Despite making a living in the gambling industry for nearly a decade and a half, I am not much of a gambler. I covered the World Series of Poker in person for a couple years and rarely actually played poker. I played some video poker on occasion when I took a break and would go play some blackjack with colleagues once in a while, but all of it was for tiny stakes. I almost never touch sports betting, not only because I live in a state where you can’t do it, but because I would lose my shirt if I did. Nearly every time I enter some sort of game-