FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff continued to express optimism about the progress of contract talks with Julio Jones, without putting a timetable on reaching a new deal with the star wide receiver.
Jones reported to training camp Monday without a new contract. The six-time Pro Bowler said in the offseason he trusted team owner Arthur Blank’s word when Blank said a deal would be completed in a matter of time.
Jones spent the first two days of training camp primarily rehabbing on the side following a minor offseason foot procedure [bunion removal]. Coach Dan Quinn emphasized that Jones not being a full participant in practice has to do with rehabbing, not the contract talks.
“We have the utmost faith that Julio is coming here and he’s taking care of his business while he’s here, and we’ll keep plugging away with [Jones’ agent] Jimmy [Sexton],” Dimitroff told ESPN on Tuesday. “We have a very good working relationship and respect for Jimmy Sexton and CAA, and I’m confident [the deal] will get done.”
Jones has two years and $21 million left on his contract. The Falcons renegotiated his current deal last year, netting Jones an extra $2.9 million for 2018. He signed the renegotiated deal on July 27.
Dimitroff addressed the possibility of Jones’ camp waiting to see what happens with contracts for other top wide receivers, such as Michael Thomas from the New Orleans Saints. The market could soar up to $20 million per year, which would make it logical for Jones to want to wait and see. Cleveland’s Odell Beckham Jr. currently leads the way at $18 million per year, while Jones stands 12th at $14.25 million.
“I understand that, from a business standpoint,” Dimitroff said of waiting for the market to be set. “Do I agree with it necessarily? That’s not for me to argue about.”
Dimitroff also acknowledged language in the collective bargaining agreement which states how a player’s contract cannot be renegotiated to increase the salary from the original terms for a period of 12 months after the most recent renegotiation. A source explained to ESPN that such would apply in Jones’ case (from July 27) if his aggregate cap number over the next two years in a new deal exceeds the current aggregate cap number of $26,359,334 for 2019, 2020.
However, Dimitroff was cautious not to point to the CBA rule as the holdup in contract talks.
“It would make it more free-flowing to negotiate outside of the year with the guidelines,” Dimitroff said. “That’s not to say that’s why we’re not getting something done right at this moment. I’m saying logically stated that, of course, [the rule] can play into it. But I do not want to answer for Jimmy Sexton.”
Sexton could not be reached for comment regarding the status of negotiations.
Overall, Dimitroff feels confident about how talks have progressed and how Jones has handled the matter with professionalism.
“Julio’s been nothing but great with us over the years,” Dimitroff said. “Even last year, when it got a little bit dusty during that time, we were able to sit down and work through it. I thought we worked through it cleanly.
“We understand being the highest-paid receiver in the NFL. And the fact that Julio is approaching it the way he is is appreciated. That said, we expect nothing less from Julio Jones, one of our main leaders on this team.”
The Falcons reached pre-training camp deals with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones. Jarrett, who received the franchise tag, signed a four-year, $68 million deal with $42.5 million guaranteed. Deion Jones signed a four-year, $57 million deal with $34 million guaranteed.
I know Odell Beckham Jr. wants to be here
“I think he wants to be here,” Landry said. “I know he wants to be here.”
Sunday morning, Fox Sports reported during its NFL pregame show that Beckham has been telling opposing players and coaches before games, “come get me” out of Cleveland.
Beckham, who declined comment on the report after Cleveland’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals, had fueled speculation days earlier, when he was vague about his future with the Browns beyond the 2019 season.
“No one knows what the future holds, like tomorrow,” Beckham said then, when asked if he wanted to be in Cleveland next year. “I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen.”
Landry, one of Beckham’s closest friends dating back to when the two played together at LSU, was more definitive, even joking that he would “beat his a–” if Beckham was confiding in other people and not him.
“He doesn’t want to leave and he’s not trying to leave,” Landry said.
Beckham has gone seven consecutive games without topping 100 receiving yards, the longest such streak of his career. He has also been playing through a hip and groin injury, which has hampered how much he can practice during the week and limited his explosiveness in games.
“It’s not even about trying to go somewhere else,” Landry said. “I think for him, he’s been a leader, he’s a guy that comes to work every day, he’s a guy that’s playing through injuries, all the things you want out of a player. Inside of this organization, he has a voice, he has responsibility to himself, to all of us, to go out there and compete each and every Sunday and he does that.”
