Reno oddsmaker unbeaten on his MLB season win totals

Feb 16, 2012 |
Steve Mikkelson was a 21-year-old student at San Diego State University, when he decided to take a summer job as a ticket writer at Bally’s sportsbook in Reno. His days at San Diego State were over; his dream of getting paid to watch baseball was just beginning.

A Red Sox fan, Mikkelson is a baseball guy to the extreme.

Each February, he sets up something in advance with Borders to get a copy of Baseball Prospectus aside for him, even though he knows it never sells out. He reads—and enjoys--all 608 pages of the thorough encyclopedia of stats and notes on the upcoming season. Last year, Mickelson used it to help create eight pages of season prop bets featuring more than 100 players.

Those props didn’t generate much action, though. Evidently, not everyone wanted to pounce on over/under 29 saves for Brewers reliever John Axford.
“I think it was a little overwhelming for bettors looking over all of them,” Mikkelson, now sportsbook director at the Atlantis casino in Reno, said with a chuckle. “Not for me, though. I loved every one of them and would do more if I could.”

Mikkelson is still narrowing down his player props for this season, but he hung his win total projections for each team Tuesday, weeks before most books will be posting numbers.

It’s the sixth straight year Mikkelson has been first to market with baseball season win totals. He’s never lost, producing a profit on MLB win totals for his book each year.

“I do take pride in that,” said Mikkelson. “And every year, I believe I learn something. I tend to be too opinionated. I tend to have teams with too high of totals and too low of totals.”

He also has learned not to try to be too exact. When he first started, he attempted to make his win totals equal 2,430, the number of games in the regular season.

“I found that by trying to be too exact that it skewed the numbers,” Mikkelson explained. “It forced me to make teams higher or lower than I wanted to.”

He’s quick to point out that his handle doesn’t compare to some Vegas sportsbooks. Limits on win totals are $500 at Atlantis. Plus, his Reno clientele isn’t loaded with wise guys. So he can afford to be a little more extreme on his numbers.

“Now, some of the pros will come bet my numbers after other books put up theirs,” he said, “but early on it’s predominantly public action.”

How the oddsmaker would bet

Braves over 86.5 – “Everything I’ve read expects the Braves to be a lot worse this year and put them in the 80 to 82-win range,” said Mikkelson. “I like the Braves, though, and think they have very solid team.”

Diamondbacks under 84.5 –
“I have them with wins to finish second in that division, but I actually think they’ll finish third,” said Mikkelson. “I think people will still bet them over, but that’s a team I think will drop off.”

Reds over 84.5 (-120o) – “I think the Reds are going to win that division,” said Mikkelson. “I think they’re going to have a really strong year. I couldn’t put them higher than Cardinals.”

Astros under 62.5 - “I can tell you right now that people are going to come in and bet the Astros over, just because it’s so low,” Mikkelson explained. “But, personally, I don’t think the Astros are going to win 58 games. I think that is a terrible, terrible ballclub that’s just trying to get through the season and get to the American League next year. My real win total on them would be like 57.5, but I can’t put that.”

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