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Football Game Outcome Picks and “Taking the Points”

Have you ever watched an NFL or College Football Gameday preview and been confused as to why a football expert picks a clear underdog team to win and his or her explanation is that he or she is “taking the points” in the game? As we discussed in class with respect to horse betting, these football experts are making their game outcome picks based on an odds-of-winning based points spread on the game. In the world of sports gambling, Vegas sets points spreads for betting with the intention making either team an equally viable betting option to ensure profits after payout no matter the outcome of a game.

In the example provided in the oddsshark article that I read, they discussed an example in a theoretical matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Let’s assume that the Packers are favorited -7 over the Bears. What this means is that to win a bet on the Packers, they must not only win the game, but they must win by more than 7 points. That means a gambler can win his or her bet on the Bears if Chicago wins or if they lose by less than 7 points. Therefore, when you watch a football preview program and the expert selects the underdog team to “win” with the explanation that he or she is “taking the points,” that means the expert concedes that the favored team will win the game, but that the favored team will not be able to outscore the underdog team by the point spread in the game, meaning that according to Vegas, the underdog team wins the gambling line, despite losing the game.

Furthermore, in lecture, we discussed how the odds are determined in the context of horseracing. The odds lines are constantly updating until the bets are no longer being accepted. We noted that total payout if horse A wins equals the sum of the probability that horse A wins the race times each individual’s bet divided by the total wealth in the pool. Essentially, this means that the inverse of the odds of A winning equals the weighted average of beliefs of the wealth share of the individual betters. The purpose of updating the odds in this manner is to ensure that the horse track controlling the betting operation will be able to retain a profit after their payout no matter the outcome of the race.

This concept is further explored in the oddsshark article I read, and is explained again in the context of a football game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears in which the Packers are the favored team. Suppose at the beginning of the week that the line is set as the Packers being -7 favorites, or 7 points favorites, over the Bears. If the public sees the Packers as the vastly superior team, surly more people will place bets on them because Green Bay would be undervalued as favorites even with the 7 points. Therefore, Vegas will see the disparity between a large number of bets for Green Bay and very few bets for Chicago. Again, like the Horse Racing gambling house, Vegas’ ultimate goal is to profit and to ensure that they profit after payout no matter the game result. Therefore, Vegas will update the Green Bay-Chicago line as the week goes on and more bets arrive causing a more accurate public belief about the result of the game. Suppose Green Bay then becomes -9 favorites. This means that a bet on Chicago can win so long as the Bears win or lose by less than 9 points. A betting line with this many points would incentive the public to now bet more on the Bears since the Bears are getting much more leeway with the point spread. Ultimately, an update in this fashion leads to similar betting quantities on both the Packers and Bears, despite the Packers being the much better football team. As a result, Vegas, like the Horse Racing house, is able to ensure profits after payout. With this in mind, don’t be surprised to see experts picking the under-performing New Orleans Saints to “win with points” this coming week against the still undefeated 11-0 Carolina Panthers.


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