Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bill's Guide to Gambling (alternate title: How to Lose Money By Being Stupid), Part 1

[DISCLAIMER: I'm about to write a lot about NFL gambling, and criticize Bill heavily for his gambling analysis and picks.  I enjoy gambling on the NFL.  I am also terrible at it, and freely admit this.  I would never pretend otherwise.  I would never tell anyone, whether in person or in writing, that I had some kind of a system or set of rules that was going to help me win this season or ever.  I will always happily talk about what I think are good bets to make for the coming weekend's games.  I will always admit as part of that discussion that my advice is probably terrible and should not be followed by anyone.  Now that I have that out of the way, let's begin.]

Bill makes no secret about how much he loves gambling, and he probably writes about gambling on the NFL more than anything else these days.  (A close 2nd: speculation as to how we will look back in ten years on certain regular season NBA games that were kind of exciting.)  However, despite his passion for it, Bill is objectively goddamn treefuckingly awful at picking NFL games.  That's where the rest of us get to have some fun.  

Since 2010, and through 3 weeks of the 2014 season, Bill is 516-529 picking against the spread.  (He has a number of pushes as well, of course, which I'm not going to list because fuck you I don't want to.  This is why the season totals below add up to fewer than the 256 regular season games that make up an NFL season.)  That means that if you had followed his picks and put down $10 on every single game, and the payout was -110, as it almost always is for an NFL ATS pick, you would have lost just under $600 over that period of time.  The numbers break down like this:

2010: 131-119.  Bill's picks broke almost exactly dead even for the season; after factoring in the house edge (explained below if you don't know about it), betting $10 a game would have left you up $0.91 at season's end.
2011: 120-127.  Betting $10 a game would have left you down $179.
2012: 132-120.  Betting $10 a game would have left you exactly spot on dead even.
2013: 108-140, yes that's right, he was 108-140.  Betting $10 a game would have left you down $418.
2014: So far, he's 25-23.  Betting $10 a game would have left you down $2.72 so far.

(For those of you who don't have experience losing money on sports gambling like I do, -110 means you have to bet $110 to win $100, or $11 to win $10, etc.  In other words if you bet wins, you don't double your money--you win about 90% of the amount of the bet, on top of getting your original bet back.  This is how the house makes money on sports gambling--they set/adjust lines to get an even amount of money on each side of the spread, and the winning side gets less than double their money back, leaving the casino with a small profit.  Anyone who tells you sports books try to operate in any other fashion is a fucking moron.)  

Now, for the average person, there is no shame in this.  It's hard to pick games consistently.  While theoretically a monkey flipping a coin should pick 50% of game correctly over a large enough sample size of games, and Bill has only picked 49.4% of them correctly since 2010, that's not a big deal.  Then you factor in the -110 house edge, and it gets extremely hard to beat the house consistently.  The vast vast majority of gamblers don't beat the house in the long term, which is why casinos and bookies exist.  If your friend is down $600 on football bets in the last few seasons, you should not automatically give that friend a bunch of shit about it unless they hold themselves out as some wunderkind gambling expert.  

And that's the problem with Bill: he absolutely holds himself out, in a very public forum, as a wunderkind gambling expert.  He very, very, VERY clearly is not.  Even in his best years, he's picking 52.5ish% of games correctly, and breaking even on money.  This does not stop him from 1) talking about NFL gambling all the time, including running his picks column every week every year, 2) but more obnoxiously, regularly publishing "manifestos" and other articles that claim to have cracked some kind of secret code such that following the advice therein should lead to fabulous riches, and most obnoxiously, 3) throwing arrogant little quips to the effect of "THIS LINE IS THREE POINTS TOO HIGH, THANKS FOR THE FREE MONEY VEGAS" into his columns left and right.  It would be one thing if he was a self-professed gambling enthusiast who loves picking NFL games, but had the self-awareness to acknowledge that he wasn't very good at it.  But as anyone who has read him since about 2002 knows, "Bill Simmons" and "self-awareness" are two things that do not exist together.  

So, enough blabbing and introducing.  Let's get to the meat.  What follows is Bill's latest example of #2 in the list in the previous paragraph; here we have the official, top secret, no holds barred Bill Simmons 2014 NFL Gambling Guide.  If the breakdown of his success rate above wasn't enough to make you want to find him and try to become his personal bookie, this article should push you over the edge.

Football, football, football, football!


Superb exposition from America's most popular "sports" "writer."

If you missed my Thursday column about Roger Goodell’s NFL That Never Sleeps (featuring my winning Seahawks minus-6 pick!), here’s the link.

