Now that the 2010 NFL season is off and running, every fan has fantasies of paying off his second mortgage by outsmarting the Vegas sharps who set each week's NFL lines. But it takes more than just an unhealthy obsession with the Jets to beat the spread. One who has made a serious study of winning and losing propositions is Beth Raymer, whose recently published and critically lauded book, Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling, sharply (and often hilariously) chronicles her time around professional bookmakers Dinky Heimowitz and Magic Epstein. A film version, directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity), is in the works. As Raymer says, "For 35 years they've gambled for a living, spending weekends obsessing about inflated point spreads, injury reports and why a coach who gets paid $5 million a year and has 20 coordinators can't manage the clock. But Dinky and Magic have won much more than they've lost, in part by adhering to these commandments."
1. Honor Thy Bankroll!
Set aside the money you want to bet for the season, i.e. how much you are willing to lose. On the first game you like, bet 2% of the bankroll. If you win, you can then bet 2% of the now bigger bankroll. If you lose, you bet 2% of the remaining bankroll. No matter how you fare, at all costs avoid doubling up on the Sunday night game. The impulse to do so is very strong but must be suppressed.
2. Thou Shall Not Steele
As in Phil Steele or Jim Feist, or Stu Feiner, or any other tout who calls himself a handicapper and charges a fee for sports picks. Top handicappers aren't blogging or hustling on the sports radio circuit. They keep low profiles and share their secrets only with their wealthy sponsors who bet extremely high and pay them 25% of their winnings.
3. Thou Shall Not Reward A Team for Losing
Walk into any Vegas sports book at mid-season and you're bound to hear these words: "I'm betting on the [insert team name]. There's no way they're gonna lose three straight!" Hey, the team has already lost back-to-back, and the odds of that weren't too good. A team is not any better after it has lost two straight.
4. Thou Shall Not Bet with a Bookmaker Whose Prices Are Off
This is especially important in the age of Internet gambling: If every bookmaker has Pittsburgh favored by 3½ points except for your guy in Costa Rica who's dealing them at minus-two, don't fire away just yet. Off numbers are a red flag. The bookie may be handing out juicy odds because he's about to go belly-up and might not be able to pay out if he doesn't cover. He's taking a position and hoping to win so he can clean out his customers' accounts and retire in Quepos.
5. Thou Shall Not Be Rigid In Thy Gambling
We all know him: the guy who bets only favorites, only dogs, only home teams, only televised games. The approach is limiting. Instead, try to be open to any kind of situation that offers an edge. Bet first and second halves. If you like the two teams' offenses and can bet that the score will total more than 19½ in the first half, that's obviously better than betting it will go over 40 in the game.
6. Thou Shall Not Pace Thyself
You get the most favorable numbers early in the season. Linemakers don't know how good a team is, and their lines reflect their uncertainty. The further into the season, the sharper the lines will be. By week 14, they'll be solid.
Now, go forth and prosper.
STEVE MARCUS/REUTERS/CORBIS (BOARD, SHEET)
SPREAD FORMATIONS As Raymer describes, Vegas vets seek the edge not only on the score but also on such proposition bets as Reggie Bush's rushing yardage.
ERICK W. RASCO (BOOK)
[See caption above]
BOB ROSATO (BUSH)