Behind the bright neon lights, cheap vodka circulated on small, round trays and the clashing sounds of thousands of slot reels are some of the most brilliant sports minds in the world.
Deep within the castles of these adult playgrounds are individuals that assess teams and talent for a living like super-computers from the future.
They take their knowledge for the sport being played, sprinkle in trends of clientele and create numbers, better known as “lines.”
You bet on these numbers (well, maybe not you, but maybe you) based off your own intellect and hunches. You win, you lose (probably more often than you win despite what you tell your friends) and they make money regardless. There’s a reason the casinos gladly pass around this cheap vodka, and yes, that bar chair you enjoy cozying up to isn’t cheap.
There’s a certain mystique that surrounds these Las Vegas sportsbooks because their daily operations are somewhat unknown. The process is simple but so perfect that it can’t be that simple.
When Florida heads into a game against Ole Miss as a 17.5-point favorite and wins by 18, you know they’re good. Then nail it the next week, then the week after that. It’s like this for every game in every sport, which is in some ways hard to understand. Over time you give up trying to understand—you just accept it.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find people anywhere else that know more about football teams and their relative strength,” said Vegas bookmaker Todd Fuhrman. “It's our business to know everything about these teams. In reality everyone has opinions in sports, but if we make mistakes here in Vegas, they cost sportsbooks a ton of cash.”
Their matchmaking ability is so good, and the people that do this are so precise, that their services could be used and demanded elsewhere. They won’t be, but just imagine if college football’s selection committee consisted of the brightest oddsmakers Sin City had to offer and Vegas picked our playoff participants for us.
Hypothetical indeed, but great powers, greater responsibility and the greatest possible results.
If you work for or have any affiliation with the NCAA, you’re already cringing at this scenario. Despite the welcomed attention that gambling brings your sports—yes, you, the guy who fills out 19 brackets in March—the NCAA can’t distance itself far enough away from all things Vegas. At least publicly.
Point-shaving scandals and the ugly underbellies of gambling (addiction, questionable characters, potential financial destruction) make this an impossible relationship to build. A selection committee made up of Vegas oddsmakers could never be feasible because of this, although that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be the best possible option from an accuracy standpoint.
The questions that have surfaced regarding a potential selection committee mainly revolve around who will be in the group and how it will be assembled. Each person involved (media, coaches, former players, other officials) would bring with him or her a bias of some sort, regardless of any guidelines in place.
Oddsmakers are trained to function without bias. In fact, they’re operating based on our biases. Just check out the point spreads involving Notre Dame teams over the past few decades.
They’re in the business of being in business. It’s that simple, and they’re able to distance themselves in a way that no committee will be able to do.
Better yet, they could (and would likely be required to) remain anonymous. This would cut down on conspiracy theories—although they’ll be there no matter who’s selecting teams—and allowing Vegas to pick our playoff for us is crazy enough it just might work. That strange disconnection would be a welcomed one, too. The formulaic aspect of the BCS was odd and easily criticized, but having names and faces to blame for potential postseason issues will be a fascinating development.
From a quality standpoint, there would be nothing that could compete with men behind the books. They watch more games than everyone, because they’re forced to handicap each and every moment where betting is a possibility. Large sums of money will be bet on the Bowling Green-Eastern Michigan game, and they will have it pegged. Again, it’s their job to do so.
Still, bias is unavoidable, even from this potential outside entity.
The sportsbooks could be impacted positively or negatively depending on whether certain teams being included or excluded. Example: Notre Dame’s presence in a playoff would bring in more betting (because of who it is). More bets, more juice, more reason to include it if possible.
On the flip side, a long-shot team’s presence (let’s say Boise State, who was 50-1 to win the title) could hurt the sportsbooks because of some of the future bets people made before and during the season. What could help and hurt their pockets could impact decisions, but this is no different than the selection committee we’re likely to have in place. It's the problem with a selection committee in general, but a regulated Vegas influence would be a welcomed one. At least from where we're sitting.
Unlike the debate to increase the number of teams in a college football playoff, this stance will never gain traction or be viewed as a realistic option. It took more than 100 years to get a four-team playoff, and the idea of bookmakers playing any direct role in this has already caused Jim Delany’s head to explode. Oh, man. It’s everywhere.
The Vegas cathedrals will continue to grow, “free” drinks will continue to be served and the sportsbooks will benefit greatly from college football’s postseason starting in 2014. They won’t have a say in it, not in a million years, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a jackpot solution.
Adam Kramer is a Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via interview.