Sure won't be clicking on that.  Thanks for the offer though!  Also, most people with brains have known for years that Roger Goodell is a complete shithead with no redeeming qualities.  In that "NFL That Never Sleeps" column (which was published on September 5, just a few days before the Ray Rice inside the elevator video dropped), Bill does jump on Goodell for several things, including his fumbling of the Rice suspension proceedings.  But then Bill decides that ol' Rog does have several things going for him.  First among those:

First, his multi-scene cameo in Draft Day was fantastic. I loved his chemistry with Frank Langella.


If you want to send along a mailbag question for my Friday NFL Picks column this season (and I’m going to need good ones as always), here’s the link.

Don't bother--he's just going to make them up and assign them to fictitious fans (most of them women) anyways.

If you want to listen to my Guess the Lines podcasts with Cousin Sal every Monday, here’s the link.

I would rather listen to 45 minutes of a squeaky ceiling fan.

If you want to make fun of my five weekly LVH Supercontest Picks on my Facebook page, here’s the link.

A shred of self awareness!  We will touch on this later, because he does make a couple other cracks at his own expense.  Don't worry (and I know you weren't), it's not going to ruin the line of thought behind this blog post.

If you want to pick games against me, Ian Ziering, David Hasselhoff, Gary Busey, Mark McGrath and other well-known celebs in the 2014 Celebrity Picks Challenge Presented by Fireball Whisky, here’s the link.

"Ian Ziering" "Mark McGrath" "well-known celebs"


Here’s the good news: My Friday picks column is now old enough to vote for president, fight for our country and maybe even be someone’s freshman roommate in college. That’s right … it’s Year 18. And you think so little of me at this point that you clicked on the link in the previous paragraph. 


Now you have that detestable “Rude” song running through your head for the rest of the day. 

Now he's just going out of his way to be annoying to his readers.  But I certainly do agree with him.  That song is ass herpes in audio form.

And you deserve it. I thought we had something. I hope you feel bad.

I feel bad that I'm still blogging about how dumb you are, seven years into this blog's existence.  Mariotti got fired (more than once).  Rick Reilly stepped down/was quietly fired.  Joe Morgan got fired.  Why are you still there?

Anyway, way back in September of 1997, I was living in Boston and writing for my self-created “Boston’s Sports Guy” website for millions and millions of readers. Fine, it was hundreds and hundreds. 


But that was the year I unleashed my first batch of mostly mediocre picks on an unsuspecting America. It’s been trial and error ever since. Mostly error. 

Again, some humility/self awareness.  Let's see how quickly he can reverse course and set flame to any goodwill those last few sentences might have generated with unassuming readers who think Bill is anything but a self-absorbed know-it-all asshole.

I juggled a handful of handicapping laws before eventually settling for the Gambling Manifesto That’s In My Head.

First of all, before we get to the substance of this, don't use the word "manifesto."  It generally has a negative/terroristic connotation, and even when it doesn't, if you suck at the thing about which you're writing some kind of master plan, it's super embarrassing.

Why abandon a tried-and-true manifesto? 

Because it never worked, was never going to work, and had no utility whatsoever?

I learned the hard way that football changes too much from year to year to survive too many enduring rules. 

Bill, for 17 years: "I have it all figured out!  The magic formula that leads to NFL gambling success!  THIS season it's going to be different!"
Bill, year 18: "I have come to the conclusion that football changes from year to year.  Therefore, I have a whole NEW magic formula that will lead to NFL gambling success!  THIS season, it's going to be different!"

For instance, the gambling gods conspired in 2013 to ruin everyone who fancied himself a handicapping expert. 

No, they didn't.  There are no gambling gods.  You just had a shitty season.  Like you did in 2011.  And probably many, many other seasons since 1997.

Every sharp and every degenerate will remember the devastating Great Gambling Train Wreck of 2013 years and years from now, 


the same way we’ll remember earthquakes, political scandals and unauthorized Saved by the Bell movies. 

Dude, you're like 45.  You were too old for Saved by the Bell during its original run.  You don't get to complain about its direction since.

My B.S. Report buddy and future Gamblers Anonymous roommate, Cousin Sal, 

I hate Cousin Sal.  I have never once listened to a B.S. Report or Pick the Lines podcast and I still hate him with all my heart.  Cousin Sal sucks.

recently sent me an invaluable link from The Sporting News. The three most relevant quotes from that piece, along with my notes in parentheses.

I'm leaving that link in, because even if it just says "pick the team that seems to you like it probably will do better," it is more helpful to prospective NFL gamblers than anything Bill has to say.

“In 2013, NFL favorites covered the spread at a 52.2 percent clip, the highest rate since 2005 and the third highest in the last 25 years … since 1990, NFL favorites covered an average of just 48.7 percent of games.”

Right, so, last year was a good year for favorites.  Better than any year since... not that long ago.  In other words, it wasn't some kind of unprecedented catastrophe for underdogs.  Weren't we just hearing about how GAMBLERS WILL TALK ABOUT THE GREAT UNDERDOG SLAUGHTER OF 2013 WHILE GAMBLING ON MOON FOOTBALL FROM THEIR MOON BASES?  Why don't we hear anything about the GREAT UNDERDOG SLAUGHTER OF 2005 today?  Most likely this is became Bill Simmons is a fucking dunderhead.

