Sharps upset, sports books pleased with A&M’s effort

Professional sports bettors — aka sharps or wiseguys — typically don’t play big favorites, but on Saturday they were all over Auburn, which was laying 23 points at home to Texas A&M.

“There was a lot of early movement on that game during the week. (The line) went from 20 to 23,” Wynn sports book director John Avello said. “You might say that was sophisticated players pushing it up. All that money came during the week to get that number.

“That was a pretty good game for us.”

When wiseguys lose a wager, it’s been said that doesn’t mean they were on the wrong side. But they certainly didn’t appear to be on the right side in this one, as the underdog Aggies stormed to a 35-17 halftime lead and never trailed in a 41-38 win over the No. 3 Tigers.

Texas A&M was coming off a lackluster 21-16 win at home over Louisiana-Monroe that snapped a three-game losing streak punctuated by a 59-0 thrashing at Alabama.

“Texas A&M was playing so poorly. They escaped last week, when they could’ve lost to Monroe, and now they’re on the road going against a team trying to stay in the national championship hunt,” Avello said. “You would think (Auburn) would beat them pretty convincingly, but they got off to a really bad start and their defense did not keep A&M from moving the ball. They played an awful game all around today.”

The Tigers blew two chances to at least tie the game in the final minutes but lost two late fumbles.

While a novice bettor mostly plays big favorites and is often derided as a “square,” his winning percentage against the spread isn’t too far below a sharp, according to Avello and Ed Salmons, the Westgate Las Vegas sports book manager.

“It’s not that much of a difference,” Salmons said. “Everybody always says, ‘Whatever the public likes, bet the other side.’ But it’s not true.

“The public probably goes 50-50, so if you’re betting opposite of minus-110 and go 50 percent, you’re losing money. It’s not as simple as they tell you.”

Avello said people who bet on sports for a living try to hit at least 54 percent winners over the course of a year.

“They try to grind out a few percent every year. I’ve seen the same guys doing it around town for many years,” Avello said. “You’ve got to go against the 11-10 advantage the house has, and if you can overcome that and get a few percent, you’ll be happy with that.”

Salmons came up with virtually the same number.

“Essentially, if you hit 55 percent picking your games and you’re betting a lot of money, you’re pretty well off,” he said. “If you hit 60 percent of your games, you’re making a lot of money. You’re the best handicapper in the world if you hit six of 10.”

Said Avello: “In any one sport, anybody can have a good year and hit 60 to 65 percent. It’s real hard to do, but doable for a short period of time. Long term, it’s impossible.”

Avello said being a pro gambler is a grind.

“It’s a tough business. You talk to some of them and they say it’s hard work. Anybody that does good in the game puts a lot of time into it. It’s not easy,” he said. “First of all, it’s about getting the right number. It’s about a lot of shopping trying to find the right number, a lot of homework, a lot of instinct and being around the business for a long time. That’s what it takes.

“There are some guys that have good years and some guys that have good lives.”

So what makes a bettor sharp?

“It’s a combination of everything. Computers, rankings, their information, fact-gathering. All that stuff combined,” Salmons said. “How they go about making their wagers in a systematic way of which places to play at first and which to play at last to get the most money down without showing their hand to everyone.

“You’ve got different groups of wiseguys who can have guys just shop numbers. You can make a decent living doing that. And you’ve got other groups of guys moving numbers in a way to get the most money down. There’s so many different ways people can bet sports and make money at it.”

While Saturday featured six enticing matchups of ranked teams, Avello said the action was slow at the Wynn, which is the first Las Vegas sports book to post college football lines, at 3 p.m. each Sunday.

The No. 4 Alabama-No. 14 Louisiana State showdown was the only marquee matchup decided late, with the Crimson Tide covering the 6½-point spread in a 20-13 overtime win over the Tigers.

With so many obscure games on the slate each week, Salmons said college football is a haven for the sharps.

“The public likes the NFL, so the public overcomes the wiseguys. But the college game is definitely the wiseguys’ sport,” he said. “There are so many games the public has no interest in.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.

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