This week in our regular look at what Las Vegas thinks of the Gamecocks, we talk with David Purdum, an Atlanta-based journalist with years of experience covering the gaming industry, about how major injuries like Connor Shaw’s shoulder affect the bookmakers’ decisions, how much stock is put into a rough opening game and what Vegas thinks of Missouri and Texas A&M’s first games in the SEC.
Here’s a hint: Vegas still likes the Gamecocks, already scared of the Gators.
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Q&A with David Purdum
How does Las Vegas deal with a significant injury like Connor Shaw and the fact that he may or may not play this week?
It’s tough for them, like it is for bettors, like it is for people who try to cover the team, trying to figure out, ‘Hey, is he going to be able to play?’ Vegas did open it up at minus-24 South Carolina at the Las Vegas Wynn. The line didn’t really budge a lot so I think a lot of people are really questioning it. Last year, South Carolina was favored by 21 over South Carolina, 24 this year. They think whether Shaw plays or not that South Carolina is a significant favorite.
They must not have watched Dylan Thompson and Seth Strickland play last week, huh?
I saw them skip a couple to a couple wide open guys, so I’m kind of with you.
Speaking about that, how does Las Vegas or anybody judge a rough opener? Clearly, South Carolina didn’t play very well offensively. Do you say, ‘That’s opening game jitters?’ Do you say, ‘Boy, they are overrated?’
I have found through the years that oddsmakers always underreact. They are very, very diligent about not getting away from their mathematical power ratings, their computer ratings about these teams, especially early in the season. No, South Carolina didn’t look great. They did get a win in an SEC environment on the road. You can kind of tell that by the line this week. East Carolina beat Appalachian State, which I think is No. 5 in the FCS rankings, so that was a good, solid team. We saw what some other FCS teams can do. I think Vegas looked at that and, even though East Carolina played well, their power rankings right now on South Carolina say they are a three-touchdown favorite. They are not going to get off that, even though South Carolina did not look great.
With the Gamecocks not covering the 6-point spread against Vanderbilt, who won that game Vegas or the gamblers?
Big, big winner for Vegas. Some of the lines varied that you could have gotten South Carolina minus-4 if you were really quick in the betting market, but as soon as they didn’t cover when most of the books went off at minus-6 and they needed Vanderbilt to cover. Overall, the weekend, I just talked to a guy at Cantor Gaming, ‘very solid week’ is all he would say. He was grinning.
Is that the norm? I realize that in the long run Vegas is going to win, but week to week does it go back and forth pretty evenly or is Vegas smiling most Mondays?
I am going to guess that 70 percent of the weeks Vegas will make money. Last year their profits dropped in September on football wagers. Now that counts NFL too. That’s a rarity. That’s the most I’ve seen in the last four or five years.
Looking at the rest of the SEC, we have two intriguing games with Missouri and Texas A&M playing their first league games. Georgia is a three-point favorite at Missouri. Texas A&M is a two-point favorite at home against Florida. How do they set those lines when we are sort of in uncharted territory here?
Well, unlike the South Carolina game, where they didn’t overreact, oddsmakers really reacted to Florida’s sloppy performance. Florida did not look good against Bowling Green, and they actually ended up becoming a dog. A sportsbook called the Golden Nugget is the first book to put up odds. They put lines up in early June. When they put the first line up, they had Florida favored by like 2.5 or three points, so you can see how much they put into that sloppy performance by Florida. Georgia’s line, that’s kind of been all over the place. I have seen some people put up Georgia minus-six. Bettors pounced on it. They took Missouri as the home underdog, and it went down to three in a lot of spots.
Let’s end with one more question about the Gamecocks. How is the line set on games where an upper echelon major conference team is playing a team like East Carolina? Are they are the hardest ones to set? Does it all go back to their computer rankings?
Yes, absolutely, their computer rankings, their power system and then they kind of use the perception of the public. Will the public look at South Carolina and see a close win against Vanderbilt, some sloppy play, the issues with Connor Shaw, and they say, ‘OK, bettors probably are going to react against South Carolina right now.’ But most of all they are going to stick to those power rankings. East Carolina, Conference USA team, they have been around for a while, so they have a good handle, but a Wofford, when they had to set the line for Oklahoma State and Savannah State, somebody set the line at 67 and people laughed at them and people took the 67. (Oklahoma State covered in an 84-0 win.). There is some guess work when it comes to those smaller teams.