Aside from the World Cup in Brazil, the Super Bowl will be the biggest sports betting event this year.
According to professional sports bettors, there will be billions being wagered globally.
What’s interesting about the sports betting world, is that many of the strategies and tactics used by both professionals and amateurs are similar to what we see on Wall Street. You don’t bet all of your money on just win or lose. You bet on spreads, and you can diversify your portfolio of bets with various prop bets, which are the side bets that often have little to do with the ultimate outcome of the game.
We recently spoke with Vegas-based sports bettor/ESPN columnist Ted Servansky (a.k.a. “Teddy Covers”) about the sports betting scene right now, and what he’s looking at in his own Super Bowl portfolio.
Teddy Covers has been sports betting professionally in Las Vegas for 17 years. It’s basically how he makes his living.
This year, the pro bettors — or “Wiseguys” — are putting their money on the Seattle Seahawks to pull off a victory against the Denver Broncos, according to Covers. Meanwhile, the amateurs have been pouring their money into the Broncos for the most part.
We’ve included a Q&A from our conversation. (Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Business Insider: What’s the vibe like right now in Vegas in the sports betting scene?
Teddy Covers: This game has a dramatic, sharp square divide… Out in the hinterlands there’s nothing but Denver support, heavy Denver support. The professional bettors are pretty much lined up on the Seattle side. So there really is a pretty strong dichotomy between what the pros are doing and what the ‘Joes’ are doing for the Super Bowl. And the fact that everyone is mixing here in Vegas as we always do…there’s a fairly wide diversity of opinion, which again is good for bettors regardless of which side you like because it ensures line variance and that’s such a strong…key point. Line variance is a wonderful thing to have.
Can you talk more about line variance is?
Line variance means that if you shop around from one sports book to the next you can find a difference in the line. When you buy a share of Google at any given moment it doesn’t matter if you buy it from your broker or if you buy it from some exchange. It doesn’t matter where you buy the share [of Google], it’s going to be the same price at that given moment everywhere. There’s no diversity. With sports betting, every half point that you get in your favour is worth about — long-term — anywhere between 0.5% and 1% to your bottom line. So, when you have a situation where there’s a two point line variance, which is a fairly big line variance then from one sports book to the next, it means if you like Denver you can find Denver -1 and get slightly the best of it. If you like Seattle, you can find Seattle +2.5 and I do think we are going to see 3 for the Seahawks between now and kick off. Three, of course, is called ‘key number’ in the NFL. More games are decided by exactly three points than any other margin, so when you get a +3 it’s not a little edge, it’s a significant edge.
Which team do you think is going to win?
I like either side, plus 3. I think this game is going to be tight. I think it’s going to come down to the final possession. And, I’m still looking for Seattle, plus 3 to pop up here in Vegas. Like I said, I do think that will happen. But at the moment, I don’t have a dime of Seattle in my pocket even though Seattle is the side I want to support. What I have in my pocket is a little bit of Denver. I had to pick them because I saw the line was moving and I figured now is the time. You have to get involved right now as the line is jumping around because I don’t think that line is going to be there. So I put a little bit in Denver in my portfolio. What I really want is Seattle, plus three.
Can you talk to us about some of the prop bets that you have in your Super Bowl portfolio right now?
I have Total Sacks under 4 and 1/2. That’s -155. There’s juice attached to that. And with many of the prop bets that I make, I will be laying a fair bit of ‘juice’. There’s a simple thought process. In general, recreational players are looking to bet a little bit to win a lot. And in general, professional bettors are more than willing to lay a price to win a little. So, I’m comfortable laying some extra juice with this particular wager because 4 1/2 sacks is a lot considering that Peyton Manning doesn’t take sacks and Manning and…Russell Wilson has that scramble ability that allows him to escape a front presser at times. So you put those two factors together and with the fact that neither team is particularly blitz heavy team and the other 4 1/2 sacks is a great bet.
Can you talk to me a bit more about your prop bet portfolio?
I like Russell Wilson to run the football. So I’ve got Russell Wilson’s longest rush of the game over 11.5 yards. And I have his total rushing yards over 30.5 yards. And the thought process here, Denver hasn’t seen a mobile quarterback all year and I would expect that he [Wilson] would have two opportunities to make big plays…One, I think there are a handful of designed plays for Wilson to be running the football and the Broncos pass rush I think will afford him some opportunity to scramble out of the pocket as well. So, I like Russell Wilson to have a pretty big game on the ground. And, of course, those two wagers together, if you get a nice scramble you can cash both tickets on one play. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Talk to me more about the Super Bowl. Is this the Holy Grail of sports betting?