Beckham has only two touchdowns, as he and quarterback Baker Mayfield have struggled to find a consistent connection in their first year together. Mayfield defended Beckham after Sunday’s game, saying that the injury “wasn’t handled right” by the team’s training staff (Mayfield later apologized and said he didn’t intend “to throw our medical staff under the bus”).
Wednesday, Mayfield was also asked if he thinks Beckham wants to be in Cleveland long-term.
“I can’t answer that for him,” Mayfield said. “I mean, there’s all the rumors going around. But I have my conversations with him and I know what we talk about, so I trust him wholeheartedly.”
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s namesakes include babies, puppies and a pig
BALTIMORE — This city’s love for Justin Tucker began with … a pig?
In 2012, Tucker was a relatively unknown kicker locked in a battle with Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff. Tucker went undrafted coming out of Texas, but the Baltimore Ravens were intrigued by his strong leg and even stronger self-confidence. He received no signing bonus or any guarantee of a long-term future.
By mid-August, Tucker had surprisingly won the kicking job with an impressive training camp and preseason. The Ravens didn’t know they’d just discovered the most accurate kicker in NFL history, and Tucker had no clue how quickly fans would gravitate toward him.
Around the same time, Jamie Rash and his wife made a decision that would change their lives. His brother-in-law had picked up a Vietnamese potbellied pig from someone at a Georgia truck stop, then realized he couldn’t properly care for it. He was going to drop off the pig at an animal shelter or a farm until someone spoke up.
“What are we going to do with a pig?” Rash asked.
“Save his life,” his wife responded.
Rash and his wife are lifelong animal lovers but they had never owned a pig. They did have the land and resources to rescue one. There was just another challenge, unbeknownst to this endangered breed of domestic swine. What do you call your new pig?
“I wanted to pick a Ravens name for someone who was going to be around for a while,” Rash said. “Tucker was killing it in the preseason. I was like, ‘That’s his name!'”
Rash took in Tucker the pig when he was 4 months old and, at 12 pounds, severely malnourished. The black-haired, large-sagging-bellied pet, who now weighs the same as his namesake at 190 pounds, waddles over with his short legs when someone yells “Tucker.” He’ll even open his mouth when asked to smile. At night, he plops down right next to Rash’s bed, on a couple of cushions that were saved from an old couch.
Tucker the kicker has rewarded that faith, establishing himself as the best in NFL history. His winning kicks have put the Ravens (11-2) in position to clinch the AFC North title with a victory over the New York Jets (5-9) on Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox).
Baltimore’s devotion to Tucker goes beyond his 90.6% percent success rate, which ranks No. 1 all time. Fans are drawn to his booming personality. They’ve watched social media videos of him beautifully singing opera, belting out “Ave Maria” inside a Catholic cathedral and of 3-year-old son Easton splitting the uprights in the backyard, and seen Tucker, in person, kicking at a local city park where children help him shag footballs.
Tucker the pig has never met the three-time All-Pro kicker because, well, you try getting him into a vehicle. Rash, though, has showed the real Tucker a picture at an autograph signing.
“That’s just crazy!” Tucker responded when coming face-to-snout with the photo before hastily trying to clarify. “You’re not crazy, but that’s just crazy.”
At a time when even the great Adam Vinatieri has struggled to save his job, Tucker’s spot in Baltimore sports lore is even more remarkable. His No. 9 jerseys are everywhere at Ravens games, and Tucker has reached folk-hero status.
Just listen to the steady stream of Ravens fans who’ve named their dogs, cats, kids and, yes, at least one pig, after a kicker who has produced the most field goals (260) and has scored the most points (1,068) in the NFL over the past eight seasons.
“It’s unbelievable,” Tucker said last week. “To even be in the conversation of having a kid named after me is wild. It’s certainly something I don’t take lightly. With that comes great responsibility.”
In 2014, Heather Bronson told her husband, who is a Dallas Cowboys fan, that he could name their son if he quit smoking by Oct. 1. When he was unable to do so, Bronson looked at different names until her search ended at the Ravens’ Oct. 19 home game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Sitting in the first row behind the goalposts, Bronson heard the kicker’s name over the speakers when he took the field to kick an extra point. She immediately called her husband.
“He’s going to be named Tucker Bronson,” Heather said.
Her husband started laughing. “It sounds like a weatherman,” he said.
Bronson was due in January, but she had full-blown contractions on Dec. 9.
