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Vegas And The SEC: More Proof That The Line Isn’t A Prediction

gfx - by the numbersIf there is one myth that we at would like to bust it’s the belief that the Vegas line is a prediction by the Las Vegas oddsmakers of who will win a particular game.  It isn’t.  It never has been.  It never will be.

Yet millions of everyday fans view the Vegas line as a form of prognostication.  Media members — and we should flat know better — wonder openly about how the folks in the desert can like this team over that one.  And coaches use the line as motivation to their players: “They think that team’s 20 points better than you!”

In reality, the oddsmakers who set the initial opening line in Las Vegas each week are trying to come up with a perfect number that will lead as many people to bet on Team Y as on Team X.  That’s why the lines move throughout the week.  Once the LVSC (Las Vegas Sports Consultants) provides casinos with its opening lines, the numbers start moving based on the action coming in on each side.

The casinos simply want the same amount of money to come in on each team.  Ideally, the money made off of people who bet the loser will pay off all the people who bet the winner.  The casinos lose no cash in those kinds of transactions but they do get to keep the vigorish which is what the casinos charge gamblers to place a sports bet.

Let’s say you want to win $100 on a game.  You would need to bet $110 on Team Y to cover the spread and the casino would keep 10 of those dollars as the vig.  Now, let’s say I put $110 on Team X to cover the spread.  If Team Y wins, you get your $110 back plus $100 for the win.  Your winnings would come from me in this scenario, not from the casino because there was an even amount of cash bet on each team.  And the extra $10 bucks I put down?  The casino keeps that as the vigorish.

Still, the myth of the Vegas line continues.  When bowl season rolled ’round and SEC teams were favored in all nine of their bowl games, talkshow host after blogger after sportswriter incorrectly stated that the Las Vegas bookmakers really loved the SEC.  No.  Las Vegas bookmakers knew that the sports gamblers coming to Las Vegas in December would love the SEC.  Joe Q. Sportsfan knows that the SEC is dominant.  That average fan — the kind of guy who doesn’t bet every weekend — would therefore be more likely to put his money on Southeastern Conference teams.  From there, the spreads were moved until they were large enough to bring in an equal amount of dollars on the teams those SEC squads were facing.

This is remedial stuff for you gamblers out there.  And for those scoffers who refuse to accept the fact that the Vegas line is not a true prediction of who’ll win a game, pick up a book or do a Google search on the topic.  Heck, you can get started here, here, or here.  And the next step is to ignore it when you hear someone declare that “Vegas thinks we’ll win by 10.”

There’s also a myth within the myth that has convinced many people that the Vegas Line is a prediction.  “The guys in Vegas are always right on the number!”

Again, no, they’re not.  Oh, they’re often on the number regarding what digits will convince an even number of people to bet on both teams in a game, but they’re not as dead-on accurate as many believe when it comes to their opening lines.

During the 2012 season and the 2013 postseason, Southeastern Conference teams played a total of 122 football games.  There was an opening line for 103 of those contests.  Four opened as “pick ‘em” games and the other 15 had no Vegas line because the SEC teams were facing teams from the FCS.

For the sake of our exercise, we’ll toss out the “pick ‘em” and no-line games.  In the remaining 103 SEC contests, the opening odds from the LVSC were off by an average of 13.69 per game.  Yes, almost two touchdowns.  So much for, “the guys in Vegas always come close.”  That — like the point spread being a prediction — is a myth.  It only seems like the bookmakers are always close because we remember the times when they do hit the nail on the head.

For example, this year the opening line for South Carolina’s game with Kentucky had the Gamecocks favored by 21.  Turns out, Carolina won the game 38-17 by 21 points exactly.  Impressive.  Yet that was the only time all season the LVSC opening line matched the final point differential in an SEC game with the favored team winning.

Here’s a bit more for you to chew on…


Opening Line within 3 points or less of being correct:  11 of 103 possible games (10.6%)

Opening Line within 7 points or less of being correct:  29 of 103 possible games (28.1%)

Margin of victory 14 or more points off from the Opening Line:  49 of 103 possible games (47.5%)

Margin of victory 21 or more points off from the Opening Line:  24 of 103 possible games (23.3%)


In other words, the opening line was off by 21 or more points almost as many times as it was within a touchdown or less.  And the line was off by two TDs or more nearly half the time.

This isn’t to bash the bookmakers.  It’s to try and show you that they’re not even attempting to do what so many people out there think they are attempting to do.

Below are all 122 SEC games from 2012-13.  You can see who was favored, by how much, and how far off the opening line actually was at game’s end.

When the fall rolls around, maybe there will be a few less fans and media members running around saying, “Vegas thinks we’re gonna lose by 3!”

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