Bryce Harper is expected to play his first spring training game for the Philadelphia Phillies tomorrow. But he doesn’t need to actually have ever swung a bat in a Phillies uniform to start having an impact.
Harper’s historic 13-year, $330 million dollar deal was first reported last Thursday and made official soon after by the Phils, so sports bettors and sportsbooks have already had more than a week to react.
Lines on the Phillies to win the World Series, the National League pennant, and the NL East all dropped within minutes of the news, and the team’s win total went up. This despite the fact that the Phillies had already added three new all-stars, including one former NL MVP, this offseason. This despite the fact that last year Harper batted just .249 with a WAR of only 1.3. And also despite the fact that books had already moved their lines in anticipation of Harper possibly coming to Philly.
The Harper effect is being felt by sports betting operators everywhere. But it’s particularly compelling in the new legal wagering market of Philadelphia, where four area brick-and-mortar sportsbooks — Parx Casino, SugarHouse Casino, Harrah’s Philadelphia, and the South Philly Turf Club — have opened this year, and where the slow summer sports betting months now look like they won’t be so slow after all.
Phillies phutures action
At FanDuel Sportsbook in neighboring New Jersey, where roughly half the bettors root for Philly teams, money was flying around in the first 24 hours after the Harper news.
FanDuel revealed that 79.5% of the total bets on a World Series winner in those 24 hours were on the Phillies, 85.3% of NL pennant bets were on them, and 87.5% of NL East futures bets were on Harper’s new team. Only the Yankees are outpacing the Phillies in terms of World Series champion bets at FanDuel’s live and online sportsbooks.
At SugarHouse Casino in Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood, here’s how the lines have moved in the past week:
- World Series: +1200 to +1000
- National League: +600 to +500
- NL East: +240 to +175
- Win Total: 87.0 to 88.5
“Obviously the speculation that Bryce Harper might sign with the Phillies was factored into our futures lines, as is the case with any future uncertainties,” said Evan Davis, vice president and general counsel of SugarHouse Casino. “But the news that this uncertainty had become a reality still caused us to move the lines quite a bit. Since the signing, we’ve seen a significant increase in Phillies betting, with over 40% of our Phillies futures action coming since the news broke on February 28. Bettors who placed a futures bet on the Phillies before Harper actually signed are no doubt happy that they did so at the longer odds that we had previously offered.”
SugarHouse also offers a bet on the Phillies to make the playoffs (even money for yes, -124 for no), and lists Harper, who won the MVP award with Washington in 2015, as the leading NL MVP candidate at +400 odds.
Surveying the props
At Parx a few miles outside the city, the odds are identical to SugarHouse’s. The Bensalem casino also has three Harper season-long over/under props posted:
- Home runs: 34.5
- Hits: 138.5
- RBIs: 96.5
Be forewarned, though: There’s a lot of juice. On the homers, you’ll pay -125 for the over, -106 for the under. And on hits and RBIs, it’s -115 in both directions.
Meanwhile, across the border at FanDuel Sportsbook (which will be coming to Pennsylvania via Valley Forge Casino, not to mention on every smart phone whenever mobile betting finally goes live), the betting options are slightly different.
The over on 88.5 wins for the Phils has apparently been bet hard, as the juice is now -120 on the over, even money on the under.
FD also has a lower line than Parx on Harper’s home run total, at 33.5, but it costs -120 to bet the over, with even money on the under.
There’s also a special prop on whether Harper will hit an opening day home run. You can only bet the “yes,” at +320. So far in his career, Harper has hit 184 HRs in 927 games, just under a 1:5 ratio. Of course, he’s had his share of multi-homer games, so the reality is even worse than that. On the flip side, Citizens Bank Park is traditionally friendly to lefty power hitters.
Swelling sports scene
In terms of having teams that will drive handle, the Pennsylvania sportsbooks got lucky with their launch timing. The Eagles are one year removed from a Super Bowl title and seem positioned to stay relevant for the next few years. The 76ers are seemingly on the verge of becoming serious championship contenders. The Flyers are … well, not that great, but they might have finally found their goalie of the future in Carter Hart.
And now here come the Phillies, after six straight sub-.500 seasons, getting the city buzzing in a way it hasn’t since their 2007-’12 playoff run ended. Whether they deliver in the first year of the Harper era or not (supposed “dream teams” are not immune to going bust in this town, nor falling short of lofty expectations), you have to figure the interest in the team will lead more people to the betting window than if this was a no-name crew expected to win 70 games.
And that’s especially true at the Turf Club, which is located just a large parking lot away from the ballpark.
The Harper signing is having an impact, and the sportsbooks are counting on it continuing to do so — at least for the next few weeks and months, if not for the entirety of the next 13 years.
“We saw several lines move after the Bryce Harper signing, including team wins, odds to win the National League East, and odds to win the World Series,” Christina Herrera, VP of gaming operations at Harrah’s Philadelphia, told Penn Bets. “We look forward to seeing increased action as baseball season approaches.”
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