“I didn’t even care that my kid was going to be a month early,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to have a baby and it’s going to be on Justin Tucker’s jersey number.'”
The baby eventually arrived on Dec. 29. And now, approaching his fifth birthday, he gets it.
“Every time he sees No. 9, he’s like ‘Tucker!'” Bronson said.
Brandon Paul and his girlfriend were inspired more recently. On Sunday, Oct. 6, when their son was born at 3:30 a.m., they hadn’t decided on a name.
Just a little over 12 hours later, Paul was watching Tucker kick a 46-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on the hospital television.
“I was like, ‘Wait, Camden Tucker, that works,'” Paul said. “It’s the name. It’s Justin Tucker because he’s greatness.”
For Paul Lewis, his Tucker was just the latest display of his passion for the Ravens.
Lewis and his wife were married on May 15, Ray Lewis’ birthday, and their daughter is named Taylor Rae Lewis. When their dog died five days before the 2012 Super Bowl, they had him cremated and rushed back in time so he could be with them for the big game.
When they learned they were going to have a son, they didn’t discuss any boy name other than Tucker.
“He’s one of our favorite players of all time,” Lewis said. “Everyone asks if he’s named after Justin Tucker, and we’re like, ‘Of course!'”
When Janet Lally was looking for a name for her English Labrador four years ago, she went with Tucker, hoping some of the kicker’s traits would show up in the pup.
“I wanted my dog to be friendly and work hard,” Lally said. “To me, I thought it would be an ideal name for my dog.”
This Tucker is a service dog who is an ambassador for Rebuilding Warriors, which provides highly trained companions to veterans who are amputees as well as those with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Tucker has met this namesake dog twice and posed for pictures with him.
“The cutest part was the first thing he said, ‘Oh my God, he’s got on my jersey,'” Lally said.
Four years ago, Terry Moore was rescuing her fourth Doberman and had her mind set on another Ravens name.
“I was going to call him Suggs [after linebacker Terrell Suggs], and I saw him,” Moore said. “I said, ‘Oh no, he can’t be Suggs. He’s Tucker. Look at those long legs.'”
Moore is a season-ticket holder whose family room is painted purple. That’s where she has all of her autographed jerseys, helmets and photos on the wall.
“When people come in, they ask my husband, they say, ‘Oh man, I love your collection, and he tells them it’s not his, it’s his wife’s,'” Terry said. “Everyone knows I’m a Ravens person. What else would I name my dog, you know?”
Cindy Gardner’s husband calls her “the Ravens maniac.” Every room in their West Virginia home has a Ravens item in it. She makes Ravens wreaths and Ravens blankets.
When she got her Pomeranian three years ago, the breeder kept calling him Blackie. Cindy told him the dog’s name was Tucker.
“When Tucker came on the scene and we saw how he was saving all the games with his kicks, we knew he was good,” Gardner said. “I became a great big Tucker fan.”
Jenn Holste wanted to name a yellow Labrador “Mosley” a year ago after the Baltimore middle linebacker at the time, but she was overruled by her son and daughter.
“The kids tell Tucker to come sit next to them because he’s lucky,” Holste said. “If the Ravens are having, like, a bad stretch, that’s just, like, the lucky charm. I don’t know what’s going to happen if [the dog] turns out not to be, but they swear by it right now.”
Sandy Popp’s first date with her future husband was at a Ravens game. For her wedding gift, he put Sandy’s name on the waiting list for season tickets.
Six years ago, they got a mixed-breed dog, which led to a compromise.
“… I got to choose the dog’s name and he got to name our daughter,” Popp said.
Their daughter is Lily, and their dog …
“I’m just a huge fan of Justin Tucker,” she said. “He just seems to be very much into the community, and I love that.” Her husband then yells, “Hall of Fame!”
This year, Tucker and his family made Baltimore their full-time home after splitting time between the city and Texas, where he grew up and played at the University of Texas.
“This community has embraced me,” Tucker said. “It’s really important that we reciprocate and show love back.”
During preparation for Super Bowl XLVII in February 2013, fans approached Tucker in the lobby of his New Orleans hotel. He spent over an hour signing autographs and taking pictures.
“I remember how humble he was,” said Bronson, who witnessed this before naming her son Tucker. “That kind of stuck with me.”
Fans will come up and shake Tucker’s hands whether he’s walking around town or eating dinner. It’s not something he shies away from.
