Bad Beats: The Bane Of The Bookie

A weekly look at smart plays, oddball propositions and all your tales of gambling woe. Send your stories to tips@deadspin.com. Subject: Bad beats.

The unprecedented quality gap in the NFL has been murder on bookmakers — and it doesn't appear to be closing anytime soon. Last week, 10 of 13 favorites covered, with six games decided by at least 28 points. "We've seen disparity before, but never of this magnitude," says Jay Kornegay, director of the Hilton sports book in Las Vegas.

"The gap is widening between the top and bottom teams in the NFL, and it's not a good scenario for sports books. The general public understands that there are six or seven noncompetitive teams in the NFL this year — and many aren't even covering at halftime. So we don't want a knee-jerk reaction, but we do want to be aggressive because history tells us that some of these teams will be somewhat improved, or at least try to be competitive, where they're covering double-digit numbers."

Yet halfway through the season, the NFL's best teams seem to be gaining momentum, not losing it. Two more double-digit favorites — the Colts and Patriots — easily covered last week, to the dismay of bookmakers. "All the exposure this year with the Bradys, the Drew Breeses, the Peyton Mannings is magnifying the problem for us," Kornegay says. "Your typical bettor knows this and they understand how ridiculously bad some of these bottom-rung teams are."

Bookmakers, according to Kornegay, have been more aggressive about adjusting for "noncompetitive teams" — i.e., point spread inflation — but they're nevertheless still struggling to entice underdog bettors.

"Last week, when you're looking at the Rams getting 14 points at home and the Buccaneers getting 15 points on a neutral field, those historically are huge numbers," he says. "Normally, you'd see maybe getting 10 or 11 at home or 12 on a neutral field, but not 15. So the oddsmakers actually made the adjustments, and the sharper money was actually on the underdogs. The sharper money had one of their worst weeks ever because they were taking the value of these inflated lines. The books couldn't overcome all the parlays that accumulated with all the betting patterns that we saw."

Eventually, Kornegay predicts, the league will strike equilibrium. This time last year, double-digit underdogs were 17-1 against the spread. "Historically, the NFL has always been pretty competitive," he says. "This has got to be one of the worst years as far as the parity — or lack of parity — is concerned."

For a brief moment last Sunday, after Miami struck out to an early 24-3 lead against New Orleans, things seemed to be evening out a little. Then Drew Brees mounted an unlikely comeback to win (and cover), and the house's streak of hard luck continued. "The sports books have gotten a lot of bad breaks this year," Kornegay says. "Philadelphia scored 27 points last week against the Redskins, and they were never even in the red zone. That's crazy. How can you score 27 points without being in the red zone? You play the Redskins, I guess."

Handicap Zone

49ers +13 at Colts:
Kornegay: "The 49ers are an average team. So here we are, an average team going to the Colts and getting 13 points. Historically, that doesn't happen. That's something that's been adjusted because of what we've seen over the last few weeks. The Colts are one of the most popular teams. We've bumped the number up pretty aggressively because we anticipate the action coming in on the Colts."

Broncos +3 at Ravens:
Kornegay: "The Broncos have been one of the sports books' best friend because people have been betting against them all year. I anticipate the sharp money coming in on the Ravens, coming in off three losses and the bye week — and this being a much bigger game for them than for the Broncos."

Bad Beats: Readers Share Their Tales Of Woe

Okay, you want bad beats. I'm a long-time bettor, and here are my two worst.

First, (this one tops them all I think), back in the early 90's before Pete Carroll arrives at USC, they are a bad team, and they are +9 points on the road against Arizona State. Feeling that's too many points for ASU to lay, I bet $300 on USC. Fast forward to the 4th quarter. USC is LEADING by 7 with 1:20 to go. At +9, my bet is a lock right?

Well, sit back and enjoy what happens next. USC coach John Robinson decides to back off on his pass rush, go into a prevent defense, and ASU marches down the field and ties the game with 14 seconds to go. What do I care? I've got USC at +9. So, we go to overtime. ASU gets the ball first and immediately scores a touchdown to take a 7 point lead. Now it's USC's turn. After a 6 yard gain on their first play from scrimmage, their QB decides to throw an out pattern to the right side. The ASU defender reads it, steps in front, and returns it for an 81 yard touchdown. ASU wins BY 13 and covers!!! Still hard to believe to this day!!

Here's the second one. I have the Houston Astros with Roy Oswalt on the mound at the Pirates. This is sometime around 2002. $2250 to win $1500 which is a really, really big bet for me. It's the Fox Saturday game of the week, and the Astros are up 8-2 going into the 9th inning. I am counting my money. They bring in some scrub reliever to mop up the game, and he actually gets the first two batters out. Let me repeat: HE GOT THE FIRST TWO BATTERS OUT!!! So, I'm up 8-2 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, and the Pirates have no runners on base. Pat Meares, the Pirates .182 hitting shortstop then draws a walk, Orlando Merced gets a single, and the next two batters reach as well.

