Monday, August 31, 2015

College Football 2015: This year's picks explained (Updated)

(Note: Updated to include the latest line moves. If the move changes my analysis, then I'll notify that with a strike-through.  If nothing changes I'll just change the line.)

As we're gearing up for the start of the 2015/16 College Football Season I thought it would be a good time to outline what my pick-em blogging strategy would be this year.

In the past, I've gone with the 10 games theory which, given that I have a day job and write most of these in the evening to publish the next day, was quite the stretch on my time.  The simple fact is I cannot fully analyze 10 games in a week, the more realistic expectation is 4 or 5.

So, that's what I'm going to do.  Four or five games per week on which I hope to spend enough time studying to provide some real handicapping advice on.  Of course, given that my job deals with the government and I live in Texas I will not be betting on these games myself. (except during my one weekend upcoming trip to Vegas that is). I realize that online gambling is done by a lot of people but I have too much riding on my day job to risk it.  If ANYONE was ever going to get caught, it would be me.  So I toe the line. What you do on your own time is up to you. I don't offer legal advice. (or gaming advice for that matter).

That said, I have a handful of games that I'm looking at for week number 1.  Given the relative weakness of the schedule (and the fact that I'm mute on Michigan games) it took a lot to come up with Five.

1. North Carolina @ South Carolina (-2)  - I realize that the consensus opinion on the Gamecocks is that they are not going to be any good.  That said, I still think they have way more talent than North Carolina in any given season.  I say lay the Gamecocks to cover at home.

2. Oklahoma State (-23.5) @ Central Michigan - Let's be clear here. Central Michigan is not going to be very good.  That said I'm not 100% convinced the Cowboys are either.  23 1/2 feels like a HUGE number for the Pokes to score on air given their recent history. I'd fire at Central Michigan to cover, but conservatively.  In other words (if I had one) this would not be my SLAM 5-star special.  Hell, it probably wouldn't even get a full star.  But I do think CMU has a pretty decent chance to cover.

3. [2]TCU (-17) @ Minnesota - This is a classic "top team vs. the B1G Early in the Season" game.  And the B1G never seems to do well in these.  I like Coach Kill quite a bit but I like Coach Patterson better.  Again, not a Million Star special but I feel pretty confident the Horned Frogs are going to lay one on the Gophers here.  TCU to cover. Given this line move to 17 I'm not as confident in the ability of TCU to cover. This feels like a 2 TD game to me.  That said, I'm not altering my pick of TCU to cover but it's made with much less confidence than before.

4. Washington @ [23] Boise State (-12) - I think Washington is a fringe contender in the PAC-12 this year and I think Boise State is a program that's taking a step back.  What I see here is a tight, competitive game against two teams that probably should be ranked in the Top 25 at season's end.  What I don't see is Boise State running away with it.  I'd say fade Boise and take the underdog here.  I might even say on the ML if you're brave and willing to absorb some risk.

5. [15]Arizona State vs. Texas aTm (-3.5) - I guess I could see this line were the game played in College Station. It's not, it's played right down the road in Houston but I think AZ State fans will travel OK and will lessen the cacophony that is the aTm crowd.  The Aggies will still be loud, but AZ State will at least see some friendly faces in the lower bowl.  Add to that the fact that I think AZ State is a certified PAC-12 contender, and that the PAC-12 is catching the SEC in terms of overall quality, and I'm not very comfortably saying to sprinkle a small amount on the Devils on the ML.  Not to cover. To win, straight up. I have a lot of aTm friends who hope I'm very wrong about this.

Other games (no play)

 - Louisville @ [6] Auburn (-10.5) - As much as I thought about including this game there's the Bobby Petrino factor that kept me away.  I will say this. I think Auburn is one of the more overrated teams in the country this year and that you'll end up making more money on the fade from them then you will laying them with the points.  Offensively they're going to be pretty bad. Defensively?  Pretty great.

 - Virginia @ [13]UCLA (-20) - Just too big a number here from a team who's bringing a lot back, but is replacing a lot as well, at key positions.  Don't get me wrong, the Wahoos are going to be awful (again) but I'm not sure UCLA is going to be the top PAC-12 team everyone seems to think.

 - UTEP @ [18]Arkansas (-33) - Everything about these teams suggests that Arkansas should wipe the floor with the Miners.  But by 5 TD's?  I can see 34-10 but I could also see 45-0.  When you don't have a clear handicap......pass.

