Sunday, October 6, 2013

On the Folly of Sports Betting

Disclaimer:  I do not bet on sports events of any kind, nor would I encourage anyone to do so.  This post simply gives my observations.

Last night, in college football, Ohio State traveled to Northwestern and, after trailing for much of the game, came from behind to win, 40-30.  But it was the way the game ended that drew my attention.  Ohio State had scored a go-ahead touchdown with 5:22 remaining in the fourth quarter to take a 34-30 lead.  On Northwestern's ensuing possession, they turned it over on downs.  Ohio State killed most of the remaining time on the clock before facing fourth down and punting.  Northwestern had 21 seconds remaining and eighty-four yards to travel.

Northwestern was then sacked for a nine-yard loss on first down, moving them back to the seven yard line.  After stopping the clock with just a few seconds left, a short pass was thrown, followed by some slopping lateraling, a fumble, and a group of OSU players falling on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.  (No PAT was attempted, since time had expired.)

Being a math-oriented, statistics-enjoying kind of person, I looked up the betting line for the game.  Ohio State was, depending on the bookies chosen, about a 6.5-to-7-point favorite.  By scoring the goofy last-play touchdown, all of those who took OSU to cover the spread were suddenly very, very happy.  Those who took the opposite play were probably either horrified or dejected. 

What struck me as interesting was that at no time during the game, except at the end of the final play, was Ohio State ever ahead by more than four points.  And for that matter, Ohio State never came close to taking a bigger lead than four points, particularly in the fourth quarter.

I do not mean to imply any betting-related shenanigans here regarding the conduct of the game.  My point is this:  Betting is taking a risk that could easily—and unexpectedly—cost you money.  To gamble one's money on sports is to be a poor steward of it.  Even what appears to be a "sure thing" can suddenly turn out to be a deep and unsettling loss.  Steer clear of the temptations to wager.

In related news, that touchdown cost Nevada sports books $3-4 million.

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