Sports betting markets are forced to adapt to higher scores

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The recent surge in NBA and NHL scoring has caused betting markets to respond in kind, posting totals that would have been unthinkable not long ago.

NBA teams averaged 113.8 points a game through Thursday. That’s the highest number since the 1969-70 season, when the average was 116.7, but follows a larger trend.

Scoring averages have exceeded 110 points for five straight seasons after not hitting that mark since 1985-86, when the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets were the dominant teams led by future Hall of Famers.

According to SportRadar, NBA games this season have gone over the Las Vegas bet a total of 51.5% of the time, the second-highest rate since the website began tracking such trends in the 2012-13 season.

The totals are the number of expected combined points in a game and bets are placed on whether the actual number will be lower or higher. Sportsbooks try to even out the betting as much as possible, because the closer to 50% betting on each side, the greater the chances of securing a profit. Each bet carries a fee or what is commonly referred to as a vig.

Chris Andrews, sportsbook director of South Point in Las Vegas, said the lowest total for Wednesday’s NBA games was 229. He said that would not have been that unusual in the mid-80s, but is more eye opening now.

“The game is in constant motion and every game is in constant motion,” Andrews said. “That is part of our challenge. That’s how it’s been forever for bookies and also for punters.”

As team scoring averages have risen, so have individual ones. Every night it seems like someone scores 50 plus points.

Last Monday, Golden State’s Klay Thompson scored 54 points only to be eclipsed by the 71 that Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell put up. Dallas’ Luka Doncic scored 60 points on Dec. 27, one of three games in a five-game stretch in which he had 50 or more points.

There were 14 50-point games through Thursday and 90 40-point performances.

The outburst of player scoring has affected proposition betting, where individual matchups are often wagered. Andrews said those stakes are adjusted in the same way as teams.

A similar recovery is taking place in the NHL.

Through Thursday, the teams scored an average of 3.17 goals per game. game, the highest number since the 1993-94 season, when the number was 3.24. That’s not much different from last season, when the average was 3.14, and it’s the fourth time in five years the number has been north of 3.0.

But up until this current stretch, the average was less than 3.0 for 12 straight seasons.

“Every game is a 6 or higher,” Andrews said of Wednesday’s action. “The last year or so, it would be pretty rare to have 6 or higher games on the board. We would sometimes have some 4 1/2s at times. But I can go back to the ’80s when we had 8 to 9s, when (Wayne) Gretzky played.”

Minnesota-based Alex B. Smith, one of the nation’s top NHL handicapping experts, said the number of highly skilled players is the primary reason more pucks are going into the net. He cited the depth scoring for the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers as prime examples.

“You have more offensive players on the third and fourth line,” Smith said of the league in general. “More offensive defensemen, guys like (Colorado’s) Cale Makar, for example. The goalkeepers, as good as they are, have made their cushions smaller.

“They’re calling more cross-checks. They’re calling more goalie interference. You’ve got a lot of teams where they’re running plays, where they’re screening the goalies. All of those things are factors in the higher score.”

Now that the teams are back into a more regular rhythm after the Christmas break, he noted that scoring has already picked up again after a short holiday break.

“This is definitely the new norm,” Smith said. “Sixes and 6 1/2s will be the buzz for a while, and you might even start seeing more 7s because it seems like the defenses tend to wear down over time for the most part. “

The high-scoring College Football Playoff semifinals fall in line with recent scoring trends. No. 1 Georgia beat No. 4 Ohio State 42-41 in a semi-final, and No. 3 TCU won the second 51-45 over No. 2 Michigan.

The total stakes for Monday’s national title game are 62 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. That’s also the consensus number at Las Vegas sportsbooks, according to Vegas Insider.

While the overall scoring trend in college football this season wasn’t higher than in recent years, it follows the general pattern of where offenses have gone in the sport.

“I remember when I first started (in 1979), most college football totals would probably be in the 40s — 45, 47 maybe,” Andrews said. “Now you almost never see it like that. Most totals are at least in the 50s.”

The challenge for sportsbook executives and players is to identify what is a small sample size compared to a general trend. What’s happening in the NBA and NHL seems to fall more into the latter category.

The Gold Sheets’ Bruce Marshall said in a text message that it is difficult to gauge how the increased scoring makes a difference in betting patterns, however.

“I don’t think it has increased bet volume overall,” Marshall said.


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