Tim Benz: Some advice for legally betting on the Steelers
It's been about two days since we learned sports betting is likely going to become legal on a state-to-state basis.
You want in!
But you are probably so confused you just wandered through the Rivers Casino for an hour looking to make a bet on the Steelers' 2018 win total, and you couldn't find out where to do it. Yet somehow you still walked away $200 lighter in the wallet.
That's how they get you, my friend. Just get you in the door.
Well, forget all the noise about Supreme Court decisions, "integrity taxes," and paranoia about game-fixing.
You, John Q. Stiller fan, you just wanna know how you can blow your weekly paycheck gambling on your beloved Black and Gold.
That's how we are going to help here at Breakfast With Benz.
First of all — legally or not — never bet on the Steelers when they are a touchdown favorite on the road against a sub-.500 team. Frankly, you shouldn't have needed gambling to become legal to have learned that lesson during the Mike Tomlin era.
As far as everything else goes, here's the skinny:
Where will I be able to gamble on games?
Expect every local casino under the sun to set up a sports book within five seconds of gambling being legalized in its given state.
Also, don't be surprised if eventually little pop-up outlets blossom around town. Basically like OTB locations you may have seen in New York City. Don't you think some of those empty storefront windows on Liberty Avenue would make sense?
And if I'm in charge of The Rivers — and rules allow someday — I put ATM-style remote betting machines in the bars around the North Shore. If you can't drag 'em in through the door, you might as well encourage them to risk their money when they are somewhere nearby, right?
Think about it. A customer makes a $100 bet before the Steelers game at Bettis Grille. They win. They come in to cash the ticket. They lose $150 on the slots and drinks.
Ain't America great?
Will I be able to bet before the start of football season?
If Pennsylvania lawmakers are smart, yes. Any lost football weekend is millions of dollars of lost revenue.
Especially before the novelty wears off.
In this case that introductory sentence isn't as much of a contradictory phrase as you would normally assume.
In anticipation of this Supreme Court ruling, the state was ahead of the curve. Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill that authorized sports books at casinos. It also has language to green-light mobile and online sports books.
Hence, to get gaming streamlined by the start of Steelers season, we've got about four months to get up and running with plans that have been in place for over a year.
So to answer the original question, based on Pennsylvania's track record, expect legalized gambling here in Pittsburgh by, oh, roughly the end of Mason Rudolph's second contract.
That sounds about right.
Will it cost me more to gamble legally?
Probably. The downside of those Pennsylvania laws are that they tend to be onerous on the licensees. Revenue is slated to be taxed at a 36 percent rate and the fee to operate a sports book is $10 million .
So, to win $100 with your local bookie or online, you have probably only needed to risk $110. At these legalized and taxed sports books, you may need to lay out more so they can make up that debt. Otherwise, expect less of a return.
Will Steeler lines be impacted in Pittsburgh?
Again, probably. But maybe less than in other cities.
Let's say most Las Vegas lines have the Carolina Panthers as a 3-point favorite to beat Atlanta at home. At a casino outside the stadium in Charlotte though, with biased Panthers fans betting almost exclusively on the hometown team on their way into the game, a disproportionate amount of money is going to come in on them. So, the sports books in Charlotte may slide the line out to four or five points in an attempt to cover some losses.
So maybe that -3 line in Vegas turns into a -4 or a -5 in Charlotte.
That will happen here in Pittsburgh, too. But not as much because the Steelers have such an enormous national fan base, and oddsmakers often account for that in advance.
Empirically, a game that Vegas may see as a six-point margin in favor of the Steelers will often become a 6 ½- or 7-point line, because the Steelers draw so much money on their side of the ledger. So the guys who set the line may nudge it out to entice more people to bet on the opponent or at least discourage partisan Terrible Towel wavers from placing too much on the cover in case it hits.
"If they (new local sports books) rely on Nevada, then they aren't going to move the number too far off the market price," ESPN gambling expert Doug Kezirian told us in today's podcast. "If the offshore is seven points, then they are going to keep it at seven. Because if they move it to 7½ and tax all the Steelers fans, then they'll get lopsided action on the underdog.
"So in North Carolina, the Panthers might get lopsided action," Kezirian continued. "What the bookmakers have already seen though is that the public likes teams like the Steelers, the Packers, the Cowboys."
Then again, if John Q. Stiller fan saw his club's defense play last year, he may want stay away from any line that has the Steelers favored by more than a touchdown whether its in Vegas, Costa Rica or The Meadows.