The 10% house vig for sports wagering has been the standard since time immemorial, but savvy Pennsylvania bettors can routinely do better than that this fall.
That 10% — the -110 that shows up when betting on an NFL point spread or points total — provides a bookmaker a 4.54% hold percentage when balancing the wagers on both sides.
Knowledgeable handicappers know that equates to the requirement that — all else being equal, like no promotional credits to take advantage of — they succeed on 52.38% of their bets to break even.
It doesn’t sound that hard to surpass, and anyone can beat it on any given Sunday. Over the long haul, however, those odds are difficult to overcome — especially if one is trying to make a living as a bettor. Legions of smart fans have thought they could become professional sports gamblers, only to have their plans upended by the vig.
But what if you can get a break with a reduction in that -110, also known as the “juice”? Wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that, if you can get -108 or -107? Maybe it’s not enough of a difference to make sports betting a sound investment strategy rather than a fun skill test, but it will add up to more money in your online account in the long run.
This is to inform you that you can do just that, even if it’s not widely promoted.
Barstool Sportsbook came out of the gate with discount
Penn National Gaming launched its Pennsylvania Barstool Sportsbook app to much fanfare in the second week of this NFL season in September.
There was a lot of social media marketing surrounding it by controversial and colorful Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy and his brethren. The investment community paid close attention to how Penn National’s stock would be affected. Penn National talked of how Pennsylvania was just the start of what would be a national rollout over months to compete with sports betting titans DraftKings and FanDuel.
One thing that wasn’t discussed publicly was the vig used by the sportsbook, and on the Friday it debuted, Barstool’s NFL game lines and odds looked very much like those of online competitors in Pennsylvania. That included the many other operators that use European-based oddsmaker Kambi to supply their numbers.
But on the site’s first Sunday morning, something interesting emerged. Barstool’s vig dropped across the NFL betting board. Point spreads that had carried -110 juice two days earlier were now commonly -108. The same for points totals.
The same thing has occurred every week since, without Penn National doing anything to call attention to it.
But in an interview with Penn Bets, Penn National’s head of sportsbook operations, Scot McClintic, said, “We never want to be known as the book only doing -110 ‘cause that’s the way it was always done.”
NFL is a different animal from the rest
While McClintic said Penn National always wants to focus on delivering value to bettors, that’s something easier to do in adjusting the vig on NFL Sundays than is the case earlier in the week, or with other sports where lines are commonly posted just the day of the game. (Vig discounts don’t show up as clearly, either, for some sports like baseball where the moneyline is a more common wager.)
“We want to make sure the lines are providing us a number as solid to achieve market equilibrium as possible,” McClintic said of the delay during the week for the reduced juice. “For us, it’s a lot easier to get to a true number with a sufficient spread on both sides with the numbers that are known by Sunday. You’re going to have a lot of line volatility throughout the week. … We feel very confident in the numbers we offer on game day.”
With vig of -108, someone wagering on five games who goes 3-2 on an NFL Sunday — good luck with that — will come out $78 ahead instead of $73 at the standard vig.
Serious sports bettors may care a lot about such a difference, but not necessarily the mass of $20 recreational bettors.
“It’s the symbolism behind it, the fact that you’re trying to be player-friendly,” McClintic said of the strategy behind offering something that most sportsbooks won’t, while noting that the numbers also add up favorably for players combining bets in parlays and teasers, which typically have more of a house advantage than straight bets.
“We believe that over time customers that may not care today will care tomorrow,” when recognizing the potential savings, McClintic said.
But wait, there’s more — and better
If -108 sounds good, shouldn’t -107 sound even better?
Why, yes, which is why Rush Street Interactive customarily drops NFL point spreads from -110 pricing during the week to -107 on Sundays. It has been quietly doing that with its two Pennsylvania sites, BetRivers and PlaySugarHouse, since the fall of 2019.
Mattias Stetz, chief operating officer for Rush Street’s online operations, said the same strategy has been employed since 2018 with the company’s first U.S. mobile site, PlaySugarHouse in New Jersey, and it’s being used in newer states including Indiana, Colorado, and Illinois.
“We always want to be as player-player friendly as possible — that’s part of our brand promise,” Stetz said.
“In NFL games the odds come out late Sunday night or early Monday for the next week, but at that point in time, you very often have had injuries happen that you don’t know the status of — an MRI might be taking place Monday — and therefore the vig starting on a Monday is larger than the closing vig on Sunday. … On Sunday morning we want the lowest possible vig that Kambi offers, the most player-friendly vig.”
At -107, a player no longer needs to get over the holy grail of 52.38% to make a profit. He can do it at a little under 52%.
So how many customers will care about that distinction?
“Definitely the larger bettors care about this, but it’s an optical thing as well, in the sense that any bettor will just say, ‘Why am I paying -110 when I can pay -107?,” Stetz explained. “In the long run a bettor will see they’re getting a better price from BetRivers. It might be just a one or two dollar difference, but it’s still a good thing to know you got the best price possible.”
Stetz said it is not necessarily costly to the sportsbook, either, because it believes it makes up for the lower vig with higher volume that results from offering it.
It matters just ‘enough’ to some
Neither Barstool nor Rush Street promote Sunday’s reduced juice — they count on customers figuring it out for themselves — but it has not escaped the attention of professional sports bettors like Jack Andrews.
The New Jersey-based Andrews (who uses the name as a pseudonym to protect his identity) doesn’t wager online in Pennsylvania, but he noted the -107 instead of -110 on Sundays when PlaySugarHouse started in his home state.
“It’s not terribly significant, but significant enough,” Andrews said of the potential savings to serious bettors. “If you were shopping and you knew that a product is $10 at one store and $9.50 next door, is it worth walking next door to get the 50-cents saving? Some would say yes and some would say no.
“If I’m betting online and the difference is just a click, then obviously, I’m going to go with whatever the slightly cheaper price is.”
Andrews noted that PointsBet, which doesn’t operate in Pennsylvania, drops its vig on Saturdays during the NFL season. Certain retail sportsbooks in Las Vegas are known for occasionally offering reduced juice, such as the Westgate’s -105 on NFL Thursdays.
Andrews is a little surprised that the sportsbooks willing to take less juice don’t advertise it in some fashion.
“If I was running a sportsbook, I would definitely promote it in some way. It’s definitely a link to the more sophisticated bettor, or one who thinks they’re sophisticated,” he said.
Maybe the sportsbooks don’t want savvy bettors as much as the mass of recreational ones, though. The sportsbooks attract them with many more eye-catching promotions, such as certain offers that are the equivalent of free money — particularly from DraftKings and FanDuel — though generally capped at a profit of less than $50.
The overall betting volume makes up for such offers, especially for NFL action that represents the most popular betting sport in America. Andrews said the volume is such that the sportsbooks would do just fine going even beneath what the Barstool or BetRivers apps offer.
“They could probably do -105 all the time and turn a consistent profit,” he said.
Don’t count on that from Barstool or BetRivers, but their managers say to expect their own offers to continue every Sunday the rest of the NFL season.