 - BYU @ Nebraska (-7) - If anything, I'd lay BYU here on the ML to pull an upset.  But it's in Omaha, where the Huskers are much, much tougher. You also have a new HC so there are a lot of unknowns there.  Pass.  But I'll be keeping my eye on BYU because I think they're a pretty solid team this year.

 - Sam Houston State @ Texas Tech (NL) - There's no line on this game but it would not surprise me to see SHSU either hang with, or upset what is turning out to be a pretty awful Tech team under "our coach is hotter than yours".

 - Akron @ [19]Oklahoma (-31.5) - This is another one that, were I in Vegas, I might throw a little money toward the underdog but I don't like it enough to put it in my four.  I think OU is due a step-back here and I think Akron will be very good, for the MAC.  What I don't know is how OU's QB play will be and whether or not Stoops is running on fumes.  Pass.

 - Texas @ [11]Notre Dame (-9)  - My gut says Irish to cover at home, but handicapping the game I think Texas has a real chance.  IF they can find average QB play, something they couldn't do last year. Until they show that one way or the other I'm passing on Texas.

 - Georgia Southern @ West Virginia (-19.5) - Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz is the best coach you've never heard of.  If I knew more about both of these teams I'd be willing to lay money on GS to cover.  To be honest, I haven't had the chance to read a whole lot so I'm passing.  Don't be surprised to se Georgia Southern on my list of 4 or 5 in the weeks to come.

 - [20]Wisconsin vs. [3]Alabama (-12.5) Another season opening "neutral site" game that really isn't. (Alabama will have a decided advantage) against two pretty good teams who have something to prove.  Wisconsin needs to show that last year's demolition at the hands of the Buckeyes was a fluke and Alabama wants to prove that they are still the top-dog in the SEC.  I think 'Bama wins, but I can't figure out if I like them well enough to win by more than a touchdown, two point conversion and a field goal.

 - [1]Ohio State (-14) @ Virginia Tech - Two things work in the Buckeye's favor this year.  1. They're full of confidence and 2. They're not going to be breaking in a new QB.  Still, the game is in Blacksburg which carries with it a good homefield advantage.  I don't see any path to victory for the Hokies like I did last year, but I don't see Ohio State running over them either.  My problem is I have the spread somewhere around 10-14 in my head. That's a sign to move to the next game.

And finally.....

Michigan @ Utah (-6) - I have two betting rules. First, I won't buy a betting service. You can come close to .500 (or slightly higher) just by doing a little research and watching the games. There is no "inside information" that can let you "bet the games like they've already been played." Anyone telling you that is a liar.  My second rule is that I NEVER bet on Michigan.  As in ever.  Yes, they are my team and yes I'm a fan but I cannot disassociate my fandom from my investment strategy.  That said...It's a shame that the first win of the Harbaugh era is not going to happen at the Big House, but in Utah.  Go Blue!!!!

Remember, if you're looking to this blog for betting advice go have your head examined. I'm an accountant who happens to be a gambler who happens to really, really like college football.  This blogging lets me feel like I'm indulging in all three of those areas without running afoul of the stupid, overly-strict, gambling prohibitions that are present in Texas and the United States.  This is also a long-form experiment to see if I can make it to .500 (or round about) on a consistent basis.

Kick off for the FBS is Thursday.  Make sure you don't get closed out.

(On another note. Congratulations to the Montana Grizzlies for upsetting the NDSU Bison in an outstanding kick-off to the FCS season.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gambling options for Texans: Las Vegas (The LINQ)

Continuing an intermittent series that I started here.

The following is a fairly comprehensive look at casino gambling options for people who reside in the State of Texas.  Now that the 84th Legislature has completed, and Tillman Fertitta has completed the Golden Nugget: Lake Charles, the expectation is that casino gambling is a long-way from coming to our State, if ever.  Of course, that doesn't mean you don't have options if you want to get your gambling on, only that each of them have plusses and minuses that should be considered.Introduction

Louisiana Part I: Lake Charles
Louisiana Part II: Other Options close to Houston

Las Vegas Part 1: The LINQ

Over on the other blog, the non-gambling one, I posted a review of my trip to The LINQ at Las Vegas.  Here I wanted to expound a little bit further on the gaming options at the Casino, and speak further on the scourge that is 6/5 blackjack and why it's creating problems for the serious player.

General Gaming Feel.

First off, I liked the layout of the LINQ, especially in the pit areas where the tables did not feel too closely packed together. I also liked the friendliness of the dealers, who seemed to be genuinely rooting for the players to win. (As they should, because they get tipped more when we do)  I was a little surprised, on a Saturday night, to find most of the black-jack tables set at $10-$25 limits as this seemed low. Although I think one of the larger errors most casinos make is to have 4-5 dealers standing alone at a $100 table while the $10-$25 tables are jam packed, sometimes with waiting lines 2-3 deep.

