- Joined ESPN in 2014
- Journalist covering gambling industry since 2008
Just a few minutes before kickoff of the prime-time NFC East showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, a customer with sportsbook PointsBet in Illinois slipped in a bet on the first quarter.
The bettor risked $270,000 on the Eagles to win the first quarter at -270. A sweat ensued.
The underdog Cowboys, behind third-string quarterback Ben DiNucci, took a 3-0 lead and then recovered a Carson Wentz fumble on the Eagles’ first possession. The Cowboys appeared poised to add to their lead, driving inside the Philadelphia 10-yard line, before DiNucci coughed the ball up on a sack on second-and-goal with 5:47 left.
Wentz led the Eagles down the field and, with just two seconds remaining, threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to wideout Jalen Reagor to give Philadelphia a 7-3 lead at the end of the quarter.
The bettor in Illinois won $100,000.
Unfortunately for the betting public, that was one of the few success stories on an NFL Sunday that some bookmakers described as their best of the season.
Here is this week’s edition of Notable Bets, our weekly recap of the sports betting storylines from around the nation.
• Underdogs went 8-4 against the spread on Sunday, with six outright wins. The result was the most lucrative Sunday of the season for some bookmakers, just one week after one of their worst NFL Sundays so far in 2020.
“Easily the best Sunday of the season,” Thomas Gable, sportsbook director at The Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey, told ESPN. “As bad as last Sunday was, this almost made up for it.”
• Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US, pointed to the Minnesota Vikings’ upset of the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals’ win over the Tennessee Titans as the biggest winners for his books.
At William Hill US sportsbooks, 91% of the money bet on the Vikings-Packers game was on the favored Packers to cover the 6-point spread. The Vikings prevailed 28-22 in Green Bay.
“The Packers losing was huge,” said John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas. “If it wasn’t our best game of the season to date in the NFL, it was right up at the top.”
The action was similarly lopsided on the Titans, who were 7-point road favorites over the Bengals. Nearly 90% of the point-spread money backed Tennessee at William Hill books. Cincinnati never trailed in a 31-20 upset.
• The Kansas City Chiefs closed as consensus 19.5-point favorites over the New York Jets, the biggest spread of the season so far, and the Chiefs were listed as high as -2,800 favorites on the money line to win outright.
On Thursday, a bettor with William Hill in Iowa placed a $60,000 money-line bet on the Chiefs to beat the Jets at -2,800. The bettor won a net $2,142.85 when Kansas City triumphed 35-9.
Another bettor with William Hill in Iowa risked $1,000 on the Chiefs on the money line at -2,800 and won a net $35.70.
PointsBet reported taking a $40,000 money-line bet on the Chiefs -2,105. The bettor won a net $1,900.
Prior to kickoff at William Hill sportsbooks around the nation, 72% of money-line bets on the Jets-Chiefs game were on the Jets, but 93% of the dollars wagered on the money line were on the Chiefs.
For every one money-line bet on the Chiefs, The Borgata reported taking 15 money-line bets on the Jets.
• Trailing the Los Angeles Chargers 24-3 in the third quarter, the Denver Broncos were 20-1 to come back and win at William Hill US. The Broncos rallied back, scoring a game-tying touchdown on a 1-yard pass from Drew Lock to KJ Hamler as time expired and winning on Brandon McManus’ extra point. William Hill reported taking one $10 bet on the Broncos at 20-1 during the game.
• Wind was a factor in several games and caused totals to drop multiple points during the week. The Las Vegas Raiders-Cleveland Browns total, for example, dropped from 55.5 to 48 with 25 mph winds and winter precipitation in the forecast. The Vikings-Packers, Titans-Bengals, New England Patriots-Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints-Chicago Bears games also featured windy conditions. Yet the over went 4-1 against the consensus closing total in those five games. However, savvy bettors who played the under off the opening numbers on those five games went 4-1.
• SuperBook’s Murray said Sunday was his shop’s second-best Sunday of the season so far.
“The morning was awesome, but the afternoon games didn’t go our way,” he said. “We lost pretty big on the Seahawks (37-27 winners over the 49ers), and we took a loss on the Saints (26-23 winners over the Bears). Great day, but not as good as two Sundays ago, when it seemed like just about every game went our way.”
