Last week I talked about key numbers, and why book managers are often forced to stay on a particular spread and change only the associated moneyline. We saw a little of that this past weekend, as both the AFC and NFC Championship games closed on or near 10, which is considered a minor key number.
This week, I want to discuss Halftime wagering and the opportunities that arise by betting on a sporting event where you have already seen half the game before you make your play. I’ll also take a look at the line movements for the AFC and NFC Championship games. Once again, I want to thank Bodog’s head bookmaker, Kent, for providing us with this inside information.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Halftime wagering is available for football and basketball, and is wagering on the score of the second half only, including Overtime if applicable. The lines become available at or near the end of the first half, and are available only until the second half starts. This makes Halftime wagering very different from other forms of sports wagering. For most events, you can handicap the game well in advance and you can spend lots of time shopping for the best line to give you the best chance of winning. With halftime betting, you have little or no time to handicap or to shop for the best line, but you do have the advantage of having seen the teams play. Book managers do not have time to handicap halftime lines either (they rely on a comparison of their handicapping for the entire game, action on the game and the score to determine their halftime line) and no sportsbook can watch every game, so if you are watching an event where the score is not indicative of the actual play, you may be able to take advantage of the lines and find a very juicy play. Perhaps one team was hit with a rash of injuries, or is in foul trouble, or rallied late in the first half and looks to have momentum – situations like these can be very profitable for disciplined players. With Halftime wagering, the bettor has an advantage in getting to watch the teams play before wagering, and the House has an advantage in that players have very little time to handicap or shop for lines. There are a couple of particular situations that arise that can provide the player with the ultimate edge, but first I should mention that Key Numbers are very important in Halftime wagering as they occur with even greater frequency for a half than they do for a game. Please refer to last week’s article if you are unsure what this means.
One opportunity comes when you have played on an underdog and they are ahead at the end of the First Half. Bettors who played on New England were presented with such an opportunity this past weekend. The line opened at Pittsburgh -8, and early sharp action as well as public money bet the line up to 9.5 by Friday. Public money continued through the weekend and the line went as high as -10. At +10, the sharp money came in on New England (although I talked to a few professionals that were able to get 10.5 on the Patriots at some books!) and public money continued to play on the Steelers. Kent told me he had the game close to balanced, given the large handle of a Conference Championship game, but the House was cheering for New England slightly. With the score 14-3 for New England at Halftime, it was looking good for Kent, and bad for most of the public players. But if you had played on New England, you now had a chance to profit twice without risk of a loss. I know this sounds too good to be true, but with the Patriots up by 11 and getting 10 points, this was effectively a 21-point lead for betting purposes, and those bets were looking like winners. The Halftime line was Pittsburgh -7, so if you had New England for the game and the Steelers -7 in the second half, you could win both, but not lose both. If the Steelers mounted a miraculous comeback and covered the game line, your second half winner would payoff, as they would have had to outscore the Patriots by at least 21 for the second half. However, if the Steelers win the second half by 8-20, you would win both bets. Steelers by less than 7 would mean you break even (less the vig), and this was indeed the case this weekend. I don’t advocate trying to play middles like this, as you worked hard to get a winner with your Patriots bet only to end up with nothing (its kind of like splitting face cards against a 6 in Blackjack). But in the right situations it can be a profitable tool. A similar opportunity presented itself to bettors with the Eagles in the NFC Championship game who bet the Rams at the Half, and would have paid both ways. So you can see it does work. The opposite scenario can also work when you have the favorite for the game, they have a big lead at Halftime, and you play the dog at the break. So it’s worth spending a few minutes with a pen and paper working through all the different scenarios to see how you can profit.
There is another situation that arises when an underdog is leading at the half, and I’ll use the NFC Championship game to illustrate this point. St. Louis opened as an 11-point favorite and was bet quickly up to 12. I think the public surprised a few bookmakers in picking Philadelphia, and over the course of the week, the line ebbed down to 10. This seemed to be the right number, and money from both sharp and public sources split evenly on this line. Kent mentioned at game time that he was a little off on Philadelphia, but that he was pleased with both the amount of action and how it was divided. The score at Halftime had the Eagles up 17-13, and the line came out with the Rams -7. As mentioned above, players who had Philly for the game could take St Louis in the second half and hope to win both but an opportunity also presented itself to players that were undecided on the game and wanted to play the favorite laying fewer points. If you liked the Rams, but thought, “10 points is too many”, then betting at Halftime presented a golden opportunity. With the spread -7 and the Rams down 4, St. Louis now only had to win the game by more than 3 for the bet to be a winner. With the Rams outscoring Philly 16-7 in the second half, they covered the Halftime line, but not the game, so seizing this opportunity would have paid off. This obviously isn’t any sort of system (see the Steelers game if you want to see a case where this doesn’t work) but it is something to consider as the seconds tick down on the first half. The opposite case can work as well, when an underdog becomes an even larger underdog if the favorite has a big lead at the break. and you can bet the dog getting more points.
Halftime wagering has become increasingly popular over the last 3 years, and handle on the Halftimes of yesterday’s games was about one fourth of the handle for the entire games, according to Kent. This much wagering action packed into 15-20 minutes can make for very rapid line moves, so make sure you plan out what play you want before turning on your computer or picking up your phone as you won’t have much time to second guess yourselves. Sportsbooks offer Halftime wagering because they make money on commission, so the more that is wagered, the more they can make. As a player, you need to be aware that this extra wagering opportunity can be very profitable if used with discipline and in the right situation.
As promised, I want to look ahead to the Super Bowl. I asked Kent how a line of Rams -14 would affect wagering. He told me that in the regular season, “lines greater than -10 tend to dampen action slightly”, as bettors are sometimes hesitant to lay the big points. “However,” he added, “this is the Super Bowl, and players will want to have something in play, so we’ll offer a lot of interesting props for players who are nervous of a double-digit spread.”
Next week I’ll review the action from the Super Bowl, and I hope to get some more comments from Kent on how this NFL season was for the house overall.
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Good luck with your wagers!
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino
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