A little more detail. (Thanks to Wizard of Odds for the numbers below)


As I stated earlier, there were several tables available offering $10-$25 per hand blackjack. Unfortunately, every one that I could find was 6/5 instead of the much more reasonable 3-2 payout for 21.  All of the tables also had the unfortunate rule that the dealer must hit on soft 17. Combined these two house-advantage rules increase the house "edge" by 1.5%. It brings a six-deck table from around a ,5% house edge to around 1.9% house edge, if you play perfect strategy. It also seemed that doubling on any card was not allowed, which would further bring the house edge up over 2% and it was unclear (since I only watched but didn't play) whether or not doubles were allowed after splitting.  If they're not the house edge for these games were a ridiculous 2.218% which is at the low end of what you can expect to find in Las Vegas.

The worst rule in all of these is the 6/5 payout for 21, which increases the house edge almost 1.4% HUGELY detrimental to the player attempting to use basic strategy. For the casual player (who plays against a house edge that is much, much higher) the effect is catastrophic. I'm not sure if it's possible to calculate the effect of 6/5, hit on soft 17 and all of the other rules above with hunch-play but I'm guessing the house edge would be well North of 15%, possibly even close to 20%.  I would think on 3/2 that would lower down to 10%-15% because of the power of blackjack.

As I did on the other blog, I'll repeat this plea:


The only way to stop this practice if for everyone to stop rewarding it.

Three Card Poker

When all of the blackjack is 6/5 my go-to table game of choice is 3-card poker.  Compared to the blackjack edge above the 3-card edge of roughly 3.5%-4.5% is fairly tame when you consider the higher payouts for a good hand. If you're playing on a short-session strategy you can come out ahead in this game just by hitting one of the premium hands.

All of the Caesar's properties play a version of 3-card called "Million Dollar 3-card". In summary, there's a Million dollar payout for a six-card royal flush suited Diamonds.  That would be A-K-Q-J-10-9 D. Amazingly, there was a lady at O'Shea's casino that hit this recently.  Talking to the bartender she took home around $675K after taxes, and they paid her in chips.  There's also a $100K payout for a 6-card royal in any other suit, and a 1000-1 payout for a straight (non-royal) flush in any suit. I came one card away from hitting this (frustratingly). The house edge on a $5 bet on this number is around 18%.

When I first started playing 3-card I almost always played the 6-card bonus. In all cases the house edge for this best is over 15%, but at the Total Rewards casinos, with the edge over 18, I abstained from placing that bet. As a matter of fact, it's been a while since I've placed this bet once I started gaining a basic understanding of the house edge. Whether or not you do is up to you. This is not like blackjack where the rules are horrible, you have the option of playing this or no. If you don't, there is no penalty to you. (Unless you would have hit the jackpot, that's a risk/reward analysis you'd have to make)

One final item: Do not let the dealers try to guilt you into playing any bet you don't want to. If they want to play the 6-card bet and try for the Million then they can go to a casino themselves and lay down their own money.  Of course they want you to win big, because they perceive a better tip for themselves, but they have no risk in the game and their betting advice should be ignored.

Other table games

I don't play any of the other games below but I did see Let it Ride, Blackjack Switch, Four Card Poker, Casino War, Pai Gow Poker, Crazy 4 Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold-em and Baccarat (mini).

Of course, the casino also had Craps, Roulette, and Big Six (Which, in my opinion, you should never play).

Video Poker

When pressed, my game of choice is video poker. At the LINQ (and most other strip casinos) the pay tables are pretty bad.  For the most part I found the payouts on the Strip to be middling, at best. Most Strip casinos these days offer 7/5 Jack's or Better, 9/5 Double Bonus and 8/5 Double Double Bonus poker.

Despite those fairly weak pay tables video poker is still one of the best values for money on the Strip when gambling.  With the advent of the "Casino Groups" (MLife, Total Rewards) most video poker odds are now fairly standard.  You can still find some very good odds on Fremont Street, but the corporations are running things on the Strip, gambling revenues are falling, so they're looking for ways to increase their edge across all games.


