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Sports Betting in Delaware

20 October 2009

By John Grochowski

This is prime time for my friend Bill. He's a football nut, and loves to have a little something going on the games.

Office pools? Sure. Fantasy football? Four teams' worth.

But what he really loves is sitting in a big Las Vegas sports book with TV feeds of a whole day's worth of games on the big screens. He makes sure at least two, and sometimes three, of his four yearly Vegas trips come during football season.

But it wasn't Las Vegas Bill was calling to talk about. He was wondering about Delaware.

"I see Delaware has betting on pro football now, but only parlays," he said. "You can't bet single games. Why is that?"

In 1976, when a federal law was enacted banning sports betting in all states except those were it was already legal. Delaware at that time had a football pick'em contest through the state lottery and was exempted from the federal law, along with Nevada, Montana and Oregon.

This year, Delaware sought to legalize sports betting on individual games at racetrack casinos. A federal court and appeals panel held that single-game wagering was outside Delaware's exemption based on the old lottery game, and limited sports bets to football wagering on parlays of three teams or more.

"That's a shame," Bill said. "I don't have any business in Delaware, and I'm not going there just to bet on football games --- I'll leave that for Vegas. But parlays are really hard to pick."

They are indeed. On a three-team parlay, you pick three teams, and all three must beat a point spread for you to win. To make up spreads out of thin air, if you pick the Bears as a 6.5-point favorite, the Broncos as a 3.5-point favorite and the Lions as a 6.5-point underdog, then winning your bet requires the Bears to win by 7 or more, the Broncos by 4 or more AND the Lions to with either win or, if the lose, to stay within 6 points. If any team in your parlay fails, you lose.

"What kind of payoffs do they have?"

On the popular half-point parlay card at Delaware Park race track and casino, correctly picking a three-team parlay brings a 6.5-for-1 payoff. Bet $10 and if all three of your selections beat the spread, you can cash in for $65. True odds are 7-to-1 --- if this was an even game, a winning $10 wager would bring you $70 in winnings plus you'd get your $10 wager back, for a total of $80.

That $15 difference between the $65 a winner brings and the $80 an even game would bring is the house edge --- an 18.75 percent edge.

Bill whistled.

"That's awfully steep. Are all the parlays three teams?"

No, you can make parlays of up to 10 teams. Picking 10-for-10 brings an 800-for-1 return. True odds are 1,023-to-1. The house edge is 21.875 percent.

A really knowledgeable bettor who can pick games at better than a 50-50 clip can narrow those odds --

"But a really knowledgeable sports bettor knows better than to play parlays," Bill said before I could complete the thought and mention the house edge of 4.55 percent on single games. "That's why I stick mostly to single games in Vegas, with just one tiny parlay for a little spice."

Good plan.

** ** ** * ** ** **

How good does a single-game bettor have to be at picking football games against a point spread to make a profit? The break-even point comes at correctly picking 52.381 percent of games correctly.

I ran through this calculation a couple of years ago when a sportswriter who had been correct on 52 percent of his picks claimed he'd be making money in Vegas.

Nope.

If I bet $11 on Team A, and you bet $11 on Team B, the house takes in $22 in wagers. The house then pays the winner $21 --- the $11 wager plus $10 in winnings. The house then keeps the remaining buck. Divide that dollar profit for the house by the $22 in total wagers, then multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and you get a house edge of 4.55 percent.

Because of that house edge, if you won as may wagers as you lost, you wouldn't break even. You'd lose money. Let's say you made 100 of those $11 wagers, risking $1,100. If you won 50, you'd get back $1,050. Winning exactly as many wagers as you lose leaves you with a $50 loss per $1,100 risked.

Win 52 bets and lose 48 --- the 52 percent the sports writer bragged about --- and you get back $1,092. You're still $8 shy of breaking even. At 53 wins, 47 losses, you get back $1,113 for a $13 profit. The break-even point comes in between, at 52.381 wins per 100 wagers.

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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