In Baltimore — whether it’s a yellow Lab or toddlers or a 190-pound pig — that love extends from one Tucker to the next.
‘I thought I was Rain Man’
LAS VEGAS — This is not your typical Friday night on the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.
The Professional Bull Riders World Championships are in town, drawing record crowds. Instead of the classic tones of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, country music blares in front of the New York-New York hotel and casino on The Strip. Vests and button-down, long-sleeve shirts, tucked into tight-fitting jeans with showcase belts, are en vogue. Canned beer and cowboy hats are everywhere, as PBR fans mill around outside T-Mobile Arena ahead of the quarterfinal round.
Little do they know that an imposter is on his way: a 44-year-old professional gambler who is in disguise and on a mission to beat the town’s bookmakers. But the gig is almost up: The longtime wise-guy hustle he’s trying to pull off tonight is on its last leg, and a staple of American sports betting could be on its way out.
Just before 7 p.m., a man pulls up in front of New York-New York in a red Ford with South Dakota plates. It’s his buddy’s car, he says. We’ll call him Cowboy Erik. Tan and stocky with the broad shoulders of a competitive tennis player, he has a short, graying beard and hair to match. He sounds like a vulgar sports-talk radio host from the East Coast. But he isn’t.
His outfit for the night looks familiar: vest, button-down, long-sleeve shirt and jeans, with a cowboy hat in the back seat. He’s hoping to fool the sportsbooks into thinking he’s a naïve, happy-go-lucky tourist in town for a rootin’-tootin’ good time.
However, given his untucked shirt and tennis shoes, it’s kind of a poor disguise. Ten years ago, he went all-out: big belt buckle, cowboy boots and his best Wyoming accent. It’s not worth it anymore.
Indeed, for this pretend cowboy, tonight might be one of his last rides on what for decades has been a moneymaking train: parlay cards.
Long considered a sucker bet — and they are for most of us — professional bettors such as Cowboy Erik have been beating parlay cards for decades. But the edge is diminishing, and the hassle is increasing.
“This may be the last year I do this,” he says to me before he steps on the gas and we speed off into the Vegas night.
Parlay cards — the hard-copy, pencil-and-paper betting sheets — have been commonplace at sportsbooks and, more on the down low, at some local taverns for a century. They gained popularity in early 1900s and were many Americans’ first bet, their foray into sports betting.
Traditionally, at sportsbooks in casinos, parlay cards are long and skinny, about the length of a ruler and width of a cocktail napkin. The week’s games are listed on the cards with the coinciding odds. To win, you have to make multiple picks and get them all right. If you do, you’re treated to payout odds that are normally less than your actual chances of nailing every one of your picks individually.
Here’s how noted gambling expert, author and MIT graduate Ed Miller sums up your odds of hitting a three-leg parlay in his latest book “The Logic of Sports Betting”:
“Assuming you have no ability to pick good bets, and your bets are all independent of one another, your chance of winning each 50-50 bet is about 50%. That gives the chance that you win all three bets as 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.125 or 12.5%.”
Over time, you should hit one out of every eight of your “lock” three-teamers. Unfortunately, the typical payout on a three-teamer is 6-1. That’s not great, but it’s also not unbeatable for the savvy gambler.
Here’s how the pros beat the parlay cards:
• The physical cards are printed early in the week, often on Tuesdays, with the point spreads for the games available at that time. Sportsbooks normally put out the cards on Thursday mornings.
• This is key: The point spreads on the cards don’t change, even if an impactful player (such as a quarterback) is ruled out. For example, in Week 10, the Kansas City Chiefs were 3.5-point favorites over the Tennessee Titans on the parlay card, but the current line on the oddsboard had shifted to Chiefs -6. Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes‘ status for the game had been upgraded late in the week, after the cards were printed, causing the point spread to grow in favor of the Chiefs.
• Professional bettors wait until Friday night or Saturday morning to place their parlay bets. They can bet Tuesday’s lines with Friday’s information and build their parlay cards around the games with stale point spreads. For example, Chiefs -3.5 would be a play.
• Each point the spread on the parlay card differs from the up-to-date line improves the bettors’ odds. Load parlay cards up with enough of these games with stale numbers, and the odds can be flipped in your favor.
Easy enough, right? Not exactly.
