The proud and confident American betting public just turned in the worst month of NFL gambling that veteran bookmakers can remember.
Entering Monday Night Football, underdogs have covered the spread nearly 60% of games in November. Twenty-three underdogs pulled outright upsets during the month, and heavily bet prime-time favorites seemed to go down on a weekly basis.
“From week to week, things appear to change dramatically,” said Chuck Esposito, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker with Station Casinos. “Dominant teams earlier in the year have come down to earth, and dogs have been covering at a much higher clip. There are 24 teams that are still fighting for playoff spots.”
Public bettors have struggled to figure it out and got crushed in November.
“There was one week where the players had only one game that they won, and another week they only won two games,” Jeff Stoneback, a 30-plus-year Las Vegas bookmaker, who oversees BetMGM’s sportsbook in Nevada, said. “We did have big wins, yes, but the number of wins, percentage-wise for us, was unbelievable. I was shocked.”
Sportsbooks’ net profit or loss on bets is known as the “hold,” as in the amount of money that bookmakers hold onto after everything is settled. Over the last three decades, Nevada sportsbooks on average have held around 5.5% of the money bet. The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas was on pace to hold around 6.25% this November.
“It looks like it will wind up being one of our best hold months in Nevada on record,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, told ESPN.
For the betting public, the unfortunate November came directly after a hot streak. In October, sportsbooks endured three consecutive losing Sundays. But all that did was plump up bankrolls in time for a bookmakers’ Thanksgiving feast.
Jay Croucher, head of trading for sportsbook PointsBet, said Week 9 was when the season turned against bettors, pointing to the Jaguars’ upset of the Bills as two-touchdown underdogs as “especially notable” for his book.
Murray said Nov. 7, the Sunday featuring the Jags’ upset of the Bills, was the SuperBook’s best day of the season by far.
“There were some terrible Sundays for NFL favorites this month and that meant great returns for the house,” Murray said.
November also brought a string of heavily bet favorites losing in prime time. The Titans and 49ers each beat the Rams on primetime in consecutive weeks, and the Dolphins upset the Ravens on a Thursday night, producing books’ biggest wins in November.
“It’s been an excellent November so far for the book,” Croucher added.
• Home teams are 77-101-1 against the spread) this season, which is on pace to the worst ATS mark in the Super Bowl era.
• Underdogs are 99-77-1 against the spread, which is on pace to be the best mark since 1980.
• With fewer games, betting handle on Sunday was lighter than in previous weeks, and there not many big decisions. Multiple bookmakers described Sunday’s results as “insignificant.”
• BetMGM offered a proposition wager on the Bears-Lions game on Thanksgiving: “Will both teams score 40 or more points?” A bettor placed a $227,026 bet on the “No” at -10,000 odds and won a net $2,270, with the Bears’ 16-14 win.
• Biggest reported bets at Caesars Sportsbook:
$445,000 on Packers money-line +115 vs. Rams (Win)
$402,500 on 49ers -3 (-115) vs. Vikings (Win)
$385,000 on Browns +3.5 vs. Ravens $220,000 on Titans +7.5 vs. Patriots (Loss)
College football notables
• Sunday opening conference championship game lines at Las Vegas sportsbook Circa Sports:
Conference USA: Western Kentucky vs. Texas-San Antonio PK, 71.5
Pac-12: Oregon vs. Utah -2, 59.5
Big 12: Baylor vs. Oklahoma State -5, 46.5
MAC: Kent State -3, 72 vs. Northern Illinois
MWC: Utah State vs. San Diego State -5, 51.5
Sun Belt: Appalachian State -3, 53.5 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
AAC: Houston vs. Cincinnati -12, 54.5
SEC: Georgia -6, 49.5 vs. Alabama
ACC: Wake Forest vs. Pittsburgh -3, 72.5
Big Ten: Iowa vs. Michigan -11, 41.5
• Georgia was around a 4-point favorite over Alabama before the weekend’s games. But after the Crimson Tide struggled to pull out a win against Auburn, the SuperBook reopened Georgia a 6.5-point favorites. The early action on the game was relatively even, with 56% of the money bet on the game as of Sunday on the favored Bulldogs.
• Michigan’s upset of Ohio State on Saturday produced the biggest win of the college football season to date for PointsBet.
What were the odds?
30-1: Alabama’s odds to beat Auburn late in the fourth quarter, trailing 10-3. The Crimson Tide would tie the score on a late Bryce Young touchdown pass and win the game in the fourth overtime. [odds via Caesars Sportsbook]
-200: Bryce Young’s odds to win the Heisman Trophy. Young is the odds-on favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, followed by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (4-1) and Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (15-1). Hutchinson was not listed last week, but caught the attention of oddsmakers-and bettors-after his three-sack performance in the Wolverines’ upset of Ohio State on Saturday. He now has the third-best odds.
-9: Duke closed as a 9-point underdog to Gonzaga in their college basketball showdown on Friday. It’s the first game the Blue Devils were more than a 7.5-point underdog, when ranked in the top 5, since at least the 1993-94 season. Duke won 84-81.
+14: The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Utah Jazz 98-97 as 14-point underdogs on Friday. It’s the largest upset, point spread-wise, of the NBA season so far.
Q&A with a bettor
Cal Spears is a Tennessee-based entrepreneur in the fantasy sports and betting space, who hit a $1,000, six-leg same-game parlay on the Raiders-Cowboys game on Thursday that paid $266,566.27. Talk about a fulfilling Thanksgiving!
The six legs were:
•DeSean Jackson any time touchdown scorer
•Ezekiel Elliott over 19.5 receiving yards
•Josh Jacobs over 19.5 receiving yards
•Michael Gallup over 100 receiving yards (alternate line)
•Tony Pollard over 16.5 receiving yards
•Elliott any time touchdown scorer
Spears communicated with ESPN’s David Purdum this week about his improbable win. The interview has been organized and edited for clarity.
Q: Take us through your process when creating this parlay. What was the thinking behind it?
While looking at late swaps for my DFS lineups during the Bears game it dawned on me Desean Jackson’s chances of catching a bomb were underestimated. I opened Fanduel to check his yardage prop and they didn’t even offer one. So I bet him to score a TD at +700 and then added on the other legs I liked. I actually hit another parlay that didn’t include the Zeke TD and the Pollard Over for $91,000.
Q: Were you at Thanksgiving dinner when it all played out?
My girlfriend and I had plans to do Thanksgiving with my family in Madisonville, Kentucky, but we both came down with colds. We got negative COVID tests on Wednesday but still did not feel well Thursday morning. So we scrapped our plans and ended up laying on the couch all Thanksgiving watching football. I would not have made this bet if we made the trip to Kentucky; betting is not yet legal there.
Q: Takes us through the sweat, please.
The sweat couldn’t have started any better with a DeSean touchdown just a few minutes into the game. Three quarters later it looked completely dead then Gallup came to life with catches of 41, 32, and 17 to cross 100 yards. Going into overtime I just needed one catch each from Zeke and Jacobs. I watched in disbelief as things fell exactly how I needed and then triple sanity checked stats to make sure.
Q: How did you celebrate and what will you do with the winnings?
The endorphins kicked in immediately and I was ready to celebrate but then I remembered it was Thanksgiving night and I had a cold. A proper celebration is pending.
The first thing I did on Friday morning was donate $10,000 each to five non-profits that make an impact locally here in Nashville. I was unbelievably lucky to hit this and am very happy to share my good fortune. Not sure what we will do with the rest but there will definitely be a big Christmas for friends and family.
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