Misinformation runs amok when out-of-town media report on the Las Vegas sports betting scene.
Pointing this out might seem at first like nitpicking or a symptom of showoff syndrome: Look at me, I'm a hipper-than-thou sports bettor.
It's not. Misleading or incorrect pronouncements can help create a culture of confusion, suspicion and distrust regarding legal sports wagering in Nevada.
A few examples from just the days leading to, or immediately following, the Super Bowl:
• Beneath the creative if inaccurate headline "Books Suffer Bloody $unday," the New York Post informs us that Super Bowl Sunday was "a painful day for the Vegas sports books."
"The Colts' 29-17 victory cost Vegas a small fortune," the article states.
Yet according to the state Gaming Control Board, the 176 licensed sports books in Nevada won a collective $12.9 million on the Super Bowl.
The total haul represents a 13.9 win percentage on a handle of $93.1 million -- the fourth-best hold rate for the books in the past 10 years.
If that's painful, well, as professional handicapper Lou Reed once said, "Gimme, gimme, gimme some pain."
• An article in The New York Times tells us that NFL underdogs' success against the point spread this season meant "Big money for Las Vegas bookmakers: They've raked in an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars extra betting on the underdog in the National Football League."
Hundreds of millions "extra" in the 2006 season?
Doubtful, considering the total amount of money won by Nevada sports books on pro and college football combined in a season isn't even close to a hundred million dollars, let alone "hundreds," according to the Gaming Control Board.
The state's sports books won only $38 million altogether on football betting in the 2005 season, and won about $53 million the previous season, according to the Gaming Control Board.
Underdogs performed well this past season. But not that well.
• The headline on another story in the Times said "The Touts Favor the Colts ..." against the Bears in the Super Bowl.
The implication was that "touts" set the Super Bowl betting line of 6 1/2 to 7 points.
Touts try to sell their opinions on the outcome of a game to unsuspecting marks but only wish they could make the official betting line, as professional oddsmakers and sports book managers do.
• Columnist Dave Barry, among others, wrote that Las Vegas sports books were accepting over/under wagers on the length of Billy Joel's rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl.
Incorrect. No sports book in Nevada was booking such a bet. Only wagers on sporting events are permitted by state law.
I'm not making this up.
• A column in the Los Angeles Times on Super Bowl proposition bets suggested that props are "shunned by professional gamblers and dismissed as 'sucker bets.' "
In fact, the opposite is true.
Professional gamblers -- not touts or wannabes, but the guys in the trenches going mano a mano against the bookmakers -- look forward to Super Bowl props because they're some of the most advantageous bets of the year.
A couple of pros told me their toughest job entails sorting out props into those that offer them a nice, solid edge and those that offer them an obscenely large edge. Another challenging part of their job? Trying to persuade sports book managers to increase the size of the maximum wager they'll accept on props. That's hardly "shunning" props.
So it's easy to see how people who don't closely follow the sports book scene can develop a distorted view of legal sports betting in Nevada by relying on normally reliable media outlets.
If you didn't know better, you might envision "touts" setting odds on propositions that amount to "sucker bets" and might not even have anything to do with sports, then trying to determine whether they "raked in" hundreds of millions (!) of dollars or lost a "small fortune."
It's an image of chaos and shady dealings rather than a tightly regulated industry.
No wonder politicians, sports league officials and their ilk -- whether they're well-meaning but misguided, or completely full of malarkey -- come up with such atrocious ideas as trying to outlaw betting on college sports, as federal lawmakers have proposed in recent years.
Or, for that matter, prohibiting wagering on the NBA All-Star Game.
Then again, Nevada officials agreed to that one.
They ostensibly do follow the sports-book scene. What's their excuse?
Las Vegas Sun, Feb. 9, 2007