It's now 8-3, and the Astros manager reluctantly strolls to the mound to bring in a new reliever. The new reliever promptly gives up 2 hits and a walk making it 8-5 with two runners on base. Now the Astros manager walks to the mound again, and signals with his left hand. Billy Wagner, who was half-heartedly warming up, never even dreaming he'd be called into the game, is now summoned to the mound and is thrust into a save situation. He promptly walks the first batter to load the bases, and Brian Giles, the pirates clean-up hitter steps up to the plate. He sends Wagner's first pitch over the right field wall to give the Pirates a 9-8 win. Now, I've taken some really bad baseball beats in the past, but that one sticks out in my mind as being the worst. (Mike C.)

My bad beat story is about the first time I made the trip to Atlantic City . I was about a year out of college, working a crap job that didn't pay a whole lot when a good friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to Atlantic City . Seeing as how I'd never gone, I said yes. In my mind, I had the luck of being a first time gambler and couldn't lose, as it was certainly my destiny to win big and never have to work again.

I took $500 with me, which is a nice chunk of change, but was definitely A LOT more money to me in 2003 than it is now. We got to AC at around 9 pm on a Saturday, and I proceed to the Blackjack tables, because Blackjack was supposed to be easy to win money playing. By 10 pm, I had no money left. I thought for sure I could get it back, so I went to the ATM and pulled out another $500. Between 10 pm and 11:30 pm, I proceeded to lose the second $500, bringing my losses to $1000. Being the first time I had played Blackjack, at this point I had just started to figure out "my system" to beat the casino and win my money back. My bank at the time allowed me to withdraw $500 every midnight to midnight time period, so I went back to the ATM. At precisely 12:01, I withdrew another $500, and went back to the tables to win my rent, car payment, insurance payment, student loan payment, and credit card payment back. My checking account balance after this withdrawal stood at exactly $38.92, but I knew I would be able to recoup my losses and get most if not all or more of my money back. I don't think I have to tell you what happens next, but I played up and down (mostly down) for about 2 hours, and when I realized I only had $50 of the $1500 total withdrawal left, I stopped playing, and went to go find my friend, who proudly showed me the $1800 he had won playing poker over the last 5 hours while I lost damn near every penny I had.

At that point, I did what any self respecting young man who had just lost his ass would do: I spent my last $50 at the strip club. When I told my friend I was out of money and he would have to pay for gas, tolls, food, etc on the way home, he was kind about it. He even bought me a lap dance.

That loss crippled me financially for months, and it took me a long time to feel comfortable back in AC, or Vegas. Now when I go to gamble, I always tell that story to whomever I'm gambling with, and have them hold onto my wallet after I've taken out the money I know I can lose without setting me back. (Rob)

I got an unconventional story for Bad Beats as it involves me winning some money. But it also involves me cursing my favorite team, so that has to count for something right?

My story starts on a lovely day. June 18, 2006 to be exact. I was a fresh-faced 22 year old, and it was my first time in Vegas. The trip had been planned for months. The main purpose of the trip was so we could bet on like four World Cup games a day. But most remember that June for the Mavs-Heat NBA Finals. Now, I have a huge boner for the Mavs. And as luck would have it, the end of the finals was going to coincide with the start of my trip.

We arrive on the morning of Game 5. This game is pivotal as the Heat has tied the series and the Mavs really need to take this one on in Miami. Now, I should point out that I have a general rule to not bet on teams that I root for. I am to heavily involved to think rationally so I usually steer clear. But I'm in VEGAS. FOR THE FIRST TIME. What better way to bust that cherry than to make my first bet on my favorite team. I mean, they were clearly better than the Heat, so how could they lose, right. Right?

So I go to a few books and place a couple of bets. At one I take the Mavs +2, then at another I parlay the Mavs +3 and the over. I'm looking to make $200 on $50. I'm excited as hell. But I have this feeling that I have just done something disastrous. So, it's game time and we head over to Ceasar's to watch the game. It starts off well for the Mavs and by halftime they are up 51-43. So I decide to get frisky. I go put $30 on the 2nd half over. So, to recap I got $80 down to win about $300. That was a lot for a sheltered Southern Baptist kid who was used to putting 5 bucks in the squares pool at work. The rest is history. The Heat go on a run. But Dirk comes up money. Then D-Wade (FUCK YOU!!!) gets bailed out by the worst phantom call in Finals history and the Heat (or Bennett's Kids as I like to call them) steal a 101-100 victory. But my misery only grows. I look down, and I have won ALL of my bets. I have $300 in tainted money. I broke my rule and now the Mavs have lost three straight. I have cursed my team and now hold cursed money.

Two days later, I watched the end of the epic collapse from the bottom of my 12th Jack & Coke. I vomited on the way back to the room. And I didn't win one bet the rest of the trip...and 6 days later I went home and cried. (Jeff A.)

Share your bad beat with the world. E-mail us at tips@deadspin.com. Subject: Bad beats.

Religious Prop Bet Of The Week: Thetan Edition

Bad Beats: The Bane Of The Bookie

Via Paddy Power:

"First celebrity to leave the Church of Scientology"

John Travolta 9/4
Katie Holmes 3/1
Lisa Marie Presley 4/1
Jason Lee 6/1
Priscilla Presley 8/1
Chaka Khan 10/1
Nancy Cartwright 12/1
Brandy 14/1
Beck 18/1
Kirstie Alley 25/1
Tom Cruise 50/1