He looked for patterns, for edges wherever he could find them. In the s, sports betting was moving to the internet, with black market bookies decamping for the Caribbean to operate their bookmaking business far from the arm of U. As Spanky combed through one sports betting website after another, it dawned on him that he could use his computer coding skills to beat the bookies.
He could do the same types of things he was doing for finance banks to give himself an edge on sports bets. While sitting in a pizzeria watching a basketball game with his then-girlfriend, he told her his idea. Her response was a shrug. She knew her boyfriend loved puzzles and games. She had no idea how much this particular puzzle would consume him. Spanky approached a coworker he respected and shared his idea for writing code that could identify positive expected value in sports betting markets.
But whenever those games fell right in the middle of the two lines, in this case if the Steelers lost by three points, then they would win both of their bets. Bet after bet Spanky and his colleague just kept losing the vig, never hitting the middle. Then they hit another, and another, and another. They kept this up for two years without ever taking a dime out of their online accounts. The first time they requested a withdrawal, Spanky says, the bookmaker had them meet someone on the street in Manhattan rather than cash the money out directly to their bank.
A total stranger handed them a sack full of cash. They rushed back to Deutsche Bank and counted it in the restroom. They had never seen that much cash in their lives. It was real money. How big, they wondered, could they make this? The bank they worked for did the same thing they were doing but in financial markets, and their bosses were all filthy rich.
Could betting on sports make them rich, too? In June , the casino reopened as Ocean Resort Casino. Though the property is one of the glitziest in Atlantic City, it is one of its lowest-earning casinos. And on a Monday night in March, it shows. The teller takes my money and punches the bet into a computer.
Back in the s, Bob Martin knew the guy who ran the cleaning crews at the Las Vegas airport. Those newspapers, from towns large and small, far and wide, were his bread and butter. The 10 percent tax on bets handled was too high to make a profit, since sportsbooks were expected to earn roughly only 4 percent over the long run.
This meant the early bookmakers in Las Vegas were mostly no different from the gamblers who bet with them. They had to take positions, to be invested on one side of certain bets. Essentially they had to gamble against their customers. And looking at the prop, I would have probably had to close the place if Hagler won. Hirschfield and the Minneapolis operation had closed up shop in after Robert Kennedy convinced Congress to pass a number of new antigambling laws.
That meant that among legal bookmakers operating in Las Vegas, there was no agreed-upon line for games. Each bookmaker was on their own to take a position. And lines up and down Glitter Gulch sometimes differed wildly.
When Martin made his way through town making bets, those lines would quickly coalesce around whatever he was betting, because his opinion was often more respected by the bookmakers than their own. He asked Martin to come work for him to manage the book and make his lines. Las Vegas remained the epicenter of the sports betting world, both legal and illegal, for nearly a half-century, until the internet changed the landscape in ways Bob Martin and his stack of small-town newspapers could never have imagined.
Early on a Tuesday morning, I arrive at the Ocean sportsbook and sit in the front row of seats, my bag full of money clutched in my hands at all times. After three years of betting on sports on his lunch breaks and on weekends, Spanky Kyrollos was earning more from gambling than from his finance job.
He told his wife that he and his partner were quitting Deutsche to pursue their sports betting business full time. Years ago in the pizza parlor after Spanky told her his idea to write code to help him bet on sports, she had dismissed it as a flight of fancy. This time she knew he was serious. Not only that, if he had more time to devote to it and more help with it, he believed he could scale it up. He and his partner quit their jobs and hired a couple of old friends as their first employees.
To place as much money into action as they needed, they had to make bets in literally hundreds of accounts in sportsbooks all over the world. They wrote code and built betting robots that could automate the bets for them. They taught their friends about how their system worked, and got the friends to a point where they could work virtually independently. Much of their business was being done with online offshore sportsbooks, most of which were located in Costa Rica.
Many of the proprietors of the websites headquartered there were people who had learned the business as illegal bookmakers in the United States. Spanky flew down and worked out deals with the bookmakers to give him credit, rather than requiring him to post large sums of money and cash out through e-wallets like Neteller every time he won. If he could bet on credit, they could settle up stateside in cash. And bookmaking in Costa Rica was legal. So nobody was doing anything wrong, they figured.
One day, while Spanky awaited the birth of his daughter in the hospital, his partner went to a Dunkin Donuts to pick up some money an offshore book owed them. Then, as they got in their cars to leave, they were surrounded by police officers with their guns drawn. Trap door? For what? The other employees, shaken, followed him out the door. He even expanded his operation beyond middling games, and together with his new brain trust developed new models that allowed him to take positions on games.
Fundamental analysis is handicapping. You make numbers. Technical analysis, you look at the market. His team started spending their days watching screens with lines from sportsbooks all over the world, and using finely tuned models to analyze the various line movements and interpret what they meant.
In some ways it was similar to what day traders might do in the stock market. By , middling and steam betting had made Spanky what he deemed a fortune, and he had made a name for himself. After Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in , it became next to impossible for American gamblers to deposit and withdraw money from offshore gambling sites.
Not all bookmakers decamped from the Caribbean, however. Those who stayed behind had to largely forgo doing business with the American market. Johnny Aitken, who went from working as a runner for a major gambling syndicate in Australia all the way up to becoming CEO of the Australia-based sportsbook PointsBet, watched it happen. But recreational gamblers either get lucky and win or they go broke, and if they get too lucky, too often they get banned.
Either way there is a law of diminishing returns for the bookmaker who will tolerate no risk, unless that bookmaker can continually locate new, untapped pools of players, like an energy company constantly looking for new pockets of oil or gas buried beneath the shale.
