Monday, 23 August 2021

Perfect Head-Fake

A little over a month ago, I wrote a post about the error made by a sportsbook (Circa Sports) when setting the initial total for the WNBA's All-Star game.

At the time I mentioned that:

A couple of observations I found interesting were that the total was posted for two hours before the first bet was made, a bet on Overs which may well have been a spoof, and how many other books simply copied the line.
An ESPN article today by David Purdum confirms that a syndicate had suspected the total would be wrong, and that the first bet was indeed on the Over.

The full article is here, and makes very interesting reading:
They're called head fakes in the cutthroat world of high-stakes sports betting, and on an innocuous Wednesday in July, one syndicate unleashed an all-timer.

A team of bettors, with associates around the country, had been preparing for the release of the over/under on the total points scored in the WNBA All-Star Game for days. The betting syndicate thought there was a chance an oddsmaker would make a mistake.

The game featured the WNBA's top players against the U.S. women's national team, which was tuning up for the Olympics. The syndicate believed more defense would be played, leading to reduced scoring compared to traditional wide-open All-Star Games.

The syndicate sent one of its members to New Jersey in advance, and on game day (July 14) closely monitored the odds screen, waiting for the first sportsbook to post the total. At 10:29 a.m. ET, the syndicate got its wish. A mistake had been made. Las Vegas sportsbook Circa Sports opened the total at 248, a number reflective of a typical defense-optional All-Star Game, and not an intense, competitive affair featuring a team preparing to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Everything had played out perfectly. The syndicate was in position to capitalize on the mistake by hammering the under, but the uninitiated might not believe what it did next.

A suggestion was sent to to the syndicate member in Vegas tasked with making the first wager: "Let's see what happens if you bet over."

That's right, believing the total was 30-plus points too high, the syndicate chose to make its first bet on the over. The strategy was not designed to dupe Circa as much as it was to create a smokescreen and not alert other sportsbooks that the number was off.

The head fake worked.

The syndicate partner who made the first wager is sharp, regularly causing lines to move after placing a bet. When the account placed a limit bet on over 248.5, Circa oddsmakers moved the number to 252. Shortly after, sportsbooks from Costa Rica to Colorado to New Jersey to Nevada copied Circa and posted the total at around 250.

The syndicate went to work, this time betting the under at as many sportsbooks as it could. The total got as low as 191, before closing at 197. The WNBA All-Stars won 93-85, with the total staying under by 19 points. The syndicate did well.

"That was just a unique one and not a typical case. It doesn't usually work that way," said a member of the betting syndicate, who spoke to ESPN on the condition of anonymity. "It happened to be the perfect storm."

And perhaps the perfect head fake.

The original ESPN article has more about head-fakes and some entertaining examples and stories about their history including a quote from this blog's friend in Las Vegas:

"It only works if you're convinced other people are going to copy it," said iconic Vegas oddsmaker Roxy Roxborough. "And people copy it."

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