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Odds are — LVSC set the line

21 January 2003

Dear Mark,
Who sets the line for football games each Sunday? Where do illegal bookies get their odds? Drew M.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants Inc. (LVSC) establishes the odds for more than half of the licensed sportsbooks in Nevada as well as licensed bookmaking operations in Mexico, Europe and Australia. It was founded in 1982 by Michael 'Roxy' Roxborough, who quickly became the predominate oddsmaker in the country. Roxy retired from LVSC in 1999 but is still very influential among the elite in the sports gaming industry.

Contrary to popular belief, most Nevada sportsbooks do not set their own lines, since it is much cheaper to pay LVSC a licensing fee for their service rather than hiring internal linemaking expertise.

The line out of Las Vegas, or what the USA Today sports section cites daily, is usually what illegal bookies base their line on. Since transmitting gambling information across state lines for the purpose of placing or taking bets is illegal, what you see in USA Today or your local newspaper is, of course, for informational and entertainment purposes only, even though many illegal bookmakers don't seem to grasp that fine point.

Once the odds or lines have been established, they are typically adjusted individually by each casino, depending on various factors like injuries, field conditions, and so on. But most importantly, the casino balances out the wagers, so that equal amounts are bet on each of the opposing teams. Then the casino charges a "vigorish" (fee or commission) on every bet wagered, topping out with (vig x bets made), while putting zilch of their own at risk. A nice business if they can get coequal sums wagered on both sides.

Roxy Roxborough once said, "Oddsmaking is an interesting profession. But like most jobs, at the end of the day I can't say I've made the world a better place." But Roxy has the thrill of knowing that he has made world a tougher place for all us Joe Blow handicappers.

Dear Mark,
On my last casino visit, the following happened. Every blackjack hand for one hour totaled a 12-16 on my first two cards. Is this just bad luck or a slick dealer? Tyler M.

Puh-leeeze! Tyler, really? Every single hand?

Anyhow, this skeptical writer reflects that mathematically two-card hands totaling 12-16 occur 39% of the time, or about two out of five hands. More than 26% of the two-card hands will add up to 11 or less (for those interested in double down possibilities, one-third of these will be 10 or 11). Finally, your first two cards will add up to a total of 17-21 35% of the time.

The only advantage your so-called "slick" dealer has is that all players must act on their hand before the dealer takes action on his. NOT, Tyler M. getting a bizarre amount of 12-16s and then, of course, being dealt that toddling 10.

Dear Mark,
Last week you stated that "you should never put your faith in the heady belief that happy aberrations in gambling odds will happen in games that carry a huge house advantage. The keen player never ignores the mathematical odds that are working for or against him." OK, but that still does not mean a smart gambler will always be a winner, even if player makes a bet with less than a 2% house edge. Ray L.

Right on! Inferring from that column, Ray, that smart players will "always" cash out at the cashier's cage as wealthy conquerors of casino warfare, is a tad bit erroneous-fun perhaps, but costly. Watch my hands: acute gamesters making bets that have less than a 2% house advantage are giving themselves a fair chance of winning (unlike their pals who insist on buying up those high house-edge games). And, Ray, a fair chance is all that any gambler should ask for. Well, that and a little background music.

Gambling thought of the week: "My hands were shaking, my thought confused, and even when losing, I was somehow almost glad. I kept saying, let it be, let it be." —Fyodor Dostoevsky. Letter to Anna (May 21, 1867)

 

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.