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Safety caused quite a stir

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Joe Ellison

Trailing by four points with two minutes left in last Monday night’s football game, the New York Giants faced a 4th and 18 at their own three-yard line. Rather than throwing for the first down, head coach Jim Fassel concluded that giving up a safety and taking his chances on recovering the ensuing on-side kick would be the easier path to victory.

But after the safety, an even stranger thing happened. Respected ABC television broadcaster Al Michaels blurted out “Vegas is going wild!” What Michaels had reported to the entire nation was that Fassel’s decision had just enabled Tampa Bay to cover the five-point spread.

Should Michaels have shared that information with the rest of the country? Doesn’t the National Football League discourage wagering on its games? Should sports gambling be promoted at all by the United States’ most influential medium – television?

Surely the NFL realizes that betting is an integral part of many fans’ weekly football experience, because the league does nothing to suppress it where it can. ESPN’s Chris “The Swami” Berman is a terrible handicapper, yet he shares his weeks’ spread picks every Friday. “Hammerin” Hank Goldberg gives out his choices on the Sunday 7:30 a.m. and Monday 3 p.m. Sportscenters. Wacky Nick Bakay and his wife do Monday segments about how he won or lost his bets over the weekend. Heck, even during the College Gameday shows on Saturday mornings, Lee Corso is eager to predict a game to be “closer than the experts think” when he feels an underdog is getting too many points. Undoubtedly these men are wagering on the games, but none of them appear to live in Nevada, which means either they are betting illegally or visiting our Silver State on a frequent basis.

The NFL says it discourages gambling on its games, but the league understands that its game would be much less popular nationally without point spreads. Remember that this is the same hypocritical NFL that will fine a player for making an illegal hit, then sell the same hit on its year-end “best of” videos. The NFL is after all a business first, but also a business that knows it goes hand in hand with gambling.

From the fans’ standpoint the bottom line should be that football betting is alive and well, can be good clean fun, and whatever people want to do with their own money is their business. The NFL couldn’t stand in the way of those principles even if it wanted to.

– Sports books offer handicappers the opportunity to buy 1/2 point on spreads off the board in order to make them easier to cover. Buying the 1/2 point results in a bet paying a price of -120 as opposed to the regular -110. Depending on the book, buying the 1/2 can only be done on straight bets or two-team parlays, and can never be done to move a point spread from 2 1/2 or 3 1/3 to 3.

I can’t truly advise buying the 1/2 point, but I find myself doing it on certain occasions. If a favorite is at -4 1/2 I’ll move it down to 4, and if an underdog is +5 1/2 I’ll move it up to 6, because 4 and 6 are whole number differences that games often land on. I never move a spread from a whole number to a 1/2 (for instance 7 to 6 1/2) because that’s getting greedy, and pushing a bet is always OK.

The best time to buy the 1/2 point is when the handicapper needs to while hedging an existing bet. If one team is needed to complete a parlay, and the spread has moved in the opposite direction, sometimes an extra 1/2 point must be added so the hedge bet can be on a whole number that at least pushes on the final score.

– What if you really want to place a wager on a football game and you can’t decide what to bet on? What if a game is in the second quarter and your bet already looks like a loser? What if a team you are sure will win is losing at halftime? I suggest you make a halftime bet. At halftime new point spreads and totals are offered on each NFL and many college games. Watch the first half and use your knowledge as to how the game should finish to determine what to wager on.

– Getting back to my teaser article of three weeks ago, I failed to add a couple of items. One, I forgot to mention that totals cannot be teased off the board.

Secondly, if you have a two-team board teaser and one team pushes, or a three-team board teaser and two teams push, etc., regardless of whether the other leg was a winner or loser, you get your money back. The board does not allow for one-team teaser win payoffs, so it is possible handicappers have thrown away cashable tickets mistakenly thinking that one teaser loss automatically killed their parlay.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist.