DEL MAR, Calif. -- This week I am coming to you from beautiful Del Mar, "Where the turf meets the surf."
For those of you thoroughbred racing fans who have never been to this racetrack in the San Diego suburbs, I would suggest that you start making plans to visit next summer. To me, Del Mar and Saratoga are the greatest facilities in the nation for horse racing, and both are open only in the summer.
When I lived in New York, I made an annual pilgrimage to Saratoga. Now that I am on the Left Coast (or at least within 300 miles of it), I make an annual trip to Del Mar, where racing takes place from the end of July to the beginning of September.
At Del Mar, you sit in an open-air grandstand or clubhouse where the temperature is always between 70 and 80 degrees, and you look out over the Pacific Ocean on your left. Racing doesn't start until 2 p.m., so you have all morning for a round of golf or a trip to the beach.
While most racetracks attract an older crowd, Del Mar's crowd is young, and becomes even younger on Friday, when the racing doesn't start until 4 p.m. and a concert is held afterward. It makes it tough for a columnist to do his homework by reviewing the preseason NFL games for this week.
Nonetheless, I will give it my best:
Last week, we were 2-0 in our NFL selections, evening our preseason record to 3-3. This week, I will pick four games. But first, for those of you who are new to this column, I will discuss the economics of betting on football.
In football, a bookmaker requires a bettor to wager $11 to win $10, but the player gets to choose which team he wants with the point spread. (The way a point spread works is this: If you bet on a team that is a 3-point favorite, the team must win by more than three points for you to win the bet. If you bet on a team that is getting three points, it must win -- or lose by fewer than three points -- for you to collect).
In order to make a profit, a bettor must select winners approximately 53% of the time. To arrive at that number, consider that 100 hypothetical wagers of $100 are being made. If the bettor wins 53 and loses 47, he or she has made a profit of $130.
(The math works out as follows: 53 wins at $100 equals $5,300, minus 47 losses at $110 ($5,170). That amounts to a profit of $130.)
Using this formula, a bettor who picks winners only 52% of the time, however, will lose $80. That gives the bookmaker a theoretical 4.54% advantage. The bookmaker's advantage can be illustrated by assuming that there are 10 bets on one side and 10 bets on the other side, each in the amount of $11 to win $10.
The bookmaker takes in $220 and pays out $210. Thus, he makes a $10 profit on the $220 wagered, or the 4.54%. I say "theoretical" because a bookmaker rarely balances his books that way.
Indeed, if the volume of bets on one team is too heavy, a bookmaker changes the betting line to attract wagers on the other team.
To illustrate that point, the
opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite over the
in this weekend's exhibition game. Money poured in on the Eagles, however, so the bookmaker changed the line to reflect the Titans being only a 1-point favorite instead of 2 1/2. Still, bets poured in on Philadelphia.
So the bookmaker has now changed the line again to make the Eagles a 3-point favorite, which amounts to a 5 1/2-point difference in the betting line over the course of a few days.
One of the reasons for the drastic movement in the point spread can be attributed to the fact that
, the Tennessee coach, has announced that his starters will not play for much of the game.
As a result, some bettors who took the Eagles and received a 2 1/2-point cushion early in the week are now betting again, this time on the Titans, and are receiving three points. This is known as trying to get a "middle" -- or take advantage of the change in the betting line to win
If the Titans win by only one or two points, or the Eagles win by one or two points or the game ends in a tie, those "middle" bettors will win both of their bets.
If the Eagles win by three points, they will win one bet and push on the other, which means it is considered a tie so they get their money back. This is called a "side." Middles and sides are nightmares for the bookmaker, since a whole week's profits can be erased. These "wise-guy" bettors are the equivalent of arbitragers on Wall Street.
The best of the professional gamblers in Las Vegas win between 55% and 58% of the time. Despite claims to the contrary, none of the handicappers who advertise that they can pick winners 70% of the time can back that boast up. It's smart to avoid anyone who claims to be able to do that.
This Week's Selections
Carolina Panthers (minus 3 points) over Baltimore Ravens (Friday night)
A few weeks ago, I noted that I would be betting on teams that were 0-2 and 0-3 in the preseason. This week, Carolina fits into that category. The Panthers have lost their first two games but have held many of their starters out. This week,
, the Panthers' coach, will be playing his starters for at least half of the game. I expect a spirited effort by Carolina before its home fans. I just hope it is spirited enough to cover the 3-point spread.
Denver Broncos (minus 6 1/2) over Dallas Cowboys (Saturday night)
Normally, I loathe laying 6 1/2 points in a preseason game, but the injury dynamics of this game have prompted me to bet on the Broncos.
On Thursday morning, wire-service reports indicated that
, the Cowboys' talented running back, is still recovering from a strained calf, and quarterbacks
are both suffering from lingering injuries. As a result, Dallas signed quarterback
(who?) to start working with the team. The Cowboys are also playing at an unusually high altitude this week -- after having to fly back from Tokyo, where they played last week.
The Broncos, on the other hand, have a back-up quarterback,
, who still believes he can replace
as the starter.
, the Broncos' coach, likes to win preseason games, and I think the Cowboys will get steamrolled.
Cincinnati Bengals (minus 1) over Chicago Bears (Saturday night)
This is another situation involving an 0-2 team that is playing before a home crowd. We also have the added dimension of a coach who will be fired early in the regular season if his team gets off to a bad start, and the game is being played in a new stadium with a sellout crowd.
While the Bengals are a miserable team and will be lucky to win five games this season, this is almost a must-win spot for
, their head coach. We expect him to go with starters deep into the game to make sure his team gets a victory.
Kansas City Chiefs (plus 2 1/2) over the Jacksonville Jaguars (Saturday night)
This game involves the final 0-2 team that I think will get its first victory this week. The Chiefs have looked miserable so far, but will be motivated before a home crowd. The Jaguars, meanwhile, will be happy to get out of Kansas City without further injuries. While I think the Chiefs will win this game straight up, the additional 2 1/2 points provides a cushion that comes into play more often than you think.
Barry Lieberman was a litigator with the United States Department of Justice for nine years and is currently the general counsel for a company that operates four hotel/casinos in Las Vegas. He has been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years and successfully concluded last football season by winning on 55% of his college and pro selections posted on TheStreet.com. He welcomes your feedback at