Oh, so that's how it works

You may read this breezy New York Times story on sports betting as, oh, a decently wrought, workmanlike -- almost perfunctory -- entry in the annual glut of pieces about the wild, zany world of sports betting. But -- and here is a confession of what I sometimes feel is an innate, chromosomal, almost spiritual shortcoming of mine -- for someone (a Las Vegas native, no less! I know! The irony: mordant!) whose understanding of sports, let alone sports betting, is positively paleolithic, for some reason this New York Times article arrived as a bracing revelation of sorts in its very sunny, workmanlike, Wikipedia-ish approach. So thaaaaat's how sports books make their money. I'd been hearing sports bettors toss around terms like "vig" for years, but I never had the nerve to ask:

Avello and his colleagues make the market in a sports betting industry considered to be worth more than $400 billion globally. On paper, it seems straightforward enough: Set a line, or number, that attracts an equal amount of betting money on the favorite and on the underdog and then pocket the “vig” or “juice,” or 10 percent fee for handling the bet. It rarely works out that cleanly, but over the course of a year, the ledger consistently favors the side of the sports books.

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And a point spread refers to a range of outcomes on which you could wager. You don't say.

Now, all is quiet on the floor of the Wynn’s sports book. The Broncos just defeated the Patriots, 26-16, easily covering the 5-point spread. The square money had come flowing in on New England and the points.

I guess "point spread" has a more occult ring than "range of outcomes." Oh, and apparently, sometimes complex things can happen to those point spreads as bets come in, almost in some kind of Heisenberg-principle-kind of meta-shift:

Defense decides who wins the money game: the books or the gamblers. When Bogdanovich’s computer beeps on the William Hill trading floor, he knows a big bet has come in that needs to be reviewed and, if necessary, the line moved one way or another.

“There are some professionals that are really good,” he said. “You try to identify them and respect their money and sometimes, you get them working for you. You mentally make notes on who is lining up on which sides.”

Often, the parachute-press treatments of Vegas are either aggressively simplistic or just rife with baldly inaccurate howlers. But in this case, the mainstream media paint-up of a Vegas gambling institution has proved to me to be surprisingly eye-opening. If you're a Las Vegan who has often secretly shrugged amid arcana-laced convos about over/unders, prop bets and point spreads -- and part of me suspects there are quite a few of you (show yourselves, brothers and sisters!) -- this piece might offer a few sturdy guideposts.  

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