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Silverman: Colorado gamblers face some homework as legal betting begins

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Life’s a gamble. Especially now. Should I take this elevator? How close is too close? Does this mask make my face look fat? When will I feel safe in a restaurant? Or standing with strangers rolling disinfected dice at a craps table in Las Vegas or Blackhawk?

At least now we can gamble from our Colorado homes. All we need is something to bet on. Other than the stock market, please.  This coronavirus is awful for gamblers craving action.  

Craig Silverman

I learned about gambling from the finest man I’ve ever known. A Denver boy, he grew up to be an attorney, just like his father. At West High, he played football, basketball and baseball. Then he served two years in the Army, coached youth sports, and went to DU for college and law school. My Dad rooted hard for the Broncos, Nuggets and Rockies.

Sheldon Silverman was a homer! When we watched sports on TV, he had a wager on the outcome. A shrewd observer of athletics, my old man thought he could handicap better than bookies could set odds. However, when it came to Colorado teams, my Dad put his money where his heart was.

I grew up taking tiny fractions of my father’s action. We celebrated and commiserated together. Sports wagering’s long been common here in Colorado. Vegas is so close. My father also taught me how to gamble in Sin City.

When I left Denver for college, I would call home collect on autumn Monday evenings asking for Homer Wade. My Dad would answer shortly before kickoff and might announce that, “Mr. Wade won’t be home till 7:30 p.m.”  I could respond, “I’ll call back in five hours.”

From that exchange, I’d understand my Dad bet on the visiting team plus 7.5 points. My response let Dad know I was down for five dollars of his MNF wager. More father-son bonding! From afar!

I learned about fair bets and rip-off risks. Betting the pass line at craps is almost a fair bet. Taking odds behind the pass line is completely fair, matching exactly craps’ true percentage chances. Play the hard ways and field bets at your peril because the house has a bigger edge. Casinos shamelessly put out confiscatory sucker bets like the Big Six, Big Eight, where payouts are way less than the true odds.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

If Colorado casinos or sportsbooks are unfair, consumers will go elsewhere. Sportsbook sites contain foolish traps to be avoided such as parlays and teasers. Thinking about my late father, I went through the signup process at the five operating Colorado sportsbooks this Memorial Day weekend. 

Let the competition begin between my new depositories at FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Fox Bet and BetRivers.  I am shopping for maximum bonuses, and better odds and point spreads. 

Bookies balance wagers on both sides and make their profit by setting the right odds. Vigorish is the percentage collected from gamblers’ losing wagers by the sportsbook. In retail terms, it is the mark-up.  More than 5% vigorish is awfully expensive for bettors. 

If a point spread is fair, risking $11 for the enjoyment of winning $10 is traditional.  Risk $11.50 and the enjoyment goes way down. Make me wager $12 to win $10 on an evenly matched contest, and I’ll gamble elsewhere.  But let me bet $10.50 to win $10, and I’ll become a regular customer!

On Saturday night, at FanDuel, I took da Bears over the Lions laying $15.40 to win $10. Not football. Korean baseball. At BetRivers, I would’ve had to bet $19 on the heavily favored Doosan Bears (10-6) to win $10 for beating the Samsung Lions (5-12).  

What do I know about Korean baseball? Not much until I watched the livestream on FanDuel, with its amazing ever-fluctuating in-game wagers.  Samsung beat Doosan by a score of 13-0. Oops!  I lost my $15.40, but $3.60 less than I might have!

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

When pro and college sports resume, even without fans in the stands, there will be major new attention because of legalized sports wagering. But let not the people of Colorado get ripped off. 

Vigorous vigorish competition should be encouraged at Colorado sportsbooks. Let the marketplace decide. People enjoy bargains. Walmart is thriving. Nieman-Marcus just went bankrupt

Colorado sportsbooks want our business. They want us to link up our credit card or bank account. Big deposit bonuses and $500 “risk-free” first bets are exciting incentives. But risk free? We shall see.  

Study the terms and conditions. It might take three years to comprehend the fine print and collect that incentive cash. That’s how long law school lasts! But at least there is no worry about a sudden disappearance of your bookie down in Costa Rica. This is regulated by the great state of Colorado. 

While sometimes stressful and expensive, gambling and sports betting provided challenge and entertainment for my father. It was exhilarating to play along and learn lessons about math, luck and sports along the way. My Dad never let his family down. And he never made me pay any vigorish.


Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C.


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