Football returned to gridirons, TV screens and sports books recently, and while the game surely was a welcome sight for bored eyes, bulging wallets, beer distributors and casino spread sheets, there also is a widely held perception that when it comes to NFL betting, gamblers hold an edge over bookmakers early in the season.
Roxy Roxborough, the founder of Las Vegas Sports Consultants and the man who revolutionized sports wagering by using mathematical formulas and computer models to help compute accurate odds, disagrees with that notion.
"For years it's been said that oddsmakers are more vulnerable earlier in the year because the teams are new, but I don't buy it," said Roxborough, now retired. "Oddsmakers work with the same information as the bettors. Sometimes it's just a matter of interpretation. In the case of NFL betting, you often have teams with new coaches and - because of trades, free agency or injuries - new quarterbacks. You don't learn a lot in the exhibition season and that's basically because teams try to limit the playing time of their significant players because they're worried about them getting hurt. So you really have to start making assessments based on projections rather than past performances. But I think the oddsmakers and the players are in the same spot. I don't believe there is any inherent edge early in the NFL betting season. Sometimes people just pick winners. That's important to remember. Technically, the pointspread makes each game a 50/50 proposition so there are going to be times when players pick more winners than losers."
The early portion of the NFL betting season is no more stressful than any other segment of the season, insisted Roxborough.
"I don't think there's pressure on any particular game or any particular week but I think there is pressure over the long haul to produce," he said. "Oddsmakers shouldn't measure their work after a week or after a month. It's better to assess it in terms of the entire season."
Nevertheless, the tendency is for both NFL bet takers and NFL bet makers to take stock every Tuesday morning. Interestingly, Roxborough says that winning or losing over a 7-day period usually is determined by the results of only a handful of games.
"Generally, when wiseguys and squares clash, when they wind up on opposite sides of a game, it's because the public has pushed the favorite too high and the sharps, who perceive some value, buy back the underdog," explained Roxborough, who literally wrote the book (Race and Sports Book Management) on the topic. "That often helps balance the line. But there are games each week where the public and the squares wind up on the same side and those games are the biggest decisions.
"If I can break down a typical 14 or 15-game NFL weekend, there are usually four or five games where there's not much of a decision," explained Roxborough, who founded LVSC on his kitchen table in 1982. "For some reason, those game aren't particularly attractive, be it the matchup or that people don't see any edge in the number. Those games don't move. Then there are four or five games where the NFL betting action is split, where there's good two-way action. And then there are a handful of games - let's say four - where most of the action is on one team, where the betting is very one-sided. It all comes down to those one-sided games. If the bookmaker splits them, because of the vigorish, he does fine. If he goes 3-1, he does great; if he goes 4-0, he does absolutely fantastic; if he goes 1-3, that's not so good; if he goes 0-4, that's a disaster."
Although any new season offers fresh hope for the bettor, Roxborough, who was a professional gambler for five years before launching his oddsmaking company, pointed out that few professional players earn their living betting football.
"If I were still a professional gambler I wouldn't play NFL football," revealed Roxborough. "For starters, there aren't enough games. So trend analysis, which was one thing I was big on, is pointless. Second, you can't turn your money over fast enough to get a reasonable rate of return because you only get to choose from 13-16 games a week and each team only plays 16 games. I just never saw NFL betting as being a viable opportunity. That's why most sports betting pros end up wagering on what they call linear sports, sports such as baseball and pro basketball."