For sports bettors, the virus is now a known unknown

LAS VEGAS — Support for the Cardinals snowballed against the Rams, whose coronavirus issues would sideline several coaches and key players that Monday night, Dec. 13.

Sterling young quarterback Kyler Murray and the 10-2 Cardinals, just three-point favorites at home against such a short-handed opponent?

The dreaded L-word buzzed on social media. Lock of the week? Of the month? That fodder alone should have sounded alarms, pausing prospective bettors. The Rams won 30-23.

Flash to last weekend and a poetic reversal. This time, the Cardinals had the virus issues when they traveled to Dallas.

“The [virus]-depleted Cardinals were supposed to be too thin to handle the Cowboys’ offense,” professional bettor Bill Krackomberger says, “and the line moved.”

The Westgate SuperBook opened, on Dec. 21, with a look-ahead (week in advance) line of Dallas -2 1/2 . Five days later, Cowboys cash moved that to 3.

However, when Arizona’s health issues surfaced Dec. 27, most books moved to Cowboys -5 1/2 . They’d close Dallas -6 1/2 . Arizona won 25-22.

“That right there is betting the NFL, in a nutshell,” says Jeff Stoneback, BetMGM’s director of trading, of the two contrarian Arizona outcomes. “Often, it just doesn’t make any sense. That’s why the books do so well on the NFL.”

As the season progressed, Matt Youmans, the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN) senior writer/broadcaster, wisely wagered on fewer NFL games early in the week.

“You think you are grabbing a good number on Tuesday, there’s bad COVID news two days later and you have four points to the worst of it by Friday. You feel like an idiot, like Clark Griswold, when you make that mistake.”

UNIQUE CHALLENGES

Sports betting never has been a vacation. Those who claim otherwise deserve to appear, maybe slipping on a banana peel, in one of those Chevy Chase flicks.

In the brave new world of wagering on games during a pandemic, the Cardinals, having experienced the polar extremes within the span of 20 days, are the era’s poster boys.

With seemingly every perceived edge, they lose at home to the Rams. With so many factors supposedly against them, they win in Dallas.

“Absolutely correct!” Krackomberger says. “The [new] world has definitely presented unique challenges for professional gamblers.”

The pre-pandemic sports world was tough enough to navigate. Postponements and cancellations, and shifting protocols and quarantine measures, can all derail the most-proven prognostication methods.

Tuesday night, on Twitter, an NHL handicapper wrote, “This will be the last time I bet on or against a team coming off a COVID pause.” Two NFL games were recently delayed to a Tuesday.

Loyola and Northern Illinois began this past week having had stretches of hoop games canceled or postponed. After three shelvings in a row, DePaul lost by four as a two-point underdog and, as a one-point favorite, lost to Providence 70-53.

Wednesday, ace San Jose Mercury-News college scribe Jon Wilner wrote, “At some point, schools should just announce when they are playing.”

Every season, I update notebooks of college hoops information daily. A month ago, though, I put them away. Too much uncertainty. I started those ledgers, from scratch, Jan. 1, and might seek some action next week.

Youmans ventured to San Diego for a bowl game that would be canceled a few hours before kickoff. Usually by now, he has made 100 college hoops bets. That’s been halved.

“It’s tougher to develop a rhythm as a handicapper when so many teams are not playing,” Youmans says. “I’m not whining about it. I just hope we can get back to a normal basketball schedule without so many interruptions.”

NO WARNING

Tom Barton, the Long Island handicapper who is a regular on the nationally syndicated SportsGarten sports-betting radio network, also hopes for a return to normalcy.

He has long profited on college hoops in the northeast corridor, specifically the Ivy League, but it has had many games shelved recently.

“My prime conference,” Barton says, “so it’s been hard.”

He had circled Cornell, one of the country’s highest-scoring squads, at Syracuse on Dec. 18. It got postponed. On Dec. 29, Georgia Tech canceled its game against the Orange, and Cornell slipped into that vacancy.

As a 15-point underdog, the Big Red covered in an 80-68 loss to Syracuse.

“I loved Cornell against Syracuse,” Barton says. “Thankfully, the line didn’t move much. But I could have gotten burned on that game if it had been a full cancel.”

His overall volume is down as the virus has required treading lightly in so many sports-betting arenas. The NFL, to Barton and many others, has been treacherous.

“A minefield,” he says. “So many times you want to get those best early numbers, but this season that has become a disaster with later-in-the-week [virus] issues.”

Barton has had success in the NHL and NBA, the latter because he has been ultra-selective in picking spots and situations. Up until the new year, he had played only 10 NBA games, going 10-0.

He notes that teams in those two leagues have rebounded slowly as they regroup with returning players.

“With regular injuries, we have at least had some idea beforehand,” Barton says. “But COVID has had no warning at all and has affected some premier players. Regarding when I bet, it has changed my style.”

For Youmans, and likely many others, the simple aim these days is to avoid any style comparison to Clark Griswold.

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