Early on in it's life, World Casino Index ranked the gambling at the LINQ as "among the worst in Las Vegas". I will say that this has improved a little bit, but (sadly) not because the LINQ has improved, but because the rest of the Strip has raced to the bottom.  Where the LINQ used to be unique in short-paying blackjack now almost all strip casinos do.  The LINQ is also very limited in their high-end betting options (if you are that type of gambler) and many of their rules and pay tables are on the south-end of what's good for the player. Were I playing blackjack I'd recommend taking my money to casinos off the Strip, but for 3-card poker and other games I think the LINQ is just fine.

For serious gamblers, take your action off the Strip to Fremont Street. You're going to find better odds, and better games, North rather than South.  For the casual gambler who understands a little bit about basic strategy and odds?  You can still do just fine playing short gambling sessions at the LINQ and other Strip casinos provided you keep disciplined in your betting strategy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Texas Horse and Dog Racing: Out with a whimper.

With news out today that the Texas Racing Commission is taking public testimony for it's future life, a quick read of the tea-leaves is ominous.

Follow Live: Texas Racing Commission to decide on historical racing. Austin American-Statesman

he members of the Texas Racing Commission are scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to repeal historical racing, a form of electronic gambling in which bettors electronically wager on already-run races that have been stripped of all identifying markers. The political fight over the issue has pitted conservative lawmakers against the Texas Racing Commission, and threatens to shut down a multibillion-dollar industry.

I think calling the Texas racing industry "a multi-Billion" dollar industry is a little bit of a stretch. The industry has been struggling almost from its inception due to some critical errors made by the lobby when pushing for the enabling legislation.  First, they never understood just how critical the presence of slot-machines in casinos would be to long-term viability.  With neighboring states (Louisiana and Oklahoma) having those options means that their racing is far superior to Texas in terms of purses and quality of participants.

Another problem Texas racing backers had was their deference to the Texas Quarter Horse Association. In short, Texas racing was created to feature that organization. It limited the number of thoroughbred races tracks could feature and forced them to hold a certain percentage of racing featuring quarter horses.

The big problem with that?  The general public (those people in Texas who would be interested in horse racing) could care less about the short sprints.

Another problem with Texas approach is that Remington in Oklahoma, already is a regional hub for the better quarter horses and has higher purses and is a better track. There's little reason for trainers to run in Texas for lesser money with lesser exposure.

So, how bad is it in Texas?  So bad that the pathetic thoroughbred program at Delta Downs (which, really, is a quarter horse track, outshines what should be the best thoroughbred program in Texas at Sam Houston.

As a matter of fact, I would argue that the single, best feature of Texas horse racing is the turf track in Houston. It's one of the better tracks in the nation but it has been wasted on low-purse races that should have been main events.  The Connally Turf Handicap is a great race that has, from time to time, featured some great turf horses. It's been wasted in recent years however as purses have dropped to low levels and management has been at a loss as to how it should be handled.

For all of the moaning and bitching about how "some conservative legislators" are trying to kill Texas horse and dog racing, the two groups have done plenty, by themselves, to do it already.

1. Lack of betting options. - Most tracks never did anything to promote their Pick 3's and Pick 4's. There have never been any serious guarantees provided to support off-track interest and therefore the pools were low.

2. Poor promotion. - Since the high-point of Texas racing, the 2004 hosting of the Breeder's Cup by Lone Star Park there's not been a single moment that has defined the industry.  Texas thoroughbreds are considered sub-standard by the rest of the country, and (in large part to their limited racing schedules) don't field serious contenders in any of the big races to draw interest.

3. Poor breeding/Training  - Texas' biggest star (Houston Based Steve Assmussen) has spent more time on suspension or fighting suspension for illegal drugging, than he has winning races. Beyond that there's no-one in Texas racing that has any national stroke.

4. Poor track management. - Andrea Young of Sam Houston seems like a nice lady, but she also seems more intent on turning Sam Houston into a concert venue than a horse racing track.  Granted, some of this is probably due to the poor state of racing in Texas, but when she took over the decline of the industry hadn't fully taken hold, so while she brings up some good points her hands are not entirely clean. The other tracks in Texas seem lost as well.

Add all of this up and you get to where we are today, a place where the tracks would rather keep historical racing, have the Texas Racing Commission de-funded by Sen. Jane Nelson and crew, and die a quick death rather than to continue their sorry state

And it appears that they've gotten their wish. So the State Senate will now zero out funding to the Texas Racing Commission and we'll see what the courts have to say.

The most telling thing about how irrelevant all of this is?  The general public doesn't care.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tonight (08/11/2015)

Football is BACK!!!

