Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Why They Call It Gambling
It’s a sign of my age, no doubt, but there are certain new developments I just don’t get. Like Fantasy Football.
It’s all the rage now, and very much in the news, what with a couple of large firms being looked at more closely by the government. But I look at it and ask two questions: Who has the time? And, How can you win?
It turns out those questions weren’t so bad. A recent story in the Times said that in order to succeed in any consistent way in Fantasy Football, a person has to devote huge amounts of time to studying the game and developing algorithms for figuring out which players will do well within the gaming system (as opposed to doing well in real football, like winning games).
Most people who play spend a lot of time on it, but their understanding is so limited that they might as well be picking lottery numbers by using their aunts’ and uncles’ birthdays.
If you’re a business, you have to love customers like that.
The Old Way Wasn’t Easy
Before Fantasy Football came along, people who wanted to bet on the sport usually bet on the outcome of a game, with a point spread factored in to give the underdog a fair chance.
Betting on games in that fashion was never easy. People extremely knowledgeable about the game rarely did much better than 50-55 percent over any period of time, which is essentially breaking even. No matter how much you know and how shrewd your insights about a game might be, an injured quarterback or a couple of freak turnovers can upend everything.
Even so, I like to give it a try once a year. My friend John and I go up to South Lake Tahoe in late October or early November to catch the fall color and make some football investments. The fall color is pretty much a sure thing; the football investments — not so much.
Don’t Kick a Field Goal!
By this time of year, the pro football teams are settling out, and a shrewd observer can get a pretty good sense of which teams are good and which ones aren’t. (Shrewd observation #1: A team with a 1-6 record isn’t very good.) Three weeks beforehand, I started compiling statistical information about teams and tracking their records game by game in order to make informed bets. Well, as informed as it gets, anyway.
One of my picks, for instance, was New Orleans minus 3.5 points over the New York Giants. The game was in New Orleans and ended up being an epic. With seconds left, it was tied 49-49 and the Giants were punting. New Orleans got a good return to just past midfield, but the Giants grabbed a face mask, adding a 15-yard penalty and putting New Orleans in position to kick a long field goal on the last play of the game.
The field goal would win the game for New Orleans but lose the bet for me, since I had them winning by four points or more. Sure enough, the New Orleans kicker booted it right between the goalposts to win the game, but I lost my bet by a stinking half-point.
This is why it’s called gambling.