Well, that was a disastrous evening of basketball.
In October, I went to Vegas. Check out the details here. Next week, I'll go back to Vegas to cash out my bet tickets. Here's what I'll be cashing out:
In the end, what killed the return is that 34% of the portfolio was tied up in bets that weren't close at all (MN, PHO, and SAC). Other bets were either very close (DAL, both SAS bets) or for neglible percentages of the portfolio.
SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT
A couple of years ago, Dre said that he likes betting unders a hell of a lot more than overs, and I've come to the conclusion that he's absolutely right, and that over bets are usually bad bets. And not just because, over the last two years, we are 8-0-3 on unders, and 2-1-6 on overs. Vegas does not set the line where it thinks the over/under is neutral, Vegas sets the line where it can get 50% of the money on both sides. And my instinct is that lots of betters like to bet on the overs, so the over line is higher than it should be.
Furthermore, betting on an over is more susceptible to injury and/or playing time variance. An injury can easily derail an over bet, whereas an under bet, since it is by definition a bet on a team's lack of talent, is not very susceptible to injury-related variance. Sure, it is possible that a team's starter will get injured, and the team will have a surprise star-level replacement on its bench, but this is not likely.
Next year, it will be tempting, for example, to bet the over on Utah if the line is at something like 41. I'm fairly confident that Utah will be a playoff-caliber team with a full year of Rudy Gobert. But that's the crux. Gobert is so important that a mild ankle sprain could cost 5 wins, to say nothing of more serious injuries. And then, of course, you run the risk that the team is at 37 wins in March, out of the playoff pictrue, and decides that it's better for the franchise if Gobert sits out the rest of the season with back spasms.
The exception is when the over is so low that it becomes a statistical outlier to hit the under. It is very, very hard to lose 66 games, no matter how bad your team is. And indeed, here we might be seeing the opposite effect: everybody knew Philadelphia was terrible, so everyone wanted to bet the under, so Vegas moved the line lower than the optimal number.
None of this applies to division bets; here, the payouts often justify the risk for teams that are very underrated. I'll be very curious to see the division winner odds for Utah next year.
Thanks for playing along!
And enjoy the playoffs. I like the Spurs a LOT less now that that they play on the road against the healthy Clippers instead of at home against a banged-up Dallas. What a huge reversal of fortune that last game was.
Who's your pick?