It was a week into the return of Major League Soccer when Las Vegas radio host Jonathan Von Tobel came across an interesting stat.
He noted that in the first five days of play, July 8-12, there were 15 goals scored in eight games. On July 13-14, six games were played and 23 goals were scored. That’s a lot more offense, and bettors noticed. He wondered, via Twitter, whether it was just an improvement in play or maybe players were getting used to life inside a bubble.
The sample size wasn’t yet large enough to start hammering the overs in MLS games, but it was worth keeping an eye on. On July 15, San Jose beat Vancouver, 4-3. The consensus over/under was probably 2.5.
As mainstream sports get back to resuming with no crowds and, in baseball’s case, a couple of funky new rules, bookies are bracing themselves.
It’s going to be a “complete crapshoot with all the unknowns,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill’s U.S. sportsbooks. “We’re just going to have to react as fast as humanly possible. It’s going to be a wild time.”
One curiosity will be the over/unders. If a pattern develops, such as the MLS example above, sharp bettors will pounce -- no matter how obscure.
There was a trend during the 2018-19 NHL season in which the first-period over/under in games involving the Chicago Blackhawks went over nearly 80%. It was quirky, but it was lucrative for bettors and costly for houses.
Which brings us to what’s at hand today. Sportsbooks don’t like the unknown.
“The totals are a little tricky,” said Johnny Avello, director of operations at DraftKings. “We don’t know what that’s going to be like without fans in the stands. Is that going to make [teams] score more than they would normally score because they are focused? Or is it going to be less because their momentum isn’t driven [by the roar of a crowd]. That is something we’re going to keep a close eye on.”
The adaptation of the designated hitter by the National League also should affect the totals for NL games. The American League has played with a DH since 1973 and its teams, on average, have scored more than NL teams every year since 1975.
Perhaps just as important, baseball is now requiring relief pitchers to face at least three batters unless there’s an injury or an inning ends.
Baseball also will begin all extra innings with a runner on second base for the team batting. The hope is that it will help curb games from going into the wee hours of the night. It also should help the overs since both teams will have decent chances to add to their run totals each inning after the ninth.
As things open back up, there are two keys for sportsbooks.
One, stay nimble. Two, if you hang a number, honor it. And don’t give customers the hourglass of death when they are making a bet while you decide if you have the fortitude to accept the action. Social media is filled with bettors frustrated by constantly moving odds from nervous dealers.
“Speaking from a trading perspective, it really is about being confident in your existing lines,” said Patrick Eichner, director of communications for PointsBet, “but [also] being willing to let action dictate and help us shape where things should be appropriately priced.”
Nice gesture by PointsBet to offer no-juice NBA odds for the remaining regular-season games. There will still be point spreads, but their prices are +100 ($1 won for every $1 wagered). The line on the Sixers-Pacers game on Aug. 1 was Sixers -3.5, so a $50 bet on the Sixers would pay $50 if the Sixers covered.
At Parx and Rivers, for instance, the point spread is similar, but the odds are -112. A bettor at these houses would have to put up $56 in order to win $50. It’s a small thing, but every nickel counts.