Haney's Handle: Best Vegas books to bet NBA futures

Feb 15, 2012 |
Haney's Handle: Best Vegas books to bet NBA futures
Want to bet the Heat to win the title? Better find the right book first.
Want to bet the Heat to win the title? Better find the right book first.
The term “frequently asked questions” is more than just an expression to me.

I’d estimate there are about 10 extremely common queries that are often addressed to me, virtually all of them having to do with gambling or Las Vegas.

I don’t necessarily encourage this process, but I’m usually willing to put forth a solid effort in answering them if I believe the person asking the question is coming from an honest, sincere place. (In other words, I don’t cater to trolls.)

Consistently laying claim to a spot on the list is this old standby: “What is the best sportsbook in Las Vegas?”

I’m never sure how to respond to this one, probably because I rarely to never hang out for any length of time in casino sportsbooks. My modus operandi is to place whatever wagers I need to make, and then move on to the next stop. I give myself extra credit if no one recognizes me and I’m spared from making small talk in the book.

You know those guys who loudly greet the gentlemen behind the counter at the sportsbook, shake hands with everybody in sight, brag about the three-teamer they hit yesterday, and so on? In the immortal words of John Cameron Fogerty: “It ain’t me!” By contrast, I’m the guy you don’t notice (I hope), with his ball cap pulled down over his eyes.

I can, however, explain which sportsbook has the best betting odds. That’s the kind of thing that matters to me.

Because we’re in the meat of the NBA season, consider the NBA championship future book.

The best way to determine which casino offers bettors the most bang for their buck in futures wagering is to calculate the theoretical hold percentage — “house edge” in shorthand — of each future book.

Theoretical hold — sometimes called “theo” in betting lingo — expresses, in percentage form, the amount of money a book can expect to “hold,” or keep, after paying out winning bets. The smaller the theo, the better it is for gamblers. The larger the theo, the worse it is for gamblers.

Following is a rundown of the theoretical hold percentages of 13 major Las Vegas sports books in the future books to win the 2012 NBA championship, from best to worst from a bettor’s perspective. This survey is based on current, not opening, odds:

1.    LVH (formerly the Hilton) … 27.5 percent
2.    Lucky’s group … 32 percent
3.    Cal Neva group … 32.7 percent
4.    Wynn … 33.8 percent
5.    South Point and related properties … 37.4 percent
6.    Golden Nugget … 38.8 percent
7.    Caesars Palace and related properties … 39.7 percent
8.    Station Casinos properties … 44.4 percent
9.    MGM Grand and related properties … 45 percent
10.    Stratosphere and related properties … 47 percent
11.    Cantor Gaming group … 48.5 percent
12.    Boyd Gaming/Coast properties … 52.9 percent
13.    Leroy’s group … 53.1 percent

A few of my thoughts on the results of this survey:
  • The LVH deserves credit for its strong showing. Still, I’m a little confused. This whole sports betting enterprise is, supposedly, one of the most competitive arenas out there. You would think someone would step up and run a future book with a theo below 20 percent. Then they could legitimately claim to be the biggest badass in the whole business. That would cut right through so much of the nonsense that unfortunately permeates the sports betting industry. In the hands of an aggressive and talented sportsbook manager, I maintain this is eminently doable. Also, note that the LVH has the Miami Heat at 6-5 to win the title, a fairly typical price. But the LVH fared so well in the survey because they raised the odds substantially on many other teams — a sign of a skilled bookmaker. Much of the competition is quick to lower the odds on short-priced favorites but conveniently “forgets” to raise the odds on other teams accordingly.
  • Caesars Palace, along with its related properties, placed in the middle of the pack. This actually represents a big improvement by Caesars compared with its future books in previous years. Could the Caesars book be showing improvement? Maybe, but I will not be convinced until they stop hassling me to show a room key when I attempt to make a $550 bet there.
  • As far as the Boyd Gaming/Coast properties and the Leroy’s group, there’s not much to say other than, “Yikes!” Oh, and when you visit Las Vegas, keep in mind that all sportsbooks are not created equal. Some respect sports bettors and give them a fair shake. Others? Eh, not so much.
(Here’s how to calculate theoretical hold:

1. Convert the betting line on each team into a probability of winning. For example, if the odds on the Lakers are 6-1, the probability would be 1/7 or 14.29 percent. If the odds pay x to y then the probability of winning is y/(x+y).

2. Add all of the probabilities from step 1. You'll get something like 135.4 percent, for example. Call this total “t.”

3. The theo is 1-(1/t). Sticking with the example from step 2, 1/t would be 1/135.4 percent, or 1/1.354, or .7385. And 1-.7385 is .2615. So the theo would be 26 percent.)


Jeff Haney is a former columnist at the Las Vegas Sun and is based in Sin City. Connect with him online at sophisticatedmaniac.com.

Editor's note: Our friends at BeyondTheBets.com wrote a similar article on Wednesday (great minds think alike, right?) only inspecting the best places to make future bets offshore. You can find the story here.

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