sports books everywhere by having an approved system ready for everyone to use, of course, for a monthly fee.

As those fees for software and hardware upgrades became egregious over the years, some companies started to look for alternatives, either outside sources to get a system approved or having their in house I.T. departments get something going like Station Casinos did.

The problem now is that William Hill’s operation will essentially have access to all the data and information of every race and sports book that CBS services which covers almost half the state. Confidential information like category analysis, monthly and yearly win reports as well as a data base of player information.

There is a conflict of interest that most sports books won’t be able to swallow. When Cantor Gaming bought out Las Vegas Sports Consultants, it didn’t take long for LVSC to lose creditability within the industry because most of their clients stopped paying for the service due to Cantor’s other business of taking bets at their own sports books.

Sports Books may not feel too good about new service 
Even though LVSC still put out great lines as always, the perception was already cast. Just about every sports book chose to go with Pete Korner, an oddsmaker who just makes odds as his business for everyone equally.

The possibility for Salerno and his Leroy’s sports books to have already snooped through his competitors files existed, but Salerno’s relationship with everyone in town is golden. His reputation and integrity known by all has garnered the respect of everyone to know all the confidential files they had within the system was secure and safe.

Leroy’s sports books also weren’t considered aggressive competitors. Salerno took his little piece of the cake and never tried to bully anyone for a larger share of the market. He balanced the two businesses quite well and made them both a success without stepping on anyone‘s toes.

Many sports books specifically stayed with CBS and didn't look for alternatives just because of Salerno and the relationship they had with him.

No one really knows how William Hill‘s books will operate when they take over the Leroy’s and Cal-Neva books, but everyone knows they are well financed and it’s assumed by most that they will try to make a big splash. There is somewhat of a fear and with that fear, also comes distrust, something that was never a concern with Salerno.

My guess is that within two years most of the Nevada sports books that aren’t owned by William Hill will be operating a different system than CBS’. Some sports books have contracts that run for up to two to three years that technically binds them to CBS as their service provider, but because of the sale and William Hill’s other perceived intentions, that contract most likely will find a way to get terminated by the casino’s corporate legal teams.

Baseball Betting Notes
Angels have been very good on the road
We don’t think of home field being that much of an edge in baseball in the same manner which it is for basketball and football. For the Anaheim Angels -- I refuse to say Los Angeles -- they‘re sitting in first place with a losing record at home (6-7) while doing most of their damage on the road (10-5).

After starting the season losing three of four at Kansas City, they have gone on a road tear winning four of five at Tampa Bay on two separate visits, sweeping at Chicago, took two of three at Texas and now start a four game series at Boston.

The Boston series becomes critical for the Angels psyche because the Sox swept the Angels in Anaheim last weekend. In that series, Dan Haren took his first loss of the season, but Boston was able to avoid red hot Jared Weaver who would go on to shutout the A’s the very next day after Boston left town.

The flu-like symptoms that caused Weaver to be scratched from his Sunday start almost looks to be too convenient. Even though it’s only May, it’s not improbable to believe that Mike Scioscia wanted his best being represented on the mound to avoid what happened the last time the teams met. Because of past history between the teams facing each other often in the post season, these matchups do have some importance for the future.

The Rays also have a losing record at home (7-9) while winning regularly on the road (8-4). They have been on of my favorite teams to bet because they are sound in almost every category. Even their revamped bullpen, with no holdovers from 2010, has been as steady as one could expect from a brand new staff.

The Phillies have been good at home and away, but the other NL divisional leaders seem to like the road much better. The Cardinals have been less than stellar at Busch stadium (6-6) while pounding the ball on the road (10-6). Even though they have played four more games on the road, the Cardinals have hit 12 more home runs and have a slugging percentage .120 higher (.495 to .375). The Red Birds batting average is .52 points higher on the road.

Colorado has played the same amount of games home (7-6) and away (10-3), but their stats aren’t as telling like the Cardinals. We all think of the Rockies mashing the ball with Troy Tulowitzski and Carlos Gonzalez, but they’re the 23rd worst hitting team in baseball at a .239 clip. What has made them so good is consistent pitching, both from their starters and bullpen. Their team ERA is .47 points lower on the road and the bullpen has converted eight saves.

