Some notes on Bovada's betting odds

Cam Charron
September 06 2013 12:37PM

I'm not a sports gambler, but I do find betting lines interesting and have spent the occasional afternoon looking at the spreads of a vast number of football games to see if there's a team that is overvalued or undervalued by the betting markets. Sports markets are pretty interesting—they're designed to get an equal amount of action on either end of the bet, not designed to project actual performance in the standings.

Any big change in the line is always pretty interesting. After the Maple Leafs fired Brian Burke last year, odds the Leafs would win the Stanley Cup grew from 40/1 to 33/1 within 48 hours. That's not a dramatic shift, but it was worth noting. Odds change to shift the mood of the betting public, and while Nonis only made minor moves last season and there was no reason to think he would do anything other than that.

Yesterday's NHL opening over-unders were very interesting, however. Tyler at mc79hockey.com wrote them all down and noted the Leafs' over-under at 96.5. Basically, if they hit 97 points, you'd win the bet:

The sure thing lock would seem to be betting the under on Toronto. I’m not a Leafs fan but I’m incredibly excited about Toronto’s season because of its potential as a tipping point for hockey analytics – there hasn’t been a higher profile test case of hockey analytics condemnation of a team yet. I could imagine the Leafs sneaking into the playoffs; I have an awfully hard time imagining them getting to 97 points.

I'll have a column next week on Toronto's Great Experiment. It's clear from interacting with readers here and on Twitter that there's a big gap in optimism and pessimism with the Leafs. The thing worth noting here is the Leafs opened at 96.5 points, and they were considered +175 to miss the postseason, which means you win $175, (plus your original $100) if they miss.

Today, those lines have been shifted, presumably from a sharp amount of activity in the first day the lines were published. As of Friday morning, no other team saw its line moved, but the Leafs have dropped to 94.5, and are now just +135 to miss the playoffs:

It's funny because while I don't like gambling except in sure instances, about the only thing I could have been sure of was that the Leafs' line would dip. The plan would have been to buy $200 worth of betting slips of the Leafs over/under 96.5 points for next season, and eventually sell those off when the line inevitably moved or if the Leafs got off to a slow start and 97 points would look tougher to obtain. I don't like gambling, but I do like me some hedging.

It is pretty screwy. What the betting service has essentially done is say "we expected NHL teams to combine for 2732 points on Thursday, but only 2730 on Friday". At some point, the betting market decided that there would be two fewer overtime games in the regular season. Perhaps that's going in the wrong direction, though. In the last two 82 game seasons, NHL teams have combined for 2760 points, and 2757 points. You could probably hedge the situation by betting the "over" on more teams than not since the service has underestimated the number of overtime games that will occur in the NHL this season. But what do I know.

A point about the schedule

I've seen a lot of people posit to how Winnipeg will do in the Western Conference or how Detroit and Columbus will do in the East, but fewer people point out that the schedule has changed this year.

For the first time since I can remember as a die-hard hockey geek, every NHL team will visit each arena. This means that instead of playing 18 games against the other Conference, you'll be playing them 30 times. Over the last two seasons, Western teams have gone 278-181-81 against the East. Not a huge advantage over .500, but going 1.18 points per game against 30 games is better than 18 games—you go from an expected 21 points against the other Conference to expecting 35.

Just by tallying up the changes in the schedule, West teams should expect a higher threshold to make the playoffs than in previous years. I commented on the podcast yesterday that we don't know under the new system whether 90-94 points, which was the barrier to the playoffs in the old system, will carry over to the new playoff format, especially with a higher percentage of West teams getting in than East teams.

So… interesting stuff.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Sal Piacente
September 06 2013, 04:12PM
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#2 24 Cups
September 06 2013, 09:11PM
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I would take the Leafs making the Stanley Cup final at 12-1, funny how Montreal is at even Higeher odds, as most experts know their winning the division in a shortened season was a fluke.

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#3 Badger M
September 06 2013, 03:32PM
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I love sports betting, so I'm happy to see an article from you about it. Betting is actually one reason why I initially didn't see much value in Fenwick. I didn't think the correlation to wins was high enough, and preferred my own methods.

On first glance from those betting lines, I like the over on Carolina, Dallas, and Nashville and under on Minnesota.

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#4 leafnerd
September 06 2013, 03:40PM
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It is not statistically valid to use a team's previous year's Fenwick to predict this coming season. The regression and more advanced reliability work (splits, even/odd games etc) was completed to show that Fenwick close after 20 or so games in a season was a useful "predictor" for future success. That is, it is more appropriate for intra-season projections.

That said, little work has been completed to show fenwick is useful for predicting future season reliability. And further, even the reliability within a single season is in the order of 25 to 30% which is useful but does not appear to be entirely compelling to place a bet.

Further this forecasting is like looking in your rear view mirror to predict the future direction of the road. 30% of the time (whatever the reliability stat is) we can predict the future curve in the road but the majority of time randomness dominates the future result.

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#5 Peachy
September 06 2013, 05:41PM
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@leafnerd

Fenwick strives to measure performance, but that's not what sports betting is about. It's about performance relative to expectations.

Fenwick and PDO are the two key stats. Fenwick tells us a bit about how the Leafs will perform, albeit with serious limitations, and PDO means that the expectations of future performance are probably inflated by many.

And the 30% limitation is a serious issue when trying to predict the outcome of a game (granted when the outcome is 38% luck, we take what we can get), but is going to be better at predicting outcomes like, say, number of points.

All we're trying to do in sports betting is predict the out one better than the villain on the other side of the bet. Using these two stats on an over under point line of 97.5 for the Leafs means that the under is far, far more likely to come out ahead than the over.

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#6 leafnerd
September 06 2013, 09:13PM
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@24 Cups, Welcome back, and I also think the Leafs will be making some real noise this year.

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