I like to hear Jimmy Vaccaro talk.
He's one of the last of the old-school Vegas bookmakers, now booking for William Hill, but he's worked in nearly every joint around the city, from downtown to The Strip. It's not just the info he shares but the color he adds. He sounds like an off-color Damon Runyan character, all sharps and squares and a kick in the you-know-whats.
On Thursday afternoon I was thinking hard about the Lions and the Cardinals and who could possibly bet Arizona. So I called Jimmy. Anyone who watched the Cardinals get whitewashed by 58 points last weekend understands that this is a team that might as well run the Wildcat full-time. They do not have a competent quarterback. I'm not trying to make a snarky Internetty blog joke. As my 6-year-old likes to say, "I'm for serious." They just don't have an option behind center. It's a shame, really, for Larry Fitzgerald, for Cardinals fans, for the defense, for anyone who watches football.
Or bets on it. Because the gambling gods did something interesting this week. If we were lucky, the Cards would have followed up their Seattle game on the road against a winning team. We could have had some kind of historic spread at a time when absolutely no one in the right mind would consider betting on the Cardinals no matter what the number. But we got something a little trickier: They end up playing at home against the underperforming Lions. Instead of double-digits we've got a home dog getting a touchdown and playing against an undisciplined team that has habitually given up leads this year. At first glance, it makes you pause. So I asked Jimmy, "Have you had a single bet on the Cardinals yet?"
"Not a single person," he told me. "Not even Bill Bidwell will bet on this team right now."
That will change as the weekend gets closer. I had Vegas Runner on my podcast on Thursday afternoon and he was insistent he will get a piece of the Cardinals at plus-seven. He has no faith in the Lions and thinks they will play to their record this season. But still, most people will be on the Lions; this game might get more tickets written than any other this weekend. And it speaks to a phenomenon the books have been dealing with more and more these past few years.
"There are so many more people betting, and they only want two things: favorites and overs," Vaccaro says. "They don't look at numbers. They just bet teams."
This has always been the public's m.o. It's why the spreads for teams like New England, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and the Bears can occasionally be shaded a little higher. Bookmakers know the action from recreational bettors will be so high they can afford to take a substantial amount of wiseguy action on the other side. But now, because betting is so much more prevalent and information is much easier to come by, that philosophy is extending to teams that have never been historically public but are hot for a season, or even just a stretch of it.
"We are needing the smarts more and more these days," Vaccaro says. "It has been feast or famine with the favorites. And it's forcing us to move our numbers a lot faster than we have in the past."
This was a common theme in Vegas all week. And not just with the Lions game but with the Niners and Pats and Broncos and Ravens and others, too. Vaccaro broke down several of those games below.