Odds boosts are commonplace in the American betting market these days. They’re a promotional tool for sportsbooks to entice bets by bumping up the payouts.
The boosts usually involve player props or parlays, not typically main markets like point spreads, and the books almost always keep the betting limits on the boosted odds low. Sportsbooks, after all, don’t make a habit of offering their largest limits on bets with the smallest edges. The odds boost that popped up on ESPN BET on Saturday morning, however, was a different story.
David Huffman, chief operating officer of Sporttrade, a betting exchange in New Jersey, said he woke up Saturday to text messages from associates about ESPN BET “offering a seemingly uncapped promotion” on the Baltimore Ravens to beat the Houston Texans by 10-plus points at boosted odds of +110 or by 11 points at +140 odds. The prices were more advantageous than what was being offered on the same bets elsewhere and created an arbitrage opportunity to bet both sides of the game — the Ravens and the Texans — and lock in a profit. Huffman described the situation as an “arber’s dream” and explained why on a post on Linkedin that began, “Yesterday was a crazy day in sports betting.”
“For every $97.6 bet covering both sides ($50 on HOU + $47.6 on BAL; both returning $100), a customer would earn out $2.4 of risk-free money,” Huffman wrote. “This is known as arbitrage, something widely done by many over the last few years, but we’ve never seen something so big and so uncapped as this promo.”
Odds boosts regularly produce arbitrage opportunities, but it was the lofty betting limits on the Ravens boost at ESPN BET — upward of $200,000, according to Huffman and other industry sources — that made it so attractive.
“The edge was roughly 2.5% for most of the day, meaning for every $100 you could scrounge up, you could make $2.50,” Huffman later told ESPN on Sunday. “If you happen to have $100,000 sitting around and can get it into a sportsbook, it was a risk free $2,500. Most odds boosts of this nature are $50 max bet, because the edge is so great.”
Around 10 a.m., Saturday, hours ahead of the game, a surge of interest on the underdog Texans hit New Jersey betting exchange Prophet Exchange. Betting exchanges operate more like stock markets and act as brokers to match bettors on different sides of a proposition. The margins at betting exchanges are often smaller than what’s offered at sportsbooks, making them attractive to arbitrage bettors playing the other side of the ESPN BET boost. It proved to be a boon for the exchanges.
By the time the game ended, with the Ravens winning comfortably 34-10, approximately $1 million had been traded on the game at Prophet Exchange, making it the “highest bet game since Super Bowl last year” for the company, according to co-founder Jake Benzaquen.
Sporttrade reported roughly 16,000 shares traded totaling approximately $800,000 on Texans-Ravens, the most the company has taken on a game in its two-year history and four times the amount that was risked on Saturday’s thriller between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers.
Penn Entertainment, which operates ESPN BET, declined to answer questions about the strategy behind offering the boost on the Ravens, but industry sources said there were signs that the sportsbook had taken a large wager on the underdog Texans and was looking to attract money on Baltimore to mitigate the risk. In the middle of the week, for example, the line at ESPN BET dropped to Ravens -7.5, while the consensus line in the betting market was -9.5.
There was speculation online that Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, the Houston furniture store owner known for his big bets that are tied to promotional giveaways, had backed the Texans at ESPN BET. When reached by phone Saturday, McIngvale, told ESPN that it wasn’t him.
Disclosure: ESPN is a partner with ESPN BET, a sportsbook operated by Penn Entertainment
NFL betting notables
• The point spreads on the AFC and NFC title games entered the week on and around key numbers, with the Ravens opening as three-point favorites over the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers seven-point favorites over the Detroit Lions.
Sportsbooks were offering Baltimore at -3 or -3.5 with varying juice Monday morning. The consensus over/under total was 44.5, down a point or more from most opening numbers.
“We’ve been ragging on the Chiefs all year about how they just don’t look right,” Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading for Caesars Sportsbook, said. “But this is their time.”
In the NFC, the 49ers were either 6.5- or 7-point favorites, also with varying juice, over the Lions, with the consensus total at 51.
“You have to think the 49ers will play better next week than they did last night in a game they probably should have lost,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, said.
• DraftKings and FanDuel took opposite approaches to prop bets on 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel, who left Saturday’s win over the Green Bay Packers in the first half with a shoulder injury. Calls to “Void Deebo” circulated on social media, as bettors who took the over on Samuel’s receiving and rushing props clamored for a break from the sportsbooks.
DraftKings obliged, announcing on X (formerly Twitter) that the stakes on most losing bets involving Samuel would be refunded as site credit (bonus bets).
DEEBO SAMUEL REFUND
We will be refunding all losing bets that included Deebo Samuel on markets that were undetermined before he left the game. This includes single and parlay wagers where he was the only losing selection.
Credited inside 48 hours, digital bets only, refunded in…
— DraftKings Sportsbook (@DKSportsbook) January 21, 2024
FanDuel, on the other hand, stood by its house rules, stating on X that since Samuel recorded a snap in the game, “all markets will remain active and graded accordingly.”
Thank you for reaching out. Since Deebo Samuel recorded a snap in this game all markets will remain active and graded accordingly per our house rules. Feel free to DM us with any additional questions or concerns. https://t.co/PGiO59yNfY
– FanDuel Customer Support (@FanDuel_Support) January 21, 2024
• A late rush of money on the 49ers from bettors caused the line to climb to San Francisco -10.5 an hour before the Saturday night kickoff. The 49ers came from behind to beat the Packers 24-21 but failed to cover the spread, resulting in the worst game of the weekend for the betting public.
“Packers covering and the under was a very good outcome for SuperBook,” Murray said. “Sunday was not our day. We lost big on parlays and teasers. I don’t say that very often in the NFL. Lions and over was worst case scenario, and we had a number of big parlays and teasers going to the Chiefs in the late game. Ready to turn the page to next Sunday.”
Caesars Sportsbook described Sunday as “break even,” thanks in part to eliminating the book’s biggest remaining Super Bowl liability, the Bills. Pullen said the action on Chiefs-Bills was heavy and relatively balanced.
“Massive handle, game’s going back and forth, lead changing … the in-play action was pretty tremendous,” Pullen said.
Caesars’ vice president of trading Craig Mucklow said the book was a small loser on the Chiefs’ money line from live betting on the game.
Notable by the Numbers
• $300 billion: The U.S. betting market last week eclipsed $300 billion in wagers made with American sportsbooks since the 2018 Supreme Court decision that started the widespread expansion of legal betting.
• 12-1: Alabama odds to win the 2024 College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide began the offseason at 6-1 but have seen the retirement of coach Nick Saban and several players enter the transfer portal.
• 300-1: Amateur Nick Dunlap‘s pre-tournament odds to win the American Express at ESPN BET.
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