Posted: 10/6/2011 6:28:32 PM
When I visited the sportsbook early last Sunday to cash some college winners and get down on a couple of NFL games, the ticket writer was eager to share with me a story of a bettor who tried to take full advantage of the parlor’s mistake.
The previous day, the woman told me, a customer came in and tried to make a small straight bet on Middle Tennessee State -23.5 against Memphis. He couldn’t hide his delight in noticing his ticket read “Middle Tennessee +23.5” (that’s plus three scores and change, a 47-point swing of the original spread), and quickly took great means to exploit the snafu.
The dude immediately emptied his wallet on the bet, which came to about $200, then headed to the ATM and withdrew his maximum allowance, about $600. If $800 is good, more is better, he concluded.
Because evidently his bank is open on Saturday, and the guy came back about 20 minutes later with three dimes to fire on this sure thing.
At which point, the woman informed him that if his previous bets didn’t get the house’s attention, this one surely would, and she couldn’t guarantee he’d get away with it. She booked the bet anyway.
The ticket writer told me she was off duty by the time the game ended and the guy tried to collect, so she wasn’t sure what happened to his bets. Middle Tennessee won 38-31 and failed to cover the posted -23.5 chalk, but easily covered the “alternate” spread as a +23.5-point dog.
The sportsbook employee said she wondered if whoever was responsible for the mistake still had a job as we spoke. If I had to place a bet on that one, I’d put one unit on the “yes.”
Not that I expect repercussions weren't involved, but I suspect the error was caught before bettors attempted to cash tickets, and no money traded hands.
At least that’s what happened when I found myself in a similar situation in 2003. I received a hot tip one Saturday morning that a local book was offering Florida State, a 17-point road chalk against Clemson, at +17 due to a computer error.
I’m almost embarrassed to say I took a similar line as the other guy. I put what I had in my wallet on the game, then took advantage of the weekend hours at Wells Fargo and came back with a good portion of my net worth a while later.
In those days, a ticket on Florida State +17 against Clemson felt like white, paper gold caressing my palms. Naturally, disaster almost struck. Clemson won the game outright 26-10 and my bet, essentially a 34-point teaser, covered by one measly point.
Good thing I was getting 17, I thought … smart betting. Let’s head to the cage. When I got there, the young writer told me there had been a “problem” with the game and summoned a manager.
The manager, who recognized me as a regular customer, looked disappointed in me as he explained that there was a mistake made on my game and, “I think you know what the mistake was.”
All bets on the contest were voided, he said, and I got a refund on my tickets.
He said the book was alerted to the problem, in part, when they saw me, a bettor who usually fired in the $55-$220 range, walk in and plunk down two dimes like it was nothing. He didn’t call me a cheater, but implied that I was angle-shooting and the behavior was, at best, unethical.
I’m still not sure what to think. I do know that in my many years in the racket, the sportsbook has never refunded a ticket that was my mistake, and hesitates when it’s theirs. This includes everything from me drinking the Kool-Aid on a sucker line to mistakes made by either the writer or on the parlay card.
In fact, one such mistake happened just a few weeks ago, and I lost $200 because of it. I ended up with both sides of the same game because of their printing error, and the team number I originally chose would have resulted in a winning ticket. I didn’t catch the mistake until after I left the book.
But generally speaking, we all take part in the game knowing the rules under which we are playing. The house edge comes from the vig, and the fact that you’re a gambler with according tendencies, and our edge comes from the ability to push advantages when we are getting the best of it.
So where does this situation fit in? If you find yourself with a ticket for Oregon +24 tonight against Cal, is firing every dime to your name on it cheating, angle-shooting, or fair game in this cut-throat business?
I still can’t decide. And if I had another chance to place such a bet, I'm not sure what I would do.