Competition leads to innovation and that can certainly be seen in the sportsbook business in recent years. The offshore industry is undergoing the same changes that Las Vegas has in the last twenty years. Las Vegas was once the domain of casino operators that many people considered to be shady or to have questionable pasts. Now it is run by large corporations with years of experience in entertainment or hotels run most of the casinos and the city has boomed. Now it is starting to happen in the sportsbook industry and this is a good thing as it brings legitimacy and competition, which can only benefit bettors.
In recent years we have seen bet types that were once considered novelties become standard. First half and halftime betting in football and basketball are now commonplace and more and more shops are offering wagering by quarter or period, etc. We have also seen the differences in the way betting is offered for separate sports start to blend together. For example, moneylines are steadily growing in popularity for football and basketball and the runline is now a favorite way for many players to bet baseball. Bettor-specified conditions such as listed pitchers in baseball may soon be offered on other sports. We introduced listed goalies during the NHL playoffs and who knows what is next, listed quarterbacks for football or even specific player conditions for basketball "I'll take the Lakers -7 if Shaq starts" could be a possible bet in the next few years.
Baseball has always been considered a slow season by bookmakers but increased competition has led to innovation and to a few new offerings. I'll cover a few of those in this column: prop betting, 4.5 inning lines and baseball total teasers.
Proposition betting (prop betting for short) has steadily increased in popularity as bettors look for more exciting ways to bet on an event. Props are generally bets on a game that are not directly related to the final score (although some prop bets are). For example, instead of trying to pick the winner of a Red Sox - Yankees game, you could bet on the total number of strikeouts Pedro Martinez will have or who will get more hits, Nomar or Derek Jeter. You could bet on which team will score first or which team will score last. Will Jason Giambi hit a Home Run? The possibilities are endless.
These are the extension of the kind of wagers friends make when watching a game and arguing over a specific player or team's ability and I think this is one of the main reasons for the growth in this type of bets. Another key factor is the fantasy sports phenomenon. Millions of sports fans participate in some form of fantasy league where you act as a virtual GM of your own sports team. Fantasy players do so much research on individual players that being able to wager on individual players holds a lot of appeal. One of our players offered another reason for the popularity of prop betting: "When the team I bet on is losing by 8 runs in the 7th inning, I have little motivation to watch the game. But when I have a few prop bets in play, there is always a reason for me to continue to watch and to cheer and to enjoy the game."
One prop bet that has blossomed into its own bet type is the 4.5 inning line (or 5 inning line at some shops). As I mentioned above, first half wagering has become very popular in football and basketball so naturally some clever bookmaker extended this to baseball. Now bettors can bet on the score for the "first half" of a baseball game. Moneylines and totals are offered and the attraction for many bettors is that their research on the starting pitchers (which many consider to be the key to betting baseball) has much more bearing if just the first 4.5 innings are considered for the purposes of the bet.
One key to consider when shopping these lines is that the visiting team will have an extra at bat. This means that there is a premium on the visiting team and bettors who favor the home team can often get a more favorable payout on their wager than if they took the home team for the entire game. Totals are generally just the game total cut in half but adjustments are made for certain teams that have bullpens that are better (or worse) than their starting pitching. Adjustments are also made for teams with deep benches or when the home team is a heavy favorite (meaning the game is more likely to go 8.5 innings instead of 9).
The other newcomer to baseball betting is the teaser on baseball totals. Few books offer this currently but this should change in the next few years because of the general growth pattern for new sports bettors. As their knowledge, skill and confidence grow, new bettors move from betting football exclusively to betting basketball and from there to baseball. As most novice bettors start with football and basketball, teasers are well known to them and make an easy way to start with baseball (I often hear from new bettors that the moneyline and runline are a little more confusing than traditional pointspreads or totals).
The baseball total teaser works the same way as teasers in football or basketball, except that the number of options is typically reduced down to one (in football you can tease 6, 6.5 or 7 points but in baseball teases to the total are always 2 runs). You must pick at least two totals in your bet and the payoffs vary from book to book.
As the sportsbook industry continues to become more competitive, further innovations will arise. It won't be long before you can bet on the result of a single at-bat or even a single pitch as the mediums of television and the Internet continue to merge. For now though, us baseball fans still have plenty of great ways to bet. I'll be back in a couple of weeks with a look towards the upcoming football season.
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