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feature
From Public to Sharp Money
by Simon Noble
05 January, 2006

In the early years of sports betting, public money was the dominant factor. The influence of public money was so great that the lines were often over inflated to force some control over the positions a sportsbook would take on a game. The squares forced certain patterns every week – take the favorite and over early, and the dog and under right before post. These patterns were even more pronounced for Monday night games and the playoffs.

Things gradually changed. The number of wise guys kept growing, syndicates formed and these winning players bet more and more. A few years ago, we started seeing games where the sharps bet a lot more money than the public. The old trends started getting bucked – a Monday night dog would not keep going up, as the sharps forced the price back down. The influence of sharps became more prominent, and this has changed the way the entire offshore world works.

There’s still two distinct pools of money, but the hierarchy has changed. The public still bets growing amounts on games and exotics, but they’re no longer the dominant force controlling the line. Runaway lines during the regular season are now a thing of the past – the influence of public money is now dwarfed by the ‘sharper’ betting volume of the established syndicates and emerging sharps. The dramatic 1 or 1.5 point moves in the hour before the game are a thing of the past.

But then there is the post season where everything can change and the influence of public money is hard for a sports book to ignore…

Smart players can still exploit the line movements caused by sharp and public money during the post season by recognizing who plays where. First, you can get a measure of which side is sharp by watching the way the opening betting line surges at Pinnacle Sports, where the early line moves are predominantly caused by sharp players. Second, it’s important to shop around and identify which books will give you the best prices for your playing style.

You should always have a variety of sharp and recreational books so you can get the best price on the side you like. If you prefer the traditional sharp angles of playing dogs and unders, you’d do well to shop at a book that caters to recreational players. Their lines are a full point better than those of a typical “sharp” book. Similarly, the sharp books will often offer the best price on favorites and overs.

It’s also important to have at least one account at a reduced juice sports book where you can often find best price on both sides of the game. For example PinnacleSports.com, which was the first sports book to introduce reduced margin wagering. At Pinnacle Sports Book we use a -104 style pricing model on NFL sides giving players up to 60% better value than other bookmakers.

For this weekend’s playoff games, you might want to take a closer look at teasers before pulling the trigger, as these can be treacherous during the first week of the playoffs. For the last 15 years, the average margin of victory in the regular season has been 11.4 points. One would think that the playoffs would be closer, since the wildcard round has relative parity, but this isn’t the case. Instead of having closer games, the average margin of victory goes UP to 13.2 (and stays above 13.2 for all rounds of the playoffs and the Super Bowl). When the margin of victory goes up, points you get from a teaser become less valuable.

There is another surprising trend in this world of relative parity – home field advantage during the playoffs. Since 1990, home teams have covered the spread 58% of the time in the first round and 76% of the time when teased. As you may recall from earlier articles, you need to add at least 20% to your win-rate to make playing a teaser worthwhile.

For this weekend’s wildcard games, consider this information and how to play or tease them.

Washington (+2.5) at Tampa Bay

Washington finished the season with five straight wins to snatch a wildcard in the NFC. They did this with a balanced offense and defense that, while neither was dominant, both were above average. Tampa Bay won its division by winning four of its last five games. The Bucs did it with the #1 defense in the NFL allowing just 278 yards per game. Their offense was conservative, which relied on a low-risk running attack to eat up time and shorten games.

We initially opened the Redskins at +3 -121 and saw heavy two-way action. The sharps are divided on this game, but seem to slightly favor the Redskins. The public also favors Washington, which caused this line to nudge down. We’re also taking moderate volume on Washington teasers, but this is not from our sharper players.

Jacksonville (+8) at New England

After starting at 4-4, New England won four of its last five games to clinch its division. They did this despite being the only playoff team with a negative turnover differential (at -6 for the season). Jacksonville finished at 12-4, 2 games better than the Patriots, but thanks to sharing a division with the 14-2 Colts, the Jaguars could only win a wildcard, and are on the road.

After opening at Jacksonville +7.5, we saw heavy balanced two-way action. The sharps are split on this game as well, taking the points or playing the Patriots bought down to -6.5 and -7. Some sharps are also playing teasers on the Patriots from -8 to -2. By moving the line to New England -8 +101, we are dealing about the same price as -7.5 -104, but it makes teasing less attractive.

Carolina (+2.5) at New York Giants

After having the inside track to the NFC South title, Carolina lost two home games in December and yielded the title to Tampa Bay. Consequently, the Panthers begin their playoff journey on the road in New York. The Giants managed to win four of their last five games, but Eli Manning has had difficulties. In December, he’s thrown 7 interceptions to just 4 touchdowns and his passer rating was an abysmal 64.9%. Tiki Barber has stepped up for the offense in that same time period, netting 742 yards in those 5 games.

This is our highest volume game of the week. After opening with Panthers +3 -120, the sharps drove the line to +2.5. This is a classic money duel between the sharps on Carolina, offset by public money on the Giants. Money continues to pour in on both sides, with the sharps matching the public bettors dollar for dollar.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati

It is rare that a home team is an underdog in the first week of the playoffs. In the last 10 years, it has only happened 5 times. How have the home dogs fared? 5-0 against the spread, and 5-0 straight up.

Our opener of Steelers -2.5 -113 saw heavy two-way action. Once again, the sharps were split evenly on this game, taking Pittsburgh at -2.5 and Cincinnati at +3. The public is also evenly split, but slightly favors the Steelers.

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