Anyways, brace yourself for what comes next.  This is one for the record books, folks.  It doesn't get much better than this.

(That’s bad. That’s very, very, very bad. Every “smart” gambler is trained to grab the points and go against the public as much as we possibly can. That’s how we butter our bread. Swing our luck by 3.5 percentage points and we’re in major trouble ranging from “Crap, I have to reload my off-shore betting account for the third time this month?” to “If I don’t meet some guy named Big Al in the parking lot behind Target on Main Street by 7:30 on Wednesday night, I’m gonna be walking with a limp.”)


Not sure which is worse--his conflation of "going against the public" with taking underdogs, or his use of "we" after referring to "smart gamblers," because hey, what says "smart" like beating the house once (by a minuscule amount) once every five seasons?  And yes, I understand that there's a kernel of truth to the taking the points/going against the house part, as nobodies who gamble once a year when they happen to be in Vegas for a business conference are probably slightly more likely to bet good/favored teams; but first of all the house will adjust the line accordingly, second of all the amount of action coming from people with such an unsophisticated view of a game is going to be pretty low unless it's a playoff game, a Thanksgiving game, etc., and third of all, seriously, read that paragraph again and see if you can talk yourself into thinking Bill even understands that much.  I sure can't.

“(For) seasons in which NFL favorites covered more than 51.5 percent (since 1990) … the average for those five seasons was 53.3 percent. In years following those seasons (highlighted in green), favorites covered, on average, just 47 percent of games. That’s a 6.3 percent swing (from 53.3 percent to 47 percent).”

(Wait, this is good! Is that why The Sporting News made the real headline for this column “The Year of the Dog”? I think it is!)

Any evidence that trend is somehow a result of causation (maybe some quote from a guy who runs a book about how the casinos then to overcorrect after a particularly favorite heavy year, or something)?  Because if there isn't any such evidence, then basically, the "swing back" phenomenon to heavy underdog wins the year after heavy favorite wins is no more reliable than saying "Hey look!  After this roulette wheel hits three black numbers in a row, a red number usually comes next!  TIME TO TAKE OUT A SECOND MORTGAGE!"  I mean, I could totally see it being causal, rather than random chance.  But it's good to see Bill isn't thinking that far.  HE'S JUST LOOKING FOR TRENDS, GANG.  GOTTA FOLLOW THE TRENDS.  THAT'S HOW "SMART" GAMBLERS BUTTER THEIR BREAD.

“In 2006, the year after the best NFL season for favorites in the last 25 years (57.8 percent of favorites covered in 2005), 


dogs ruled, with favorites covering just 44.6 percent. After the second best season for favorites (52.9 percent in 1998), dogs again cleaned up, as favorites went just 46.5 percent ATS. The third best year for NFL favorites was last season.”

(Translation: Year of the Dog, Part Three!!!!!!!)

IT'S FREE MONEYYYYYYY!  As noted above, Bill is 25-23 so far this season.  He has picked 21 dogs and 26 favorites (1 game has been a pick 'em).  To his credit, his dog picks are 13-8!  That's good!  Dogs are 27-20 overall!  IT'S THE YEAR OF THE DOG!  (Note: this probably will not continue, and even if it does, only Bill would be stupid enough to write a column about what a good idea it is to take dogs and then only take dogs 45% of the time.)

So let’s make that one of our 2014 rules: “When in doubt, always, always, ALWAYS take the points.”

I mean, through three weeks, that's actually great advice.  Unfortunately he's been unable to follow it.

Some other rules that I plan on abiding by in 2014 …

Rule: Diligently avoid taking shaky QBs on the road, bad coaches against good coaches, and, especially, bad coaches coaching shaky QBs against good coaches on the road.

WOWIE ZOWIE.  This is groundbreaking strategy, ladies and germs.  No gambler has ever been so bold as to theorize that when a bad QB backed up by a bad coach goes on the road to face a team with a good coach, you might want to gamble on the good team.  IT'S SO CRAZY IT MIGHT WORK.

This year’s group of shaky QBs in no particular order: EJ Manuel–Kyle Orton; Geno Smith; Johnny Football; Jake Locker Unless He Shows Us Something Early; Chad Henne; Ryan Fitzpatrick; Derek Carr–Matt Schaub; Matt Schaub A Second Time; Robert Griffin III (sorry, D.C. fans, but it’s true and you know it); Tony Romo During Any Week In Which He’s Just Had An Epidural; Matt Cassel; Shaun Hill; Carson Palmer; Just About Any Shaky Backup.