The Super Bowl is like Christmas morning for sports bettors. It really is. Even the very casual wagerers tend to get involved in this. The guys who bet once or twice a year come out of the woodwork to get involved with the Super Bowl. When we talk about all the props and I gave you one with the sacks, there are literally as many has 400 proposition wagers available here in Las Vegas for the game. When you talk about the props, that’s what the ‘Wiseguys’ love about the Super Bowl. And what makes the Super Bowl so unique as a betting event is it’s the only day like this.
You tossed around the term ‘Wiseguys’ and you consider yourself one. Tell us what a Wiseguy is.
A Wiseguy is just terminology for someone who bets with positive expectations. Wiseguys are called ‘Sharps.’ We’re called ‘professional bettors.’ The slang term is ‘Wiseguy’. It’s been floating around Vegas for who knows how long. The concept is that for Wiseguys, or shark bettors or professional bettors it’s not about the action, it’s about making positive expectation wagers. We have a positive ROI when we make them long term. And that is the single biggest difference between a square bettor or a ‘Joe’ or a recreational player (they all mean the same thing) versus the Wiseguys.
So could you pick a Wiseguy out of the crowd?
The classic Wiseguy outfit is not a suit and tie guy. It’s the guy wearing sweatpants with a big fat roll of hundred dollar bills wrapped up in a rubber band. I mean that’s the Wiseguy outfit. If I’m standing by the betting windows at the Superbook at the LVH, you can easily tell the type of wagers that professional bettors, or Wiseguy bettors, tend to be very different from the type of wagers that recreational guys make.
How does on get to become a professional sports bettor?
It’s simple. When you’re able to make a living off the wagers that you make, then you are officially a professional sports bettor….In order to become a professional bettor, it’s simply a matter of honing your skills and raising a bankroll that will allow you to play in high enough stakes to be able to bet enough to earn your living.
Can you talk about how sports betting is similar to Wall Street?
There’s a common misconception about sports betting that was true 20 and 30 years ago that’s simply not true today. And that of course is the concept that bettors are playing against the sportsbook. We’re not playing against a sportsbook anymore. We’re playing against a global marketplace. The money flow globally on sports betting is enormous. It’s well into the billions and billions plural. For a game like the Super Bowl, globally you’re probably talking about billion dollar handles. When you think about that through the course of the entire year, it’s a lot more than that. So it’s not a bettor versus the bookie or the book, it’s a bettor versus the marketplace and that’s a very similar concept to what we see on Wall Street. It’s not you against the house when you’re trying to pick a rising stock. It’s you and your valuation against the market valuation.
So you could compare picking winning teams to picking winning stocks?
Absolutely. I’m a day trader. I’m a day trader and my market is sports betting. The vast majority of wagers that I’m going to make are decided in a relatively short time frame. Of course, one big difference on Wall Street is you can take a small loss. When you pick a stock and you go, ‘Oh it’s not doing what I thought it was going to do’ and you can get out of it and it’s sports betting, generally, it’s double or nothing. Although with live betting now, there are many ways to get out of bets even after you’ve made them.
What are some of the common mistakes people make when sports betting?
The single biggest mistake people make is not line shopping….The biggest mistake recreational players have is they don’t shop for the best number. Other mistakes include not getting involved early and only getting involved right before kick off. That’s certainly something that most amateur bettors do. They’re not going to even think about the game or their bets until game day.
Do you have a less on that you learned that really stuck with you during your sports betting career?
Unfortunately, I have dozens [laughs]. The first lesson I learned as a bettor even before I moved to Vegas, I had a Bowl season back in the mid 90s where I didn’t do a whole lot of research, I bet with my head instead of my heart and I got my clock cleaned. I mean cleaned! There were two lessons learned there. One, don’t ever bet more than you can afford to lose. And two, if you are going to be betting you may as well be betting smart. Meaning, start using your head. Start doing your research. Stop screwing around. Those two lessons went hand-in-hand and without those two lessons I wouldn’t be here in Vegas.