College Football Conference by Conference: One change. (08/11/2015)

Quick post on Georgia Tech @ Notre Dame:

When I first reviewed this game I mistook that it was being played in Atlanta.  After a second look I see that it is in fact being played in South Bend.  Because of that I am changing my call on this game and selecting Notre Dame as the winner.

This changes the two school's predicted finish as follows:

Notre Dame   10 - 2

Georgia Tech  9 - 3  (Still 7-1 Conference)

I predict this will move Notre Dame up to sixth in the final rankings.  If TCU falls however, I could envision a scenario where they jump Virginia Tech and land the 4th CFP spot.

At that point they will be summarily demolished by Ohio State in the National semi-final on New Year's Eve.

I'm also taking a hard look at Texas aTm's schedule because I think 5-7 is low for them.  Maybe I revise it possibly not.

NFL Season Preview: Changes to predictions based on new information (08/11/2015) - UPDATED

A LOT of injury and new information has me re-evaluating (as I said would happen, and making the following changes.....

AFC South: (Downward revision to Texans record)

After the injury to Arian Foster, and the appearance that he will be on the shelf for quite some time) I now have the Division rated as follows.....

1. Indianapolis  14 - 2 (No changes)
2. Houston  6 - 10 (2 games downward revision)
3. Tennessee 4 - 12 (1 game downward revision)
4. Jacksonville 3 - 13 (1 game downward revision)

While it's true the Texans have an easy schedule, I had to take away two wins (over Mimi and Buffalo) due to the fact that Foster will be on the shelf for those games and I just don't see them scoring against NFL caliber defenses all that much.

AFC East: (Mass shake-up)

I took another look at the Dolphin's roster, since my initial impression of it seemed to be way more negative than most every other pundit, and I made the following changes.

1. New England  13 - 3 (No changes)
2. Miami  9 - 7 (6 game upward revision - 1st team out of playoffs)
3. NY Jets 7 - 9 (2 game downward revision)
4. Buffalo 6 - 10 (1 game downward revision)

For now, I think Miami is a much better team than I originally gave them credit for. I'm still not a fan of head coach Philbin, and I think that 9-7 is this team's ceiling, but I do think they'll be better than what I first thought.

There are some other minor record tweaks but nothing that shakes up the standings that I originally posted. My playoff teams stay the same as do my results.

Hard Knocks is tonight, where I think we will begin to see just how big of a mess the Texans are on offense right now.

Update: Apparently Geno Smith is out for 6-10 weeks after being sucker punched in the locker room by a teammate.

I have already downgraded the Jets, I'm not sure if I'll downgrade them further at this point.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

NFL Season Preview: The first revision is coming (AFC South)

When I did my season preview posts I stated that there is a high probability that some fine-tuning (i.e. revisions) could be forthcoming.  As evidence of that, I present the following:

Arian Foster Possibly out for majority of 2015 season.


It was rumored that the Texans were going to take a look at former Saints RB Pierre Thomas, however, based on a tweet from Thomas' agent the two sides "couldn't come to terms".

This leaves the Texans RB situation in flux, and my prediction that they would finish the season 8-8 on shaky ground.  Of course, this will also impact other teams records as well.  Add to that the fact that I'm having second thoughts regarding my prediction the Miami Dolphins are in for a free-fall and I could be making some fairly major "tweaks".

One thing is for sure, I'm going to revise the Texans downward and the Dolphins upward. I'm just not sure how far each team is going to move.

Not that any of this matters.  Because if you're looking to an oil and gas accountant for betting advice (albeit free) then you've got bigger fish to fry than my projections.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

College Football Playoffs: Finishing the Top-tier on a Saturday

Part One: The Big Ten (All fourteen teams)

Part Two: The Big Twelve (All Ten teams)

Part Three: SEC (Paul Finebaum's opinion excluded)

Part Four: The Pac12 (Finally, a conference that can count)

Part Five: The College Football Playoffs

Now that I've spent way too much time looking at the conferences, let's take a little time to make projections for the College Football Playoffs....

Here's how I see the top 4:

1. Ohio State 12-0
2. Georgia 11-1
3. USC 12-0
4. TCU 12-0

On the outside looking in will be the ACC in the person of Virginia Tech.

In the first round I have Ohio State beating TCU, and USC beating Georgia.  This should set-up a match-up of football blue-bloods when Ohio State beats USC giving Urban Meyer a 2nd straight CFP championship and continues the blood-boiling of Florida fans.

Next-up, the 2nd Division Conferences who have no chance of playing in the Playoffs, but continue to hope beyond hope that they get included in the dance regardless.

I'll start this look on Monday, hopefully finishing up by Friday.

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