These became the two prevailing models of bookmaking. On one side were the European-style books. On the other side were companies like Pinnacle, who offered lower odds and took on larger bets. Pinnacle and BetCRIS were known to let certain sharp players bet their lines before they went public. One side gets a bet at house limits, the other side gets valuable information.
This is the way it worked for many years, more or less. But according to Peabody, the days of posted limits and sharp players being able to bet started to end when William Hill arrived in Nevada. Of the physical sportsbooks in Nevada, William Hill operates more than If someone is good enough to beat you why not use that information internally?
Take the bet at a smaller amount and use it to move your line. It is completely false to say that we ban people simply for winning. There are literally tens of thousands of customers in Nevada that are winners at William Hill. In the rare situation where we do prohibit someone from wagering with us, there are a variety of reasons why.
If someone tells you that the reason that they are prohibited from wagering with William Hill is because they are winning, they are not telling you the whole story. Total, total, utter bullshit and you can quote me on that. By , Spanky says he was allowed to bet directly in only five places in the entire world. He had three kids, with a fourth on the way. His business had been profitable and predictable. His employees were happy. He was becoming a wealthy man.
But the European-style changes in the market could potentially kill his livelihood. That meant that he needed to keep millions of dollars in action to earn enough to support his family and his employees. And with so many sportsbooks refusing his action, he needed to get creative. They would provide Spanky with their own accounts to bet into with other bookmakers, and they could split the proceeds.
These bookmakers already knew he was a winning player, and most leaped at the opportunity to make a profit off his plays, while at the same time taking a bite out of their competition. Bookmakers were more skittish about taking on risk than Spanky had ever seen before. With so little independent data and analysis of their own lines, bookmakers were flinching at every shadow. I give him the money and take the betslip, then return to my chair in the front row.
The game then appears on the screen, only the line is now Xavier They should have given Toledo MORE points, not fewer, to get someone to take the other side of the game and balance out my bet. Instead, by moving the line in my direction, they were trying to entice me to bet more! I clutch my backpack and go back up to the counter to speak to the manager.
He punches it into the computer and waits for word from the trading office in Las Vegas. When I return to my seat, the game flashes again, and this time the line goes back to Back to the counter, and another bet approved.
This time, the line moves to You can keep sending people with new names and fresh money. He was betting much smaller amounts. Instead of reacting to my bet, William Hill reacted to the lines moving at all the places Spanky was betting, from -5 to When I left the casino the line was already at One of the people Spanky partnered with in to make bets for him was a bookmaker in Allentown, New Jersey.
Investigators overheard Spanky talking to the bookmaker about money he was owed. I was just a bettor. Through those wiretaps, investigators traced an intricate web of bookies and bettors that stretched across the globe, and involved both illegal street bookies and a major Wall Street financial firm, Cantor Fitzgerald. They took him away in handcuffs. In all, they arrested 25 people in five states.
Spanky says he was a victim of a misunderstanding about how his business worked, that he was mistaken for a bookmaker when he was merely a bettor. He was placing bets through so many accounts and with so many partners, often with bookmakers who themselves were operating illegally in the United States, that it created a confusing web of cash moving back and forth among many parties on both sides of the law.
In all, Spanky was charged with enterprise corruption; fourth-, third-, second-, and first-degree money laundering; first-degree promoting gambling; and fourth- and fifth-degree conspiracy. As Spanky and Mike sat in jail, they contemplated their future. Perhaps they should get out of the gambling business. Mike suggested they open up a hot dog stand. He took his first break from betting in 12 years.
He joined a touch football league. He played in board game tournaments. Eventually he wondered what he was doing with his life. This is all I know how to do. His Princeton guys got scared and quit. His betting partners worried he was hot, maybe working with the feds. And his wife was terrified the police might come kicking in the door again. She asked him to promise it would never happen. What he could promise her was that he would live his life out in the open.
There would never again be any doubt which side of the counter he was on. Over the next few years, Spanky and Mike worked hard to build their business back up. They started betting again, building their bankroll back up. They had a few good football seasons. Things appeared to be getting back on track for them. It was like a dream come true. The work that Spanky had done his entire life—work that once required him to hide his identity, to meet people in back alleys to trade sacks of cash, work that led to his phones being tapped, his nest egg being confiscated, and his reputation dragged through the mud—he would finally be able to do with his head held high.
Showing astute foresight, William Hill signed a deal with Monmouth Park in , a full five years before the PASPA decision, at a time when few people were predicting the law would be overturned. But Mike thought it was worth a shot.
We will take a look at football where a point spread is involved. The casino Sportsbooks make their money on sports bets by collecting a commission on losing bets. This is called the Vigorish or Vig for short. The most common odds are 11 to Ideally, the Sportsbook would like to have the same amount of money wagered on the two teams playing.
To accomplish this they assign a line or spread to make the contest equally attractive for both sides. Many people believe that the point spread is the predicted margin of victory by which one team will beat another team. This is not true.
For this reason, the line may change from the opening line to the line at game time. The Sportsbooks goal is to have the betting as evenly as possible. If the public is swayed by sentiment to bet on a certain team then the odds makers need to adjust the line to get some action on the other team. Otherwise, the betting would be heavily lopsided. The general betting public reacts to the opinions of others. A weaker team can actually become the favorite if public sentiment is with that team.
When this happens the underdog presents a huge overlay for the seasoned handicapper meaning that the odds are in his favor. For example Team A should be a 3 point underdog to Team B, however, The public loves Team A and are betting on them and the line moves to make Team A a one-point favorite, then Team B becomes an excellent bet.
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