A fellow strikes a few keys on a computer keyboard or strides into a licensed sportsbook in Nevada and wagers $5,000 on a football game. The move triggers an immediate and frenzied reaction to the sharp money from the house's numbers cruncher, who quickly consults with his bosses or telephones the casino's sister properties and adjusts the betting lines on the team that just was bet.
A few minutes later another man (or woman) strikes the very same computer keys or walks up to the very same window at the very same sportsbook and wagers a whopping $50,000 on a football game. The very same house bookmaker makes note of the wager but otherwise does not stir from reading the morning newspaper. There are no betting lines adjustments this time.
What the heck is going on here? Bookmakers have learned that the amount of money bet often is secondary in importance to the identity of the person who places the wager.
Who Bets Is More Important Than How Much
Let's work with a simple example. A hotel guest who lumbers into the sportsbook from the gaming tables with a cocktail in one hand, a load of black chips in the other and what he believes is an informed opinion, usually is not viewed as a serious threat to the house's bottom line. Online, a player not known for his wagering acumen may also make a large bet without raising a bushy eyebrow. For the most part, sportsbooks are far more threatened by the activities of savvy players and gambling syndicates.
Because bet takers always are looking to get ahead of the sharp money, to find that one right number that attracts equal or near equal activity to each side of a game, distinguishing and separating recreational or unsophisticated bettors, called ‘squares,' from professional bettors, known as ‘sharps,' can be crucial to a sportsbook's well-being. One way sportsbooks do this is by reacting as quickly as possible to the sharp money moves made by professional bettors.
Books Have To Identify Sharps
Bookmakers have to identify the ‘sharps,' who, in an attempt to get their wagers down at the most attractive betting lines, often use a variety of tricks and subterfuge. Known by sight to most bookmakers, many sophisticated bettors employ ‘runners' or ‘beards' to place their wagers, frequently striking with military-like precision at several sportsbooks at the same time.
Of course, bookmakers, who are trained to look for tip-offs such as clipboards or cell phones, eventually become familiar with the runners and the cat-and-mouse game begins anew.
Online, shrewd professionals will open a series of accounts at a number of reputable sportsbooks, spreading out their action on betting lines to try to camouflage their true intent.
In addition to the overall quality of their play, ‘sharps' differentiate themselves from ‘squares' in several other ways. Most obviously, ‘sharps' are professionals who derive their income from their play while ‘squares' have “real” jobs.
Generally, say sportsbook managers, ‘sharps' are low-key, gracious and unassuming while players who boast about their successes usually are ‘squares' with little chance of winning.
‘Sharps' also distinguish themselves by the number of games they bet and the consistency of their wagers on each of those games. Typically, ‘sharps' bet about half a dozen games during a football weekend. ‘Squares' bet one or two, or even worse, nearly the whole card.
There's also little variation in the size of bets made by ‘sharps.'
“You pretty much bet the same amount on each game,” said the player. “I don't have a ‘best bet,' a ‘game of the week' or anything like that. C'mon, if I really knew which of my bets were ‘best' wouldn't I just make those bets? I think all my bets are going to win; that's why I make them.”
Finally, the ‘sharp' player never measures success in the short run so he never has to “get out” on an unlikely parlay or chase after the final game of the day or the weekend. Poker players are fond of saying that one session doesn't mean anything. ‘Sharps' understand that.
So if you see betting lines move, it's probably because of the “who” not the “how much.”