Let's turn back the clock to the 2009 College World Series. As expected, every sportsbook adjusted the championship odds daily as games are played. However, one prominent Las Vegas sportsbook did not. That book accidentally kept the original future odds on the board the entire tournament.
Jeff, an acquaintance of mine, seized the opportunity and bet both LSU and Texas at 3-1 odds, since each team was one win away from reaching the finals. The Tigers ultimately defeated the Longhorns, and Jeff cashed that ticket for a healthy profit. Seemingly no employee of that sportsbook ever became aware of the mistake.
Unethical? Yes, considering Jeff knew other sportsbooks were offering around even money for the same wagers. Fair game? I think so.
So, where do you draw the line on lines? How does this industry classify a "mistake?" After all, isn't every single bettor approaching the wager with a premise that the line is off?
Just ask Florida State, which is 0-3 ATS this season with the closing point spread off by a combined 76 points from the final score. That is the worst in all of FBS, according to TeamRankings.com. If anyone is wagering against the Seminoles, I imagine they feel those point spreads are "mistakes."
Last weekend, FanDuel committed an egregious error with its in-game wagering system. A New Jersey bettor risked $110 on the Denver Broncos at 750-1 odds for a payout of $82,610. At the time, Denver trailed the Oakland Raiders in the fourth quarter by two points. The Broncos ultimately won on a field goal in the final seconds. The market odds should have been Denver -600 but FanDuel says human error accounted for the ridiculous line being posted for a period of 18 seconds. FanDuel initially declined to pay the bettor but has since reversed course.
We can all agree that FanDuel had a slam-dunk case -- in the court of public opinion. There is no revisionist history here. Any reasonable person would concede the line was an accident. But why should a bettor bear the brunt of the situation, especially considering he made the wager over the counter with a human being at the Meadowlands Racetrack? A teller or manager could have noticed the mistake within a reasonable amount of time and canceled it. Sometimes a sportsbook will void the ticket before the outcome is decided.
Throughout all my years of betting, I have lost track of my accidental bets placed in both live wagering and straight up. Based on the sheer volume, they occur more often than you realize. Not once has the book credited back my account. I have either had to eat the juice by betting the opposite side or not even noticed the mishap until later. Live wagering is complex and intense. It requires supreme focus. That responsibility falls on both the bettor and the house. At some point, all sales must be final.
FanDuel is not the first and won't be the last company to suffer a financial hit because of an annoying technicality or egregious oversight. That's the cost of doing business. But when you are the business, you have to absorb these types of rounding errors. And yes, $82K is a drop in the bucket. It comes with the territory.
Plus, what many fail to understand is how a similar scenario occasionally presents itself -- intentionally. Sportsbooks adjust numbers to manage their risk on various games. A sportsbook will tweak its halftime or in-game lines to encourage action on one team in the hopes of alleviating their overall exposure.
For example, let's say a whale places several hundred thousand dollars on the Dallas Cowboys right before kickoff. Thus, the sportsbook does not have sufficient time to reduce that exposure. So, throughout the course of the game, it will try to lay off some risk by offering skewed odds during in-game betting. Arbitrage bettors seek these advantageous situations and capitalize on the financial opportunity. The book actually wants that action to offset the whale's original wager on Dallas.
Now, I think it is safe to say FanDuel was not laying off risk. The discrepancy of -600 and +75,000 is just too astronomical. However, I have seen college basketball halftime spreads differ from the rest of the betting market by five points -- intentionally. Novice bettors would classify those situations as "mistakes," but the book actually was hoping for that action -- likely to offset a whale's much larger position on the original game line.
So where do you draw the line? Answer: You don't. Pay up, just like FanDuel did.
Here are my picks for this weekend (1-2 last weekend, thanks Ole Miss):
USC -4.5 (vs. Washington St.) -- The Trojans have not lived up the school's reputation. They are 0-3 ATS but return home after tough back-to-back trips to Stanford and Texas. I am backing them in a must-win situation against a Washington State squad that has yet to play any competition near the level of USC. Mike Leach has the coaching advantage, but I think USC has too much of a talent and hunger edge in this one.
Syracuse -27.5 (vs. Connecticut) -- After defeating Florida State for the first time in 52 years, the Orange enter a quintessential flat spot. However, the program has not reached an elite status where it can overlook any opponent. Syracuse is undefeated and received some votes in the AP Poll. They should ride the momentum and overwhelm the Huskies, who have mustered just 19 total points against their two FBS opponents.
Ravens -5.5 (vs. Broncos) -- Laying nearly a touchdown is rarely wise in the NFL, but this spot favors Baltimore. The Ravens have had 10 days off since an embarrassing loss, and I expect a strong effort. Denver won its first two games at home, but it wreaks of fool's gold. ESPN's FPI favors Baltimore by 10.9 points. Plus, the Broncos are 1-9 ATS in their past 10 road games.
Seahawks -1.5 (vs. Cowboys) -- Seattle is 0-2, but perhaps no one has played a tougher schedule with losses in Denver and Chicago. Dallas has mustered just three total touchdowns, lacking fluidity on offense. The Seahawks just need to protect Russell Wilson and stop a trend of allowing six sacks per game. I expect Seattle to bounce back in its home opener in this virtual must-win situation.