Las Vegas sportsbook Circa Sports, the first to hang an over/under on the total points scored in the game, opened it at 248.5. An hour before the game tipped off, the total was sitting at 195.5.
The 53-point movement was the largest shift that multiple veteran bookmakers could ever recall, and it wasn’t caused by any attempt at corruption or by a rush of big wagers. Instead, it was simply a mistake by an oddsmaker who was short on time.
On Wednesday, around 7 a.m. PT, Matt Metcalf, sportsbook director for Circa Sports, saw an opportunity to post the first total on the WNBA All-Star Game on the betting market, he told ESPN. He had a morning meeting at 9 a.m. and still needed to get showered and dressed for work. Rushing, Metcalf said he looked at the total points scored in the previous All-Star Games and landed on 248.5 as the opening number for this year’s game.
“At worst, I don’t think this was more than 15 points off. That’s as bad as I think it could be,” Metcalf said. “I didn’t think it would be the worst number ever.”
Metcalf said he didn’t take into account that WNBA All-Stars were facing the U.S. women’s national team, which is tuning up for the Olympics and expected to take the game more seriously than traditional high-scoring All-Star Games that are often played with reduced intensity and lackadaisical defense.
“This is very different than a [typical] All-Star Game,” Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer told Sports Illustrated. “Normally everybody is kind of goofing around. That’s not what USA Basketball wants. USAB wants a very competitive game.”
The 248.5 opening number was up for a couple of hours at Circa before the first bet came in, and it was on the over from a respected account that pushed the total up to 252.5. Metcalf said he believed the bet on the over was designed to “dummy up” the market, a tactic used by professional bettors to mislead bookmakers about which way they’re going to bet.
At that point, sportsbooks in the U.S. and internationally began posting over/under totals similar or identical to Circa’s number. With more sportsbooks having the total on the board, bettors started to bet the under, and the line began to plummet.
“I’ve been monitoring this stuff since 2004, 2005,” said Rex Beyers, risk manager for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, “and, off the top of my head, I can’t think of a bigger move. It’s certainly in the top five.”
The SuperBook opened at 251 and moved the number 32 times before it settled at 197. Beyers said they hadn’t taken any limit bets on the under but were just trying to stay in line with the market.
“We have more money on the over than the under,” Beyers told ESPN a few hours before the 7 p.m. ET tipoff.
The WNBA All-Stars ended up handing the Olympic squad a rare loss for a final score of 93-85, with the total 19 points shy of the closing over/under.
In the past when some bookmakers have posted bad point spreads or totals resulting from a typo or mistake, the sportsbooks have voided the bets on those numbers, claiming “palpable error.” Metcalf emphasized that this wasn’t the case with his WNBA total: “I made a horrific number, hung it and took bets,” he said.
Metcalf estimates Circa took only six to 10 limit bets on the under that caused the line to drop so significantly. The opening limit was $2,000 and later reduced to $500.
Circa, which caters to professional bettors, has earned a reputation in the industry as having sharp lines and totals.
“I always say a bad number is better than no number,” Metcalf said. “I think we earned some trust by the numbers we’ve put up in the past — granted, we may have blown that all today.
“I think the market respects our numbers for the most part, but we’re not perfect. We’re going to make some bad numbers. That said, I would never expect that we’d put up a number that’s 50 points off on a total.”
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