Indians Road Woes to Come?
Big road trip for Indians this week 
The Indians have been excellent at home (13-2) while going 6-6 on the road. Their only home losses came in their first two games of the year to the White Sox. Since then they have reeled off an amazing 13 straight home wins. The wins can be somewhat devalued because of who they did it all against, some of the worst teams in baseball during April. Teams like Baltimore, Minnesota, Kansas City and Detroit have been the teams Cleveland have swept over that run.

Two of those teams, the Royals and Twins, won their series when Cleveland got on the road. This week the Indians go west to face the two best pitching rotations in the AL, beginning Tuesday at Oakland and then Anaheim Friday.

Two of the best young pitchers in the game, Josh Tomlin (4-0) and Justin Masterson (5-0), will be ripe to bet against while on the road. Tomlin has to face Trevor Cahill (4-0) on Wednesday and Masterson goes up against Weaver (6-0) Saturday night. In two of their other games, the Indians also have to face Brett Anderson (2.95 ERA) and Dan Haren (1.23 ERA). Their only luck on the trip is that they don’t have to face Gio Gonzalez’ killer curve ball.

I would be very surprised if the Indians came back home next week with more than two wins making them a great team to bet against this week. It also wouldn’t be much of a shock if they came home empty handed, which may cause me to bet against Cleveland in every game.

For the second time in team history, the Florida Marlins hit five home runs in the same game from five different players on Sunday at Cincinnati. One of those players was Hanley Ramirez (.200 BA) who went deep for the first time this season. We don’t think of Ramirez as a home run hitter, but he has had a succession of good power years hitting 17, 29, 33, 24 and 21 coming into 2011. When thinking about how little of an impact he has made hitting out of the No. 3 hole and where the Marlins are -- nipping at the Phillies in the NL East -- it makes their accomplishments this year even a greater achievement.

The Twins put 1B Justin Morneau in the No. 3 hole Sunday and he responded with his first home run of the season. Unlike Ramirez, Morneau is a power hitter, but like Ramirez, Morneau is not hitting (.225 BA). It’s obvious that he still has lingering affects from a concussion that knocked him out of the 2010 season. Either that, or he is mysteriously experiencing a power outage like we have seen from quite a few players since the 2009 season. Hmmm, wonder what that could be.

Lots of expectations for Carl Crawford
Carl Crawford is still hitting an awful .168 for the season, but the new month began with his best day as a Red Sox player where he had the walk-off single against Seattle. For the month Crawford is now hitting. 500 and I would expect that moment Sunday to be the major turning point on his season. Boston has had several walk-off hits before, but they treated this one, because of Crawford’s slump, like they had just won the World Series. Look for Crawford to soon be elevated to the No. 2 hole and for him to start hitting like everyone knows he can. I would say .380 for month would be a very fair estimation.

As the new month dawns, I’m hopeful that my young pitchers don’t fail me. I’ll already be betting against Masterson and Tomlin this week, but my two other big winners this year have been Baltimore’s Zach Britton (5-1) and Toronto’s Kyle Drabek (2-1).

Britton got the win Sunday against the White Sox and is getting it done with just great pitching using his sinker to get easy outs. He hasn’t overwhelmed anyone yet, but it’s apparent that his team seems to play much better when he’s on the mound.

Drabek finally had the luck run out Saturday at Yankee stadium when he lasted only 2.1 innings giving up five runs in a 5-4 loss. His problem all season has been control, but he has been getting out trouble all year until Saturday when his four walks caught up with him. Because of the short outing, his ERA skyrocketed to 4.45. Nevertheless, cashing in five straight games with him to start the year was pretty nice and made up for my personal loss with him Saturday.

As for the near future for Drabek, he’ll face Phil Coke and the Tigers Friday night in Toronto. I like Drabek better at home, but I know because of the short outing Saturday that he could be gun-shy around the plate even more making him more apt to allowing runs. But the real dilemma is that Phil Coke is pitching who has been a great pitcher to bet against as his team has lost four the last five games he’s started. That might be a day-of decision depending on how the Tigers perform the next few games.