A Day in the Life of an Oddsmaker

I never heard anyone accuse oddsmaking of being rocket science, but the scarcity of the position and the age-old adage “Money won is twice as nice as money earned” kept most people away from competing for my position.

I know a lot people have an on-going interest in the art (or is that science?) of oddsmaking, but if you were witness to the process, you’d be less than overwhelmed. It never ceased to amaze me the number of times television stations from around the country wanted to be in the “inner circle” and witness the process. That process lacks substance. It’s kind of like soccer. It’s worldwide but for Americans it’s not very exciting. It’s void of action and who really wants to watch a bunch of middle-aged men who lack any and all camera appeal, discuss the Pittsburgh Penguins?

In the “Old Days” of round table discussions with a ring leader named “Roxy” Roxborough, setting the odds required an endless array of hand logging but a whole day to work on it. We didn’t have overnight lines. In fact, we didn’t have computer servers, web sites, Pay Pal, or internet sportsbooks. Monday Night Football games had these wild betting props like “Will there be a score in the last two minutes of the first half?” In all, five props per week was considered risky business and God forbid we put a number on how many yards a player would pass, rush or receive. But that was oddsmaking back then.

Creativity and advancements in communications changed the nature of the business. With the advent of the personal computer, which begat the internet, which begat the internet sportsbook, the industry has never looked back. In fact, in terms of oddsmaking, the art (or is that science?) may soon be gone. With overnight lines sprouting up all over the globe, most lines are smoothed over by the next morning when at least 85-90% of the handle is bet. Yes, the lines still have to be fairly accurate, but with more internet sportsbook owners running more internet sportsbooks, they can produce decent lines of their own and not be hurt. The sheer volume of internet customers and their betting habits will fall prey to “the juice” in the grand scheme of bookmaking.

When I was Operations Manager and oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, I pretty much saw the industry evolve from a unique perspective. But no matter how much the change affected the bettors, the oddsmaker’s job stayed consistently the same. The Information Age was thought to be a boon for the bettor but in fact, it was just the opposite. We as oddsmakers were privy to more and more information that made our job easier and more accurate.

The day started when I arrived at the office at 4:45 AM. Servers are booted up, software is screened for accuracy, overnight lines are updated for our clients and the search for the latest injuries gets underway. As more oddsmakers filed in over the course of the next couple of hours, the topic of food always surfaced. (I always wondered what they talked about on my days off). Nonetheless, the day’s lines were updated with the latest news and we called The Stardust at 7:15 AM every morning to confirm what was already out and ask if there were any questions or requests.

Computers and the software we utilize have reduced the number of phone calls by close to 90%. As anyone of you know, who worked in the early days of bookmaking, line reading or any other aspect of the industry, it was all phones back then…endless phone ringing!

All oddsmakers work as individuals. They gather their own resources to study, utilize whatever databases they could and read whatever news sources they enjoyed the most. With the advent of “the overnight line” and internet clients, there were now deadlines. Odds now are ready between noon and 2:00 PM Pacific Time at LVSC. The Stardust, CRIS and Pinnacle like to hang their numbers first. You can see them by subscribing to a variety of line update services or simply logging on to their websites.

I personally had a routine. I liked to get all of the sports I did with ease out of the way first. By the time I was done with the odds for the larger schedules or the sports I didn’t enjoy, I was brain dead. The last thing I wanted was more work when I was done with those. So I ended each working day with the exhaustive sports. The easy sports for me included MLB, NBA, WNBA, and the NHL. Head banging sports were college football and basketball. Obviously, the voluminous schedules of these sports were the main factor of my discontent. I didn’t do NFL. Add weekly work in NASCAR, Formula One, boxing, golf and daily proposition work, you can see how this can be a grind. It was an enjoyable one but a grind nonetheless.

The premise for my work was to determine the most important factors for each sport and discard the rest. Baseball and NBA are real “feel” sports for me. I don’t need a lot of stats to determine the sides for these sports. I do for their accompanying totals, but for the sides, very little. You try to focus on each game as an individual project but ultimately you line compare a little with other like teams in like situations. Not only is this a good idea but knowing the bettors are doing the same may cut short a play or two. Getting the best of the line early is a big advantage for the bookmaker.

Once all of the oddsmakers are done with a sport, the Odds Manager looks at all of the opinions and puts together an overnight line. Early on in any sport season when data is scarce and we all rely on perceptions and pre-season news, our lines are considerably varied. Bettors with a good grasp of the teams early in a season have a real advantage over the bookmakers. As seasons progress and data is more plentiful, the differences of opinions of the individual oddsmakers and the differences between the oddsmakers and bettors begin to narrow. Any “edge” is lost except in the race for daily injuries.

Once the numbers are released, the job of the swing shift oddsmakers was to maintain the updates on our system, be on the lookout for any late breaking news or notes that could affect the current or overnight games and let our clients know what we would recommend in the case of a line-moving opportunity arises.

After 16 years of this, you pretty much learn what to expect and how to prepare for it at any time of the year. Preparation is another key to oddsmaking success. Not only in terms of getting close to the closing number, but having confidence in the information we released gave confidence to our clients to book them. Oddsmaking is not an exact science (Aha! It IS a science and not an art. I knew it!). The theory of making a line for the purpose of two-way action is just that, a theory. There’s usually a decision on every game, small or large. The juice lays into the bettor over the long haul and is the bookmaker’s best friend.

Bookmaker’s today can expect close to 5% hold percentages and higher. In Nevada, where they practically condemn any “wise guy” action, the percentages are even higher. Go off The Strip, say to Reno or Tahoe, and the number climbs even more. In the old days of sports gambling, news traveled slowly and bettors had to work to coordinate everyone in their network to bet at the same time. In today’s split second computer age, one person can man a network on the internet and pick off the best numbers possible. Middling a game has become fashionable. As arduous as oddsmaking is day in and day out, the work can be profitable if done right.

Today, I would never recommend a career in oddsmaking. It just doesn’t pay well but more importantly, more and more sportsbooks can get the information for little or no cost on the internet and run a successful sportsbook. Sure, if the sportsbook loses, they have no one to blame but the director. Maybe that’s why oddsmakers will be around for a while longer. They’re good people to blame. Every bettor should be an oddsmaker. How else will you know when there is value in the line? But that’s another topic of discussion.