Whenever there’s a playoff or championship game, you’ll hear on the news about how Las Vegas has “set the line” at some number, or favors one team or the other by a certain amount of points. When they say “Las Vegas”, what they really mean is one of a handful of influential sports books or consultants based in the city.
Most often this refers to the Las Vegas Sports Consultants firm, who set the opening lines for the majority of Nevada’s casinos. However, some casinos employ their own teams of people to set their opening lines, and to adjust them independently. This is especially true of casinos that take action on non-sports futures, such as who is going to be the next President or American Idol.
How to Become a Professional Oddsmaker
It’s a bit of a mystery as to how these behind-the-scenes oddsmakers get their jobs. After all, you can’t go to college and get a degree in point spreads. An advanced degree in statistics would seem to be an obvious place to start, as sports predictions are now largely based on complicated computer simulations. But some of the most prominent oddsmakers in Vegas simply started out on the casino floor and worked their way up.
Johnny Avello, chief oddsmaker for the Wynn, began his career as a dealer and ticket writer, gradually rising through the ranks of casino management. He now sets odds on everything from horse racing to dog shows and the Miss America pageant. Jay Rood, the Vice President of MGM’s race and sports books, had a similar career path – after obtaining a Bachelors degree in hospitality, he joined MGM as a ticket writer and made his way up to management from there.
Making the odds also isn’t just about predicting a winner. It’s equally about accurately gauging the public perception of who is going to win a match and why. The more evenly distributed the betting is on each side of a match, the more money the casino makes on commissions, which makes media analysis and the collection and interpretation of public opinion data a vital part of oddsmaking.
While this is still within the realm of statistics to some degree, it’s a skill set that requires more than knowing how to run the right numbers. Language skills, psychology and sociology all have a role to play here as well.
Finally, there’s in-depth knowledge of each sport or competition in question. There’s an immense amount of variables that have to be considered in setting a line – injuries, weather, the competitors’ history against each other, the motivation level of potentially an entire roster of players, even the type of turf or grass used in each stadium (and that’s just to name a few). Years if not decades of being an enthusiast of the sport are needed to have a good overall grasp of how to process all these factors.
Sports handicapper jobs in Vegas are few and far between. If it’s something you aspire do, don’t expect to see job listings in the paper or online. Casinos generally promote from within their own ranks. A firm like LVSC likely already has a list of potential recruits ready when a position opens up, but it probably can’t hurt to have a resume on file.
An alternative that’s become popular with the rise of the internet is to start your own subscription-based sports handicapping service, selling your picks (and the reasoning behind them) to customers who pay a monthly fee for your advice. It usually takes a track record of a few seasons of picking at well over a 50% success rate to get people to be willing to pay for your services, but if you have a genuine talent for it, you might get noticed by the big boys.