Bucking the Odds


The monolithic structures that tickle the clouds on both sides of Las Vegas Boulevard are there for a bunch of reasons. The most obvious: confident gamblers who waltz into town with “a system” that’s guaranteed to make them instant millionaires. Inevitably, they limp out of town broke and wondering what went wrong.

The latest “system” designed to help gamblers put a dent in Vegas’ profit margin isn’t rooted in blackjack or video poker, but rather sports betting. At SocialSpreads.com, people are invited to submit score predictions for a minimum number of games each week, with that information fed into a database to determine a consensus “social” point spread. The results are subsequently e-mailed to the participants and compared against the Las Vegas line, the idea being that significant discrepancies between the “social” odds and the Vegas odds yield strong wagering opportunities.

The website says it tested this “wisdom of the crowd” theory over the course of two NFL seasons and determined that the social community beat Vegas oddsmakers nearly 60 percent of the time—a healthy number when considering sports bettors who win at a 55 percent clip or higher are deemed successful.

After posting results from a couple of predictive preseason football polls—which college team will win the national championship; how many games will each NFL team win in 2012—the information-only (i.e. non-gambling) site launched in late August with 11 predictions for Labor Day weekend college football games.

Suffice it to say, Vegas won again—the SocialSpreads recommendations went 3-8.

Among the mistakes: Las Vegas had Alabama as a 14-point favorite against Michigan, while the SocialSpreads consensus was Alabama minus-10½, meaning a strong lean toward betting Michigan. Additionally, the community thought Vegas was way off on the Louisville-Kentucky line, believing Louisville should’ve been an 8-point favorite, not a 14-point favorite. Results: Alabama (41-14) and Louisville (32-14) both won and covered with ease.

To be fair, the site did crack the 60 percent barrier on its “total” (over/under) suggestions, which went 7-4. More importantly, one week does not a season make (in fact, to help eliminate biases and those who don’t take their picks seriously, SocialSpreads will only e-mail results to users whose predictions rank among the top 70 percent).

That said, while SocialSpreads could prove to be a useful tool for sports bettors, it should be viewed as just that— a tool, not a guaranteed road map to riches.

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The first football bet I ever made was the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Giants and the Colts—“The Greatest Game Ever Played.” I was 13 years old, and my brother made a $10 bet for me. We actually had a place in Pittsburgh called Louie’s Pool Room—Louie was a local bookmaker—and I laid 3½ points with the Colts, and they won by six. I immediately ran out looking for my brother to get my $10.