Casinos aren’t built on letting advantage players such as Cowboy Erik bludgeon their bottom lines. Bookmakers fight back, sometimes eliminating games with stale numbers from being eligible to bet on the cards, requiring supervised approval for any cards over certain amounts or outright refusing to take the wagers altogether. It is perfectly legal for sportsbooks to refuse service to bettors. It doesn’t stop bettors from trying, though.
Sneaky bettors target the graveyard shift or wait until the Saturday morning rush to see if they can catch a ticket writer in a hurry. They’ll put in parlay cards for varying amounts just to see how much they can bet without having to go through the approval process. They like to hop around from one betting window to the next, testing ticket writers while employing techniques to distract them. Cowboy Erik, for example, has been known to bet a card and give it to the teller as a tip — anything to get on their good side.
It turns into a bookie-vs.-bettor, cat-and-mouse game that some sportsbooks no longer want to play. Ultimately, it might spell the end of the traditional parlay card, leaving wiseguys with one fewer hustle in their repertoire.
Cowboy Erik in action
Cowboy Erik drives quickly and aggressively. He boasts of knowing the quickest routes from one Las Vegas sportsbook to the next and the best parking spots to get in and out of casinos efficiently.
He’s single, and his dog, Wimbledon, normally rides shotgun on his adventures. Tonight, Cowboy Erik is stuck with me.
The first stop is the South Point Casino, an off-the-strip joint with a popular 24-hour sportsbook. Cowboy hat on, Erik strolls past a renowned hot dog cart and moseys over to a side wall next to the betting counter where the parlay cards are. He grabs a dozen cards and heads to the back bar to get to work.
For 15 minutes, he scours the numbers, comparing the point spreads on the cards to the current lines at an influential offshore sportsbook on his phone.
Southern Cal is a 1.5-point underdog to Arizona State on the card, but with buzz circulating that Sun Devils’ quarterback Jayden Daniels might miss the game, the Trojans are growing 1.5-point favorites on the up-to-date board. (Daniels will be ruled out Saturday, and the line will close at USC -4.5).
Cowboy Erik finds similar edges on Boise State, North Texas and Kentucky. He has a list of teams that he and his partners have handicapped: Boston College, Miami (Fla.), East Carolina, Northwestern, Michigan State and South Carolina. He’s pleased how many stale numbers there are on the card, and he narrows his list to 11 teams.
He lands on five parlays — three $80 three-teamers and two $40 10-teamers — with a mix of his picks on each card. He heads up to the counter, where a young female ticket writer greets him with a smile and begins the transaction.
The amounts are small enough that identification isn’t required. Once the bets are processed and accepted, the sportsbooks are prevented from rescinding them. But that doesn’t mean the books have to accept them.
Cowboy Erik has his money out and tries to play it cool. The teller looks at the computer screen, pauses and waves a supervisor over. Erik sighs.
After brief discussion, the supervisor accepts each of the three-teamers but only one of the 10-teamers.
“They said they didn’t want the other one,” Erik says, as he heads away from the counter, stopping to use a couple free drink tickets on bottles of water before hustling out of the casino.
“Always ask for drink tickets,” he notes.
The whole process takes 30 minutes, in and out, and then we’re off to the next target.
As he speeds out of the South Point parking lot, he swerves around a semi truck blocking an intersection, blindly flirting with oncoming traffic and running a red light. Time, of course, is money for the professional gambler.
At 7:50 p.m., Cowboy Erik flies into the parking lot at the Gold Coast casino, another off-the-strip local spot and his second stop on a brisk Friday night journey. He circles the parking garage and backs in to a prime spot.
The numbers on the parlay cards at Gold Coast are similar to those at South Point. Within a few minutes, he decides to attempt to put in four $50 four-teamers, featuring USC and North Texas among others at stale lines, and a $75 10-teamer.
The teller calls a supervisor, and Erik’s shoulders sink. The book declines to take any of the bets, saying the Southern Miss-North Texas game is no longer available to bet on the cards.
Erik scoffs, “Why even have them out then?” and angrily bolts out of the building.
The supervisor looks over at the ticket writer and says, “I could see cards going away soon.”
Erik hops in the car and grumbles, “That’s 2019 in a nutshell. It’s almost sad.”
A double-edged sword for bookmakers
Since 1992, $1.7 billion has been bet on parlay cards with Nevada sportsbooks, according to the UNLV Center for Gaming Research. The books have won a net $553 million on the cards. Comparatively, sportsbooks have won just 4.95% off $31.9 billion bet on football in the same timeframe. So why, with a cushy 30.7% margin on parlay cards, are the books so wary of them?
