Leading Las Vegas
The World's Most Successful Sports Bettor Tells How He Uses Computers and Guile to Move the Line
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97
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The Line Mover is the most powerful--and successful--bettor in all of sports. He and his organization, a syndicate of approximately two dozen well-capitalized gamblers, exert the kind of influence over America's sports betting odds that, were it occurring on Wall Street, would be called manipulating the market. Regularly wagering as much as $500,000 per football game, the Line Mover and his people inspire fear in bookmakers, confusion in those who would try to piggyback on his expertise and hope in the millions of casual sports bettors around the world who would like to think that there's someone out there who really can consistently beat the game.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Line Mover granted Cigar Aficionado an exclusive interview, revealing for the first time how America's biggest sports betting syndicate operates.
"It's pretty simple," he says flatly. "We find situations where we have way the best of it, and then we bet a whole lot of money. Do that enough and you end up with a nice little profit."
How nice? He won't say exactly. But the Line Mover does volunteer that over the past five years he has annually paid an average of $3 million in taxes on his winnings. "We do pretty well," he deadpans, nodding contentedly.
According to Michael "Roxy" Roxborough, whose company produces the Las Vegas line, "Anybody can walk into a Nevada sports book and bet on a game. The truth is, we don't worry about the average gambler. We worry about [the Line Mover]. There's only four or five guys we're really concerned about. We design the line with these guys in mind. Sports betting is a game of skill. Give a really skillful sports bettor a big bankroll, and he's dangerous. A guy like [the Line Mover] is the reason we have limits. He's the reason we have to be so careful."
Of Roxy Roxborough, the man who spends each working day trying to take his money, the Line Mover says, "The man has a very difficult job. He's trying to make a line for the casinos to get two-sided action [equal bets on both teams], and he does a good job at that. But he can't keep up with me, because I'm the tenth of one percent that does consistently win. If Roxy ever does catch up, I'll quit tomorrow. In the meantime, even though I think Roxy is agood and admirable opponent, I know I'm going to beat him year in and year out."
America's biggest sports bettor accomplishes this feat by identifying games where the line is "off," or, by his calculations, slightly mistaken. By his reckoning, a football game line that is incorrect by 1/2 point gives him close to a 7 percent advantage. A line that is off by three points--well, that's a monstrous edge. The trick, of course, is finding games in which the Las Vegas line is "wrong."
Enter the computers. The Line Mover is famous in the gambling world for employing up to half a dozen sophisticatedcomputer programs, custom-designed to evaluate past performance and predict future results. He won't say what the computers are looking for--"That would be like the magician telling you how he cuts the girl in half," he jokes--but he does reveal that the criteria, when processed properly, yields a chillingly accurate "power rating" that reduces every college and National Football League team to a quantifiable number. Using a full-time team of handicappers--statistics-obsessed computer junkies--who individually generatea series of daily reports, the Line Mover considers his analysts' data and decides where his organization's money will be invested. "My talent isn't handicapping the games," he admits. "My expertise is handicapping the handicappers--and knowing the best time to bet."
The Line Mover's sense of timing, his nearly extrasensory understanding of how--and when--the public will bet a sporting contest, is perhaps his greatest attribute. "I can't emphasize how important timing is in my business. A half point either way can make or break my profit. So some games we'll bet early Monday morning, some [games] five minutes before the kickoff. All depends what kind of price we think we can get."
Casino sports books constantly adjust their lines based on the amount of money coming in, adapting almost instantaneously to keep the action on both sides of the spread equal. If, for example, everybody in Nevada seems to be favoring the Giants, the price on them will go up, making a bet on their counterpart, the Buccaneers, more attractive. By offering odds that encourage two-way betting, the bookmakers can keep their accounts fairly balanced, avoiding big swings and virtually guaranteeing a profit. (Since the bookies charge 11-10--$11 to win $10--a total of $1 million bet on both sides of a game ensures them a $50,000 windfall.) When the Line Mover makes his plays, an enormous amount of money comes in on one side; the bookmakers then quickly change their odds to dissuade other gamblers from taking the heavily bet side and encourage them to wager on the other side. The trick for the Line Mover is to get his money down before the bookmakers adjust their lines.
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