Games so far this year that implicated this rule to some extent:

Week 1
BUF at CHI (Bill went with the rule and lost)
JAX at PHI (Bill went against the rule and lost)

Week 2
JAX at WAS (Bill went against the rule and lost)
ARI at NYG (Bill went with the rule and lost)
NYJ at GB (Bill went with the rule and lost)

Week 3
HOU at NYG (Bill went with the rule and lost)
OAK at NE (Bill went with the rule and lost)

I barely need to summarize that data.  It speaks for itself.  The rule was right 2 out of 7 times.  Bill couldn't even track that, because none of these rules matter and they all contradict themselves so fuck everything.  Bill was right 0 out of 7 times.  (Note: I excluded games where the Titans went on the road because Jake Locker had a great Week 1; then again, he's been crappy since.  But I think he reached Showed Us Something Early status by clobbering the not-bad Chiefs at Arrowhead.  I also counted the OAK at NE game even though Derek Carr is mentioned both here and below, since NE is theoretically good at home.  I did not count the OAK at NYJ game because the Jets are terrible.  Bill did pick that one right, but only by going against his rule, which adds to the comedy.  Anyways, why is Carr on both the "I don't trust" and the "I do trust" lists?  Because Bill refuses to be edited, because he is a colossal prick.)

Not on that list for now: Brian Hoyer (I’m a semi-fan); 


Josh McCown (I’m a believer); 

You're an idiot.

Kirk Cousins (I’m a fan); 

You're an idiot, as we will see in coming weeks.

Teddy Bridgewater (I’m a HUGE fan); 

You're a HUGE idiot, as we will see in coming weeks.

Blake Bortles or Derek Carr Unless They’re Playing Somewhere Scary Like Seattle (I don’t mind either of them); 

Is Gillette Stadium Somewhere Scary Like Seattle?  Carr covered there.  In any case, he's on the other list too, so fuck you, Bill.

and Jimmy Garoppolo (my son’s first future football hero).

With the way Brady is playing, we just might see him make some starts before the season is over.

Anyways, verdict on this rule: it's dumb, and Bill is dumb.

Rule: Don’t go against Seattle, Denver, New Orleans, Green Bay or New England at home with a spread under 8½.

Games so far this year that implicated this rule:

Week 1
GB at SEA (Bill went with the rule and won)
IND at DEN (Bill went with the rule and lost)

Week 2
(GB and DEN both played home games, but had spreads over 8.5; Bill went against the Broncos and won, and with the Packers and lost)

Week 3
DEN at SEA (Bill went with the rule and won)
(NO and NE both played home games, but had spreads over 8.5; Bill went with the Patriots and lost, and against the Saints and lost)

Well, unless you have an amazing reason on the level of “Sports Illustrated just put Aaron Rodgers on the cover holding 10 black cats while standing under a ladder and posing with his new girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.”

Verdict on this rule: not enough data yet.  Odds are it's a pretty good rule to follow, which is something a 9 year old with a vague interest in football could have told you.

Rule: Don’t go against the Pats after a loss and/or when they’re getting points.

After the Pats lost to Miami in week 1, they walloped the Vikings in week 2, covering easily.  I'm pretty sure the University of Minnesota could give the Vikings a game this year.

We have a 13-year Belichick-Brady track record at this point. In the situation I just described, they are 97,567-2 against the spread (all numbers approximate).

And then the following week, the Raiders came into Gillette and covered, and damn near forced overtime (having a game tying TD in the final minutes called back for holding, and then throwing an interception that was the receiver's fault a few plays later).  Verdict on this rule: DURRRRRRR BILLY B TOM TERRIFIC GREATRIOTS YAY!  I hope the Pats finish 2-14 and Jimmy Garopollo retires after the season is over.

More later.


jacktotherack said...

Not sure which is worse--his conflation of "going against the public" with taking underdogs, or his use of "we" after referring to "smart gamblers," because hey, what says "smart" like beating the house once (by a minuscule amount) once every five seasons?

No, the worst part is when he says "That's how we butter our bread." He should be cock-punched for typing such an insufferable phrase.

Anon said...

It must be metastasizing. From Drew Magary's Peter King post:

"He knows where his bread is buttered."

What the hell?



You continue to do the Lord's work.

I love how in a subsequent picks column, he rolled out yet another "IMMORTAL AXIOM OF SMART GAMBLERING1!!!1!!" that you always pick a team that needs a win in week 2, "no matter the spread". He then used this logic to pick the Packers who beat the Jets, but didn't cover the 9 points. Maybe there is a god.

Anonymous said...

"If you want to (pick games, listen to podcast etc) here are the links. Here’s the good news: My Friday picks column is now old enough to..."

How is this good news? And I don't mean that in the "how is it good news that this column has run for such a long time" sense I mean in what way does this make any sense at all? Another example of lack of editing.