Friday, January 25, 2008

Covering the Spread

Halfway through the regular season, the Patriots were 8-0, and even more impressively, were 8-0 against the 'spread' -- the Vegas line indicating the number of points by which a favorite should beat an underdog.

In the second half of the season, as bettors tuned into to how dominant the Patriots had become, the spreads on each game widened, such that the Pats have been just 2-7 in their last nine games (covering only against Buffalo (16 point spread; 46 point margin) and Pittsburgh (-10.5, won by 21)).

And its clear that Vegas has learned. The Pats were installed as 14-point favorites for next week's "Big Game"(*), but the line has slipped to 12, where it sits today. (Quick review: the line dropped because more bettors took the Giants and the points than the Pats (minus the line); Vegas makes money when there is approximately the same amount of money on both sides of the bet.)

But while the Vegas odds-makers have learned their lessons, political odds-makers have not. For the third week in a row, Barack Obama is perceived to be a heavy favorite going into an election.

On January 8th, Hillary Clinton escaped political death by pulling out a close victory in the New Hampshire primary when the pre-election polls had her trailing by double-digits. On January 19th, the endorsement of the Nevada Culinary Workers, together with a judge's decision to allow caucusing at the casinos (over a Clinton-supported, if not -financed, lawsuit) was supposed to insure Obama's victory. Instead, Clinton won the 'popular' vote in the caucuses, although Obama apparently eeked out a narrow 13-12 victory in national delegates awarded; regardless, the press considered Hillary to be the winner.

Now in South Carolina, Obama is again burdened by high -- and perhaps unrealistic -- expectations in the press. Hillary abandoned SC this week to campaign in the Super Tuesday states, leaving 'only' Bill Clinton and Chelsea behind. The presence of a significant African-American vote in SC is also supposed to be a huge advantage to Obama, although the Clintons have long been overwhelmingly supported by the black community.

The reality is that any win in a state where Obama trailed badly less than a month ago should be seen a 'victory'; after all, this was supposed to be an unstoppable coronation of Hillary as the Democratic nominee. But reality may not be what the press -- and the blogosphere -- has 'baked in' to the expected results.

For that matter, if the Patriots win next Sunday to go an unprecedented 19-0, whether they win by 1 point or 13 will make no difference.

At least outside of the sports books.

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