Only about 10 years ago, many Las Vegas bookmakers were less than savvy when it came to NASCAR, and certain sharp bettors took full advantage.
On the second of a recent two-part episode of the Risk of Ruin podcast, professional gambler Mark DeRosa shared a few stories about how he and his betting partners were able to do just that.
Strolling one day north of the Strip to a joint called Poker Palace — in his words a “total dump” and a “tiny little casino the size of my house” with “a lot unsavory characters” — DeRosa spotted stale NASCAR odds displayed on a dry-erase white board, not on a digital oddsboard to which most sportsbooks had evolved.
The bookmakers at Poker Palace would basically copy NASCAR odds from other sportsbooks, and since they took very little NASCAR action, the numbers wouldn’t get updated. This made for easy pickings for a bettor paying attention to the market.
DeRosa recalled a particular weekend at this casino when Carl Edwards was still listed at his opening odds of 15/1, when most books had shortened him to 6/1. DeRosa bet $300 on Edwards to win $4,500, about the max Poker Palace would allow.
Sure enough, Edwards won the race.
“I go in there to cash the ticket a couple days later, and all hell was breaking loose. They didn’t know what to do,” DeRosa told podcast host John Reeder. “Everyone in the sportsbook knows something is going on.”
There was clearly unrest between the 75ish-year-old supervisor and the ticket writer – the only two people working in the book.
“They had never cashed out a ticket that large … and they didn’t know the proper legal proceedings for that,” DeRosa said. There are tax implications with winnings of a certain amount.
DeRosa and his partner Zack White (you remember Zack — he often imparts his wisdom in this space like here, here and here) figured they’d go back to the well. So White, who wouldn’t be recognized as the guy who just took them for nearly $5,000, headed back to Poker Palace the following week to check the NASCAR lines.
Except there were no NASCAR lines.
“‘We’re not going to do NASCAR anymore,'” White said he was told. “‘We only wrote one ticket, and it was a winner.’ So they hung it up.”
Talking About Practice
We wrote earlier this year that some sharp bettors are finding greater edges with the lack of practice and qualifying for most races this season, because practice and qualifying offer the same information to bettors and bookmakers and thus level the playing field.
Back when DeRosa and White were building their business in Vegas, though, many bookmakers weren’t aware of the significant information that could be derived from practice.
DeRosa remembers arriving early Wednesday mornings at Caesars Palace, where practice would be shown live on the big screen. Matt Metcalf — now director at Circa Sports – would be there, too, making max-limit NASCAR bets and moving the lines along with him.
“I’d make a bet, say on Dale Earnhardt Jr., and (the Caesars sportsbook supervisor would) look up at the screen and say, ‘Yeah, Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks really good in practice. That’s a good bet.'”
These days, sportsbooks will pause wagering during practice. That wasn’t the case back then.
“You would have the lines move from like +140 to -200 in the course of 20 minutes,” DeRosa said.
Even some of the best bookmakers in Vegas found themselves flummoxed by NASCAR.
DeRosa said he and Metcalf would combine to make tens of thousands of dollars in NASCAR matchup bets in the middle of the week at The Plaza, whose book was run by Mike Colbert. Despite some legal troubles, Colbert had a reputation as top Vegas book.
DeRosa recalled, “Finally, one day Colbert asks me, ‘How come I don’t write a single bet all week long? The odds have been up since Monday, and I don’t write any bets until Wednesday or Thursday, and then all of a sudden, I write $100,000 or $50,000 in volume, and then I don’t write any more volume until Saturday.'”
In response, DeRosa played dumb. But he revealed to Reeder, “The reality of it was, that’s when practice was going on, and you could tell which drivers were stronger than others. It amazed me that sometimes the bookies could not see what was going on.”
‘Greeting From Las Vegas’
We’ve given just a taste of the two-part episode, titled “Greeting From Las Vegas,” which recounts the exploits of the friendship and partnership of DeRosa, White and Rufus Peabody, one of the most well-known professional gamblers in the industry. We recommend listening to the whole thing.
Reeder bills his Risk of Ruin show as “a podcast about gambling and life and their intersection.” Check it out for some fantastically entertaining tales from gambling lore.
Marcus DiNitto is a writer and editor living in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been covering sports for nearly two-and-a-half decades and sports betting for more than 10 years. His first NASCAR betting experience was in 1995 at North Wilkesboro Speedway, where he went 0-for-3 on his matchup picks. Read his articles and follow him on Twitter; do not bet his picks.