Thoughts on the SSAC Predictive Sports Betting Panel

Despite being hugely interested in sports statistics and wanting to attend for years, I never seem to get to attend the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. I tried one year, but they were completely sold out. The conference usually occurs in late Feb, which just happens to be the start of one of my busiest times at work every year, but it’s still on my list of things to do.

Anyway, I noticed yesterday that the video for the Sports Betting Panel was now up on the site, and I jotted down some brief notes while watching it yesterday. Why should you care what I think about predictive sports betting? Well, I’ve worked for the company Haralabob says they aren’t supposed to talk about for the last six years, doing all sorts of interesting things for them along the way.

I really liked Jeff Ma’s moderation. He’s a genius, his book is excellent (read up on his background if you don’t know), and he’s a clear subject matter expert, but here he does a good job asking interesting questions. I probably would have been happier with someone else clever just interviewing Ma and Haralabob, but that’s probably due to the fact that I find Cantor currently irrelevant.

“The largest LEGAL sportsbook in the United States.” Impressive! Can you take bets on the internet? No? You know nothing, Cantor Gaming.

Haralabob is awesome. He’s a bit of a hoops savant (which makes me intrigued about why he recently asked for Manchester City data set via Twitter – new business venture?), but he obviously knows his shit. It’s slightly frustrating (though understandable) that he doesn’t want to get into specifics and that he only knows about basketball, but he’s fun to listen to regardless.

Millman also comes across better than I expected him to, especially because I often found his writing on gambling to be awful in the past. Then again, this piece for Sloan was solid, so maybe he’s improved since I stopped reading. You probably aren’t an idiot if you are the Editor-in-Chief of ESPN Magazine and he does seem to know a lot of gamblers.

Matthew Holt (the Cantor guy) is uh… let’s just say any of the guys who lead trade our major sports would probably come across better than he does. To be fair, he gets roughed up by Bob and a bit by Millman, so it wasn’t the easiest panel to be on. Listening to what he says about their processes, either the Cantor guys who work on specific sports are dumber than those I have interacted with in the rest of the industry (and they just copy someone else’s lines *cough*PINNACLE*cough*) OR he’s downplaying how smart they are. I’m not sure which way to go on this one. Maybe they just don’t have the revenues to pay for real talent across the board. The vig shall protect you!

Following along those lines, Haralabob says, “In reality, bookmaking is pretty easy. Some of the dumbest guys I have ever met are bookies.” Maybe in the U.S. at -110, Bob. How about at -104 with infinite rebets? -102/-103 in Soccer? Nooooot so easy then, jefe.

Minute 25: Haralabob roughs up Cantor guy with the size of the bet they are willing to take from him. He can bet 5K with Cantor, and I assume that’s total. A place like Pinnacle probably lets Bob bet 20K on an NBA spread, and he could rebet that as many times as he wants (with line moves in between). Conclusion: Being a bettor in the US clearly sucks. Still. #Murica

Minute 31: “No one here wants to talk about Pinnacle right now.” Heh. What follows is an interesting discussion about gambling market dynamics in American sports right now. It is legitimately difficult to bet a lot of money on your average game in most U.S. sports if you live inside the United States, even if you have access to every sportsbook in Vegas. This has lead most professional sports bettors (and a lot of poker players as well) to set up residences in countries where betting is legal.

Like poker, sports betting is a skill game. This is the case at -110 odds and it is especially the case at -104. The majority of civilized countries consider betting a natural element of society.  It is a legitimate recreational activity, and point spreads for NFL games are carried in every major newspaper and sports website in the country. Lotteries abound in the U.S. and casino gambling is now basically everywhere. But you can’t legally gamble on sports in the U.S. It boggles the mind.

Dear USA: Fix Yo’ Shit.

There’s also a secondary discussion along the way about how lines are currently shaped versus how they used to be. It used to be that place X (and this varied sometimes, but was often BetCris) would open a line at medium limits in the morning US time, and then all the other books would copy while being open for fairly large limits, and the line would rapidly get shaped as everyone plunged in. Nowadays lines open overnight for comparatively small limits ($500 to $2000 USD when the lines will usually be open for 20K before post), and sharps of varying bankroll sizes get priced in as the limits go up. As Bob notes, this makes for much sharper lines, and takes away some of the edge the biggest sharps and betting syndicates have. Not all of it, mind, but this methodology uses the information markets to find a much sharper line than you would get based on just a couple of guys’ opinions. The guys who run sportsbooks aren’t always dumb!

I enjoyed the hour, since the topic is always going to be exciting and there were some strong personalities on stage. This panel would be really different if they had a Pinny guy there, since was clearly the elephant in the room during the entire hour. Whether they could GET any Pinny guys to show up would be another question entirely.

Maybe if they ran a similar panel in Europe or Asia…


2 responses to “Thoughts on the SSAC Predictive Sports Betting Panel

  1. Thanks for posting the link on Twitter, and this blog just gives even more information for me to digest. That was fascinating viewing. The atmosphere between Voulgaris and the Cantor guy was uncomfortable to say the least! Is there a lot of history between those two? About not taking a $1m bet or something.

    What’s the issue with Pinnacle ? (Is it just not generating their own odds?!)

    I don’t bet (other than recreationally, the bookies LOVE me) but as an avid poker player in the past, I’m also fascinated how the house or bookies compile the odds, edge and what factors influence it, etc…

    It seems the randomness in NFL is very similar for soccer, when it comes to sports betting anyway. The fluidity, lack of goals, interpretation of the rules vs. heavy investment, high wages, world class players/managers. I’ve seen plenty of value in the PL this season, usually on the team that is playing Liverpool (Spurs at Anfield, Southampton away, Reading away, Villa home). Is that because bookies input a lot of shot data into their models?

    Again, thanks for the post, and hope you can spare a minute or two to respond…

    • Pinnacle is basically the biggest bookie for U.S. sports and has been for most of a decade, but they don’t take bets from the USA. Because they aren’t legal in the US, they are sort of persona non grata, but hugely influential for everyone who takes action on US sports (including Cantor). It’s a weird situation.

      I don’t view NFL as nearly as random as Bob, but it is hella-hard to build models for it because as he notes there are only 16 regular season games a year.

      I can’t comment on Liverpool odds. 😀

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