On any given Sunday, if the wiseguys are extra sneaky and games play out a certain way, the books could get crushed on the cards. It happened to the renowned SuperBook in Las Vegas this September.
“That’s the first time that we’ve taken a large hit [on parlay cards] since, I think, 2012,” said Jay Kornegay, a 30-plus-year Las Vegas veteran and the vice president at the SuperBook. “It’s been a long time.”
In Week 3 of the NFL season, a group of bettors slipped in more than 200 parlay cards featuring advantage sides at The SuperBook. For example, they had the Ravens +6 at Kansas City. The line closed at Chiefs -4.5. Kansas City won but didn’t cover 33-28. They mixed in a few college games and capped their cards with under 48 in the Rams-Browns game on Sunday night. Approximately 35 of the “ties win” cards hit — all 10-teamers at 550-1 odds — and the SuperBook suffered its worst Sunday loss in years.
Trying to figure out how it happened, Kornegay and his staff reviewed surveillance footage from previous days. They were able to identify a customer who submitted several of the advantage parlay cards before returning a few hours later, in a different shirt, to play more cards.
Cowboy Erik says it wasn’t him.
“There are some sharp guys out there who will take advantage of anything they can,” Kornegay said, “and certainly there are [a] group of them who will take advantage of those stale numbers on parlay cards. Over the years, we’ve taken precautions and measures to reduce that from happening.”
Bettors and sportsbooks have been playing this game for decades.
Vic Salerno, a Hall of Fame bookmaker now with US Bookmaking, said he had the limits on parlay cards set at $5 when he took a big hit in 2005. He responded by writing software that restricted the number of stale lines that would be accepted on a card.
“We had a weekend when a player played multiple $4 cards to stay under the limit and beat us out of nearly $50,000 playing all the games that had big moves,” Salerno recalled.
Cowboy Erik might have been in on the above score, he tells me with a wry smile.
‘I thought I was Rain Main’
While speeding down I-15, with the lit-up Vegas skyline on our right, Cowboy Erik tells good stories.
“The first time I came to Vegas, I was playing blackjack at Binion’s,” the Boston native says. “I felt like I won every hand, and the casino host offered to comp me dinner. I thought I was Rain Man.”
He moved to Las Vegas permanently in June 2004, spontaneously quitting his job in real estate and driving cross-country with his old dog, Gekko (after Gordon), in a black 2004 Lexus ES 300. He arrived as an experienced gambler and feasted on novices at the poker tables during his early years in town, but he openly admits that he was a “total square” when it came to sports betting and had lost his fair share on parlay cards to a local bookmaker back home. He was determined to make it as a professional gambler, though, if only to prove his doubters back East wrong.
By April 2005, 10 months after he moved to Las Vegas, he was flat broke and in need of a break. He got one when he stumbled into a professional betting syndicate that took him under its wing and taught him how to win.
Ahead of the 2005 football season, Cowboy Erik was at a barbecue with his new business partners and asked if there were any money in betting parlay cards.
“They told me we’re going to crush these things,” Erik recalls. “It was so matter of fact, and I always thought you couldn’t beat [them].”
The group had a handful of members. They split up duties and agreed upon set percentages of revenue. In a time before convenient mobile internet, one member would be responsible for staying home to monitor point spreads around the market and relaying the updated lines to the rest of the team, who were on the road bouncing from book to book.
In Week 2 of the 2005 NFL season, Erik’s first as part of the syndicate, they hit the parlay card jackpot. All their advantage plays won. Cowboy Erik estimates that the group won around $500,000, if not more, in one week.
“My partner was mad we didn’t win more,” he says before zipping across a couple lanes and back to catch an interstate exit.
The cat has been out of the bag about stale number parlays for a long time, and while the strategy happens in Vegas, it certainly hasn’t stayed there. In fact, perhaps one of the most efficient and lucrative parlay scores ever played out at a racetrack in Delaware during the 2009 NFL season.
The Delaware Lottery began offering parlay cards on professional football in 2009. To start, parlay cards were offered only at the state’s three racetracks. There were some early bumps for the lottery’s parlay operation.
“That first year was magical,” a professional gambler who goes by the pseudonym Jack Andrews said. “They were dealing these lines that were a good point off, through key numbers.”