• The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 7-0 start to the season is getting expensive for Pennsylvania sportsbooks. At BetRivers’ books in Pennsylvania, more money was bet on the Steelers plus the points versus the Baltimore Ravens than on any other team.
The most popular prop at BetRivers in Pennsylvania was on Pittsburgh rookie receiver Chase Claypool to score and the Steelers to win at +250. Pittsburgh prevailed 28-24, with Claypool scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers, who began the season at 25-1 to win the Super Bowl at the SuperBook, are now 5-1, behind only the Chiefs.
• A bettor at the SuperBook on Sunday morning placed a $1,000 bet on the Raiders to win the Super Bowl at 100-1.
Trevor Lawrence (and other college football news)
• The betting market caught wind of the Trevor Lawrence news hours before most major media outlets.
Rumors began percolating on social media and sports betting forums on Thursday afternoon: Lawrence, No. 1-ranked Clemson’s star quarterback, had tested positive for COVID-19 and was out for Saturday’s game against Boston College.
Based on the line history from betting service Don Best Sports, here is a timeline of events:
Thursday, 6:30 p.m. ET: The point spread — Clemson -30.5 — starts to wiggle at influential offshore sportsbooks, which soon after take the game off the board with the line at Clemson -29.5.
7:05 p.m.: Professional sports bettor Ed Golden posts in his Betting Talk Slack channel: “Sounds like Lawrence out for Clemson.” Shortly after, the line continues to move toward Boston College, dropping to around Clemson -27.
8:22 p.m.: NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo reports that Lawrence has tested positive.
8:40 p.m.: Betting on the game is widely halted at United States sportsbooks.
Friday, 8:39 a.m.: The line begins reappearing at sportsbooks with Clemson now -24.
Saturday, 11 a.m.: 85% of the money bet on the point spread at William Hill sportsbooks around the nation is on Boston College.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz and Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters also missed games last week after testing positive for COVID, causing significant shifts in point spreads.
At Circa Sports, the first sportsbook in the U.S. to post weekly college football lines, the point spread on Wisconsin-Nebraska opened at Wisconsin -9. Two days later, with Mertz and backup Chase Wolf ruled out, the line flipped all the way to Nebraska -3. The line eventually swung back to Wisconsin -3 before the game was cancelled.
“The two days that game was on the board, we wrote like $50,000,” said Matt Metcalf, sportsbook director at Circa.
Metcalf said that situations like these, with the Clemson and Wisconsin quarterbacks, cause him not only to gauge the validity of news but how well it will be accepted regardless of its accuracy.
“I have to factor in that the market might respect [a news report] more than I do,” Metcalf said. “You have to think about how people might interpret what you just read.”
Rumors, regardless of their validity, can present opportunities for bettors.
“A lot of times in those situations you don’t even have to be right,” a professional sports bettor, who was monitoring the Clemson line movement, told ESPN. “You just bet it anticipating that it could be true. If it is, you’ve made an amazing bet. If it isn’t true, you can get off it.”
• Clemson opened as a 4-point favorite over Notre Dame at Circa. The line quickly moved to Clemson -7. Metcalf said he would’ve had Clemson as around an 11.5-point favorite over Notre Dame prior to Lawrence being ruled out.
• Other openers at Circa:
Florida vs. Georgia (-5, 52.5)
BYU at Boise State (-2, 59)
Stanford at Oregon (-14, 49.5)
Odds and ends
• On Sunday, Tennessee became the 19th state to launch a regulated sports betting market and the first to be online-only in the U.S.
• Nevada sportsbooks won a net $32.89 million off $574.6 million in bets in September, according to revenue numbers released last week by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. The $574.6 million was a slight increase on September 2019.
With significantly fewer football games, betting handle on the NFL and college football decreased significantly, dropping from $377.5 million in September 2019 to $220 million in September 2020.
• NASCAR announced a sports betting partnership with Wynn Resorts last week and that it is aiming to help the sportsbook operator secure a gaming license in Virginia, one of three states that has passed sports betting legislation but not yet launched its market.
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