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Circa sportsbook welcomes sharp bettors

Updated October 24, 2020 - 12:19 pm

At Circa Sports, a cat-and-mouse game is a lot more fun than shooting fish in a barrel.

The downtown sportsbook has made a splash since opening in June 2019 at the Golden Gate and the D Las Vegas, welcoming action from sharp bettors, posting the worldwide opening lines for college football and offering often-better futures odds than its competitors.

Now, with its flagship sportsbook set to open at the new Circa casino Wednesday, the book hopes more bettors will notice what it has to offer and help make it a leader in the industry.

Circa sportsbook director Matt Metcalf, 41, said he has put together a team that revels in mixing it up with sharp bettors instead of severely limiting or banning winners.

“It’s kind of like a cat-and-mouse game, and that’s what makes it enjoyable,” he said. “And I think the sportsbooks that really get it right treat it that way. And the ones that are more defensive about it, they’re probably making money, but I don’t think they have as much fun when they go to work as my team does.”

Metcalf said he moved to Las Vegas in 2003 and started working at the Imperial Palace for Jay Kornegay and the sportsbook team that would eventually take over at the Las Vegas Hilton (now Westgate).

Metcalf left the Hilton in 2010 and was a professional bettor for eight years. He said that experience helps shape Circa’s approach to bettors.

“When these guys come in, I feel like I can actually speak on their behalf and say what they want with some degree of credibility,” he said.

Metcalf met Circa owner Derek Stevens in 2018, and he said they shared a love of the history of Las Vegas and a similar philosophy to booking sports.

Stevens said: “I’ve always taken the position to take larger-size bets. We’re not trying to shy away from professional bettors. … We give them fair limits, and as we get closer to kickoff or the first pitch of the game, they get very large limits.”

Price discovery

Why would a sportsbook take bets from people it expects to win in the long run? After all, casinos don’t let blackjack card counters keep beating the house.

Metcalf and Stevens said sharp bettors actually help the sportsbook by essentially informing them when a line is off for a game. When sharps are no longer betting a game, sportsbooks can be confident they have reached the “correct” line. That process is called price discovery.

“They help us set the lines,” Stevens said.

The book often starts with low four-figure limits early in the week that climb closer to the games. Metcalf said the goal is to arrive at the closing (final) line on a game faster, enabling the sportsbook to take larger bets knowing it has the best of it (at least theoretically).

“By the time somebody comes in on a Sunday and wants to make a bet, we’re in a spot where we’ve seen pretty much all the sharp bets we can get and we can take a big bet and feel comfortable taking a $100,000 bet, taking a $200,000 bet,” Metcalf said. “… We think we can make more money in the long run, which is what it’s all about, by taking those sharp bets and welcoming everybody.”

Edward Golden, a longtime bettor and founder of the respected handicapping service Right Angle Sports, said Circa overall is “more sharp-friendly, more fair” than other Las Vegas sportsbooks.

“They tell you in advance what they’re going to take on something, and they always take that amount,” he said. “It’s not like super-high limits like some of the offshores might take on certain things, but they take fair limits and they haven’t shied away from any sharp action.”

Golden said some Las Vegas books might take higher limits at certain points of the week but that he didn’t worry about getting his action cut at Circa.

“Overall, I feel like our accounts will be much more sustainable at Circa than they would anywhere else,” he said.

Making the market

Circa has also differentiated itself by opening the first college football lines worldwide on Sundays, and Metcalf said the book hopes to eventually do so in other sports.

By the time lines show up in Las Vegas, they have almost always originated at offshore sportsbooks, and sharp bettors have already taken a crack at them. The Las Vegas sportsbooks can be confident the lines aren’t wildly off when they post them.

Going first entails risk, but Metcalf said Circa is happy to take that on.

“Honestly, it’s fun to throw the first number up,” he said. “And if you know how to move the numbers, you can open a bad line here and there. And you’re going to.”

Metcalf pointed to last Sunday when Circa opened Purdue -2 and the line shifted to Iowa -4 by Monday. In all, Circa listed 13 games on Twitter that moved three points or more off the opening line.

Futures, and the future

Circa also works to offer some of the best prices on futures in Las Vegas.

The sportsbook offers yes/no props on most major sports, meaning bettors can wager that a team won’t win a title in addition to betting that it will. That prevents the book from cutting the “yes” prices too sharply, since that opens it up to taking a “no” bet at lower odds as well.

“I’m just trying to be fair,” Metcalf said. “I’m trying to find that equilibrium where I’m giving a fair price to the bettor, but I’m also able to make money on my end.”

Metcalf roamed around the soon-to-open Circa sportsbook on Monday, showing off sheets from old newspapers and gambling publications that have been built into several tables, a nod to old Las Vegas.

Now he’s ready to keep building something new. Metcalf said he expects the opening of the Circa sportsbook, billed as the largest in the world, to attract more bettors and help the operation grow. He just wants an opportunity to show them what Circa can provide.

“We’ve really had to work hard to build what we think is a really quality product to get people downtown and to get them to give us a chance,” Metcalf said. “… I think (the new sportsbook) will get a lot more people in the room just once and give us a chance. And then it’s up to us to show those people who we are and get them to come back.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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