Andrews and a buddy played at Delaware Park on a weekly basis. They would arrive at the track Sunday morning, grab a handful of cards and then head back out to Andrews’ black BMW 330 Coupe to plug the point spreads into a spreadsheet on a laptop and calculate the edges. The driver’s seat was too tight for the laptop, so Andrews would crawl into the back seat and do the figures while his partner stayed in the front seat.
Normally by 10:30 a.m. ET, they had landed on their final teams. They’d wait until around 11 a.m. for the injury reports before making final adjustments. At 11:30 a.m., it was time to start filling out the parlay cards by hand, as many as 56 on any given day.
“We’d have Sharpie markers,” Andrews said, “because the little pencils they provide take too long. If you have a Sharpie marker, you just kind of blot it down in each circle. That makes the cards go a lot faster.”
By noon, they headed to the window. For experienced sportsbook ticket writers, sloppy markings on parlay cards are a common annoyance. Andrews’ cards, thanks to the Sharpie, were easy to feed into the machine. It went quickly, and prior to the 1 p.m. kickoffs, with no resistance, Andrews and his partner were allowed to place as many $500 three-team parlays as they wanted. Cowboy Erik would be jealous.
“We had several weeks where we were cashing $20,000 to $30,000,” Andrews said.
When the final revenue numbers for the 2009-10 NFL season were released by the lottery, Andrews had accounted for 1% of the $9.5 million bet on parlay cards in Delaware that season.
“It was a beautiful thing for a good eight years or so,” Andrews said.
Back in Vegas, it’s 8:15 p.m. when Cowboy Erik works his way into an advantage parking spot at The Palms, a high-end casino off The Strip and across the street from Gold Coast. He’s pretty exasperated at this point and resigned to the fact that his parlay playing days are coming to an end. The hustle is dying.
Some believe parlay cards altogether might be on their last legs in the rapidly evolving sports betting landscape in the U.S. Some of the European companies that are running sportsbooks in the states with sports betting already don’t offer physical parlay cards. MGM sportsbooks in Nevada now offer what are called dynamic parlay cards, featuring barcodes that update the point spreads on the cards automatically when the bet is placed at the counter.
“What’s the future of the cards?” Kornegay asks. “There’s no doubt that they’ve been a huge benefit for the books to offer. The physical cards themselves I could see disappearing, but the type of wager, parlays, will always be a part of our operation.”
Las Vegas oddsmaker Dave Sharapan says that despite some obstacles, parlay cards are without question good for the books.
“You have to overcome the stale numbers with volume and paying attention,” Sharapan said. “I think if you give people a fair shake on the parlay cards, they can be a good thing. At the same time, you can’t just set them out anymore and run them when someone comes up. That’s for sure.”
Erik says it was easier to get more parlays in play as recently as five years ago. He and a partner used to go back and forth between sportsbooks at the Gold Coast and The Orleans in downtown Las Vegas and get thousands of dollars down on 40 or so parlay cards in just a few hours. The books were more receptive then.
Sometimes, he’d don a costume, maybe something as simple a pair of sunglasses or a change of shirt. The disguises are more about distracting the teller and reducing suspicion than they are about protecting one’s identity.
“Maybe you carry in one of those big yardsticks of beer to distract them,” he says.
“If you convince them that you’re in town for the rodeo or whatever atmosphere you were trying to blend into, they were more likely to take a chunk of parlay cards. These days, they are so wary of anything that I don’t think the disguises really help that much anymore. Once they look at the card and see you’ve played a few games that the numbers have moved, you could be dressed as Moses, and they’re not going to take it.”
At the Palms, Cowboy Erik finds advantages on the same group of teams: Chiefs, USC, Boise State and North Texas. He lands on four three-teamers for $40 each and a $50 10-teamer.
“I’m going to try to put the three-teamers in first, and if they take them, pull the 10-teamer out of my pocket and say, ‘Oh, I forgot. I got this one, too,'” he says as he heads to the betting counter.
No dice. A supervisor comes over and turns down all but one of his four three-teamers. Erik is not pleased.
“Yeah, that’s right. I’m trying to win,” he says incredulously to the supervisor and turns away in disgust.
Back in the parking lot, Erik is visibly frustrated. He gets in the car and says, “This is why this is a dying hustle.
“But there’s a saying in the advantage player community that when something dies, a new thing usually comes along.”
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