How tanking in the NBA affects the betting market
How tanking in the NBA affects the betting market
NBA teams are tanking, and bettors have been capitalizing on it . How does the historic losing affect the betting market, and can oddsmakers do anything about the 'free winners' the public keeps cashing?
Basketball fans knows it; bettors know it; books know it. NBA teams are tanking, and it's not getting any better. In September 2017, NBA owners overwhelmingly passed lottery reforms to discourage teams from tanking, including: giving the worst three teams the same odds at the No. 1 pick; using the lottery for the top four spots, up from the top three; and flattening the odds for the first pick among the worst teams. These changes, effective for the 2019 draft lottery, were supposed to curb blatant tanking this season. By all accounts, it hasn't. And bettors are catching on. After this past weekend's action, the Knicks (10-44 SU, 23-29-2 ATS), Suns (11-47 SU, 25-33 ATS), Cavaliers (11-44 SU, 24-30-1 ATS) and Bulls (13-42 SU, 24-29-2 ATS) have separated themselves as the clear frontrunners in this year's Tankapalooza. Those teams also own four of the nine worst ATS records in the NBA, even with sportsbooks anticipating their futility. It seems that oddsmakers can't set point spreads high enough against those teams. Take Friday's game between Golden State and Phoenix, a 117-107 Warriors road win. Most sportsbooks closed with Golden State as a 17-point favorite at Phoenix, and the public pounded the Warriors. But the real danger for books is the moneyline, if bettors are willing to pay the premium for a shortened (but nearly assured) payout. "It doesn't matter what we put up," Chris Andrews, South Point sportsbook director, told BetChicago. "The Warriors are a 1/20 favorite (Friday). That's ridiculous for an NBA game, but that's what they are. And the money is on the Warriors ... "When people are betting the (moneyline) parlays, it's almost like a free winner." Sure enough, the Suns covered in a game they led into the fourth quarter. But the Warriors stormed back -- they almost always do -- and "free money" struck again. Andrews said the public betting hard against tanking teams really started last year, when nine teams -- including the Bulls -- finished with fewer than 30 wins. It was the most since the lockout-shortened season in 2011-12 and tied for the most since 2009-10, the year before John Wall was drafted No. 1 overall. This year, five teams are on pace for fewer than 30 wins -- with the Knicks, Suns and Cavaliers all on track for the worst winning percentage since the historically bad 76ers team that went 10-72 in 2015-16. "The All-Star Break's not even here yet," said Robert Walker, director of sportsbook operations for USBookmaking, "and we're already talking about teams tanking like crazy." Some of the losing may be correlated to the quality of the top pick, with Duke's Zion Williamson headlining the 2019 class. Some of it may be teams learning the benefits of gaming the system -- much like how Philadelphia did in the early 2010s -- with years of prolonged losing, even in the face of less favorable lottery odds. Either way, it's a potential liability for sportbooks, especially when the lopsided results come so soon. Walker, whose USBookmaking group will operate the sportsbook BetChicago anticipates opening later this year, said his book tries to push the spreads and totals as high as possible before sharps jump in, knowing the public will lay those high numbers even more than usual when perpetual losers are involved. But there's no stopping the flood of action on moneyline parlays against suspected tanking teams, and the results rarely favor oddsmakers. Andrews says the public cleaned up against tanking teams last year, and while sharps usually favor the underdog in situations like these, books can't entice many to back the moneyline on teams this bad. "You talk about a regression to the mean; sometimes they just don't regress to the mean," Andrews said. "There's not much you can do about winning and losing." Andrews says he expects it to get even worse in the coming weeks, as teams with already-slim playoff chances are whittled from contention. Last year, the nine worst teams finished the season with a combined 227-511 record straight up, good for a 30.8 percent winning percentage. After the All-Star break -- as teams' playoff chances officially died -- that number dropped to 26.3 percent. It's not just straight up, either. On the whole, those nine teams went 357-366-15 ATS, covering 48.4 percent of games with 15 pushes. After the break? They went 99-114-4 ATS -- 45.6 percent covered with four pushes -- and only two of the seven teams covered more than 50 percent of their games. There's no reason to expect anything after this year's All-Star break ends on Feb. 21, what with three historically losing teams and a gem at the top of the 2019 draft class. "It's a long season, and we're ready to get to the playoffs and not worry about this," Walker said. "Nobody's tanking in the playoffs." __Bookmark us:__ [Daily NBA betting coverage](https://www.betchicago.com/nba-betting)2019-02-11T02:19:59.392Z2019-02-10T18:19-08:00