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Gambling on Basketball: An Object Lesson in Stupidity

Not that there’s any reason for you to have noticed this, but the Kings game two nights ago came with some very solid video evidence for why gambling on basketball point spreads is inherently dumb. I’ve only done it a couple times, and stuff like this helps me remember why I don’t do it more often.

The spread on the game was 6.5 or 7 points for the Kings, depending on the sportsbook. For all you intelligent people out there who invest your money in low-risk government bonds, a spread is the number of points the favored team is predicted to win by, and which sports gamblers can choose to bet against. A lot of factors play into its calculation, including the Kings having beaten some very good teams lately, and the fact that they were playing at home.

That spread still seem a little low to you? You are in huge company. According to various gambling resources, only about 25 percent of bettors “took the points,” meaning that the other 75 percent were predicting that the Celtics would win by more than 6.5 or 7.

We take you now to the very, very end of the game, where the Celtics lead by six with the ball. So the outcome is pretty much decided, but they’re not covering the spread unless they score here.

By being a good sport and choosing to avoid that dunk, Glen Davis probably almost ruined a few people financially. But, temporarily lucky for those people, the Kings foul Davis for some reason (pretty sure protocol calls for letting the clock run out when a guy gives up a dunk) and he makes both. C’s are now up 8 and covering the spread.

That’s how stupid NBA gambling is. Millions of hardworking American dollars changed hands when Davis gave up that dunk, then changed back when the Kings fouled him. Hardworking Americans were first ruined and then rich because of two completely basketball-inconsequential events.

And we’re not even done. Enter Tyreke Evans.

Boom. Celtics win by 5 and don’t cover. Because Evans threw up an almost obnoxiously casual 3 with two seconds to go, 75% of the hundreds of thousands of people who bet on this game lost money to online gambling sites. If you listened, you could probably hear the screams of joy go up from the Cayman Islands.

So that’s effectively three changes in the gambling outcome, none of which had any relevance to the game whatsoever. And that’s why gambling on basketball is a nonsensical exercise. Unless you’re Tim Donaghy.


According to Vegas Insider, the Celtics are 23-23-2 against the spread. That means that when the spread is subtracted (or added, on the few occasions when they’ve been the underdog) from their final score, they’ve won as many games as they’ve lost. The implication there is that the Celtics are pretty much as good as basketball fans believe them to be. You can see how a .500 record against the spread would be more likely to happen with such a high-profile team.

The best team against the spread is the Philadelphia 76ers. Makes sense, because they’re a little better than most people think. The worst team, sort of unbelievably, is the Cleveland Cavaliers. As horrible as they are perceived to be, they’re actually way worse than that.

  • DRJ1

    Let's not forget the over/under… a referee favorite. The bet there is about how many total points will be scored by both sides. When you see the refs blowing every tick and tack, think over/under. (Because it's sure not about basketball anymore when it starts raining fouls like that.)

  • Wes

    There's an old story, probably apocryphal, but maybe true. Old Madison Square Garden…Knicks with Frazier, Monroe and company. Pre three-point era. Clock winding down, Knicks favored and have generous spread covered by a point. Monroe dribbling out clock with no resistance. Just before buzzer sounds he launches a celebratory half-court, left-handed hook at the WRONG BASKET. You can guess the rest. Swish. Counts. Spread not covered. Small riots break out in the stands. One more reason to not bet on hoops.

  • JCP

    Wait, so there's an old story?

    • someguyinsac

      Apparently there's 3 old stories, but they all have the same result so I don't know really. :)

    • AussieCeltic

      Isn't there an old adage saying that if you hear a story 3 times, it must be true? I guess he made the shot!

  • SteveB

    Totally unrelated but here is the link to the Avery Bradley story. Very good reading and looks like he's working hard to get back to the big time.

    • DRJ1

      Thanks. Excellent read, to see how the kid's doing. He's still on the Cs' roster, after all

  • Batman

    Not old enough to gamble except with friends :( 6 more years!! I'll bet on the C's to win all the time (and probably lose my life savings)

    • someguyinsac

      Well, not that you're seeking gambling advice from an older person, (me), but it's safer and more economical to keep it between friends only. At least that's what I found works to keep me in the black money-wise.

  • Wes

    Sorry about three posts…when I hit submit, got message saying there was a system problem and to try again. Not a good enough story for a triple post!

    • someguyinsac

      I was just teasing you, I've had issues similar to that too. :)

  • Roulette Killer

    Great Job!!!

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