Packers vs. Raiders Shortened-Field Game Creates Unprecedented Scenario for Bookmakers
Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports.
There are very few happenings in sports that veteran bookmakers haven’t seen. On Thursday night, they came across uncharted waters.
Early in the evening news began to trickle out of Winnipeg, the location of Thursday’s preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders, that field conditions at Investors Group Field were not up to NFL standards.
Unfortunately, the holes left by the Canadian goalposts — which are located at the front of the endzone — were dangerous enough for both teams to keep their best players in their street clothes (word is the Raiders were going to rest their important guys anyways). There was some chatter that the game could be canceled — you know since there was a hole in the area of the field where you score points — but this is the NFL and the show must go on.
The decision was made to shorten the field to 80 yards by placing the pylons at the 10-yard line. There were also to be no kickoffs. In other words, this was some irregular football, but it was football. And that means people bet on it.
“I’ve been in the business for 30 years and never seen them change field size,” said Jay Kornegay, a longtime bookmaker at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. “It’s a first for us and we did discuss it for a little bit and there was no disclaimer addressing this, so without that, all bets had to be action.”
Bookmaking can be a thankless profession and Kornegay knew that no matter what they decided to do, half the room would be upset and the other half would smile their way to the window.
“Of course we expect people after the game, those that lose their bets especially, will cry foul. Those that win will be business as usual,” Kornegay said. “A lot of people think we make decisions like these based on what we have on a game, that isn’t the case.”
In fact, some confusion over whether or not the game would be shown on local TV limited the handle for the game, despite featuring a pair of public darlings.
“There was a lot of discussion about this game not being on TV and that deterred a lot of action. And then we realized it was on a different network so it was kind of a last-minute discovery. People were more-or-less just excited to see the game and were betting accordingly.”
Bettors are always hunting for any edge they can get on the book, so with something as peculiar as this, you’d think that gamblers were chomping at the bit to try and figure out how the new field size could create an advantage for them. The problem was that nobody really seemed to know what was going on. Not even the guys behind the window.
“The information about the field and the game was leaking out like molasses,” Kornegay said. “People were hearing there were issues with the field and it wasn’t clear what the issues were. We knew the turf was in bad shape and then I spoke with a reporter at a local TV station he told me what was happening and word began to get out that they may start playing the game on an 80-yard field and we were like how does that work? Don’t they use the metric system up there? Is that what’s going on?”
In the end, the oddsmakers at the Westgate didn’t tinker much with the spread, the game closed as a pick ’em, but they did bump the over/under up a point-and-a-half.
“To tell you the truth, we didn’t really know. We had no idea what to do or how to adjust this,” Kornegay continued. “The field being shortened didn’t affect the spread but we knew we should bump the total up a little bit. Does 10 yards make that much a difference? Teams do struggle on the shortened field and in the red zone, so really does this have that big of an impact?”
As you could have guessed the shortened field tempted casual bettors into playing the over.
“There was a little bit of an overreaction on the recreational side,” Kornegay said. “Sharps weren’t playing it at all, just casual bettors playing the over.”
After the teams combined for three points in the first quarter, people were questioning if the bookmakers over-adjusted. A 28-point second quarter had people saying they didn’t adjust enough. In the end the game did go over, but that wasn’t the point.
“We’re probably never going to deal with anything like this again in our lifetime,” Kornegay said.
After the decision, someone asked Kornegay if they were going to put in a disclaimer about field size for NFL bets.