Many serious sports bettors consider the futures wager the province of rank amateurs trying to go for the big killing. They’re the sports betting equivalent of the wanna-be stock investor who always gripes if only I had bought Microsoft when they went public. They’re not the type who’ll do the work to grind out profits in the market, nor are they forward thinking enough to find the next big company to go public. They’d rather lay some money on a high priced dog and hope for the best, which seldom (if ever) occurs. Right now at some sportsbooks a $100 bet on the Cincinnati Bengals to win the 2010 Superbowl will pay back $10,000. The problem is that the true odds of Cincinnati winning the Superbowl are probably in the range of 50,000 to 1 which makes the +10000 you’re getting in this bet a bad value from the get-go.
For the more serious bettor, there’s a number of obvious problems with futures wagers. They require that your wagering ‘capital’ be tied up for months. Furthermore, once you’ve placed your bet you’re at the mercy of injuries, suspensions, trades and the other numerous factors that can spell defeat for a sports team. It’s no simple task keeping up with these variables on a day to day basis, and predicting them over a longer term is the province of psychics and not sports handicappers.
So futures plays have no relevance to a serious approach to sports handicapping? Not necessarily. It’s crucial to think of the sports betting discipline in terms of value. Used properly, futures wagers are frequently a good way of maximizing line value and finding overlay situations. Here are some ways in which future wagers can be successfully leveraged.
The early bird gets the worm. The early bettor gets the value: Many sports books offer non-sports proposition bets, including entertainment based wagers like the Academy Awards. Someone who enjoys following the industry and keeping up-to-date on whats happening in Hollywood can get a decided edge over the bookmaker, who doesn’t have the time to stay juiced in to industry news and gossip.
Some books even take bets on the major awards like ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ before the nominations are actually announced. In this situation, a bettor who can read the ‘buzz’ on which films will be nominated can find substantially better values before the nominations are announced.
The way the film industry works makes futures bets of this sort particularly appealing. Release schedules for films are set well in advance, and the cut off date for Academy Award consideration is the end of the calendar year. That way it’s easy for a handicapper to isolate a number of serious Oscar candidates out of the hundreds of films released annually. With more work, that can be narrowed down even more and once a workable number of potential winners has been reached it’s just a matter of shopping around for the best value.
It’s also possible to leverage value in the ‘stick and ball’ sports with future wagers. There are obviously more variables in sports than in the entertainment industry and the top teams are never going to be found ‘under the radar’. For example, you can already bet that the Patriots will win the 2010 Superbowl but you’ll be hard pressed to find a value price on such a popular team with the general public.
To find value on this sort of wager you need to look for ‘dark horse’ candidates. For example, at midseason you could have bet on the Carolina Hurricanes to win the 2009 Stanley Cup at prices as high as 25/1 or 30/1. Now, they’re one of four teams remaining and are priced at 5/1 to 7/1 depending on the book.
This play didn’t necessitate a crystal ball or a Canadien genie with a profound interest in hockey–instead, it was a simple matter of determining teams that offered true odds of championship success that were lower than the price offered in the future bet. At prices like 25/1 or 40/1 its possible to back several dark horse ‘candidates’ and if one or more enjoy postseason success it presents a number of opportunities to hedge and guarantee a profit.
Don’t forget the field. Many bettors dismiss plays on the field in a futures wager out of hand, thinking that the wager represents all of the entrants not good enough to justify an individual price. If you pay attention, however, you can frequently use a field wager to your advantage. Shortly after Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death at the 2001 Daytona 500 I found a sportsbook that was offering a field wager on the NASCAR rookie of the year award at 15/1. Richard Childress Racing hadn’t officially announced Harvick as the fulltime replacement for Earnhardt, but the word on the streets strongly suggested that would be the case. I knew that Harvick was a talented young driver (he was the 2000 Busch Series rookie of the year), but the unique situation with a rookie driving for one of the best financed and most experienced teams in the sport was too good to pass up. I made the bet on Harvick at just the right time, since after he was announced as the replacement for Earnhardt the line dropped to 5/1. After he won his first race (in his third race) the line dropped to 2/1 and by mid season the field was a -250 chalk.
This is obviously a best case example, but there have been similar circumstances that were still good value plays but didn’t work out perfectly like the Harvick situation. Several years ago it wasn’t uncommon to find a field bet on NASCAR road races that allowed you to bet several of the road course specialists like Ron Fellows, Boris Said and Scott Pruett with one bet. You wont be able to take advantage of the field bet often, but if you keep your eyes open and think out of the box it can be very profitable when it does occur.
Don’t forget to shop around for the best wagering value. This is true with any sports bet, but particularly so with futures wagers as the prices you find will vary much more than a typical pointspread. A little bit of effort can easily reveal a more advantageous price, meaning greater line value.
Ross Everett is a freelance writer specializing in sports handicapping, horse racing, travel and jousting. He is a staff handicapper for Anatta Sports where he is in charge of providing daily free sports picks to a number of Internet and broadcast media outlets. He lives in Las Vegas with three Jack Russell Terriers and a wombat.