Prop Betting

One of the most revolutionary changes in sports betting in recent years has been the rise of player props (ie, will this player score? How much of Stat X will this player accomplish in the game? Will the final score be odd or even?) Veteran gambling reporter David Purdum talks about this paradigm shift in an ESPN column. Props began in popular culture as those goofy things they did in the Super Bowl, but have now risen up massively, displacing the old spreads, totals, and moneylines.

Although Purdum’s column talks about the NFL, props are something that can (and have) been done in any sport with a relevant stat. Looking at the upcoming English Premier League matches, I’m seeing between 400 and 550 props on each game. (There are already over 200 props at some books for NFL Week 1 games a month off from the writing of this post). I saw an array of props for an upcoming cricket match. During the dark sports days of Spring 2020, I was both bemused and a little impressed by seeing giant prop menus for Belarusian soccer matches.

Of course props have a downside too from a business perspective, and that’s that they amplify the sharp-soft clash greatly. Traditionally, the few sharp books have had fewer and tamer prop markets than the much larger number of soft ones. It’ll be interesting to see to what extent the player/team prop markets can be “sharpened” the way the main lines have been.

But as of now, it’s a very reasonable question to ask “how can you ensure a house edge on hundreds and hundreds of different markets [things to bet on]?” And the answer is often “you really can’t.” The approaches are frequently blunt: Low limits, high house shares compared to lines, and restricting/limiting people who consistently win.

Still, for better or worse, giant prop bet menus are here to stay and dominate.

The Big Sports Betting Weird Thing

When I wrote The Sure Bet King, I patterned its climax in large part on the Mayweather-McGregor boxing match, especially in how the mixed martial artist who never had a professional boxing match somehow got a gargantuan pile of money wagered on him over the undefeated all-time-great boxer. I thought “that must be the craziest gambling moment, or at least one of them”. Up there with suspicious table tennis matches attracting a bizarrely large amount of handle.

Then this scam involving con artists and farmers in India happened. Locals were hired to put on appropriate kits and pretend to be participants in the Indian Premier League, the world’s most prominent and lucrative cricket competition. Their marks were Russians who apparently knew almost nothing about cricket. If they did, they would have noticed that the real IPL had long since concluded its season.

Somehow the “tournament” got all the way to the “quarterfinals” before it was noticed and shut down. And when I read it, I was like “wow. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.” It was something. And a reminder that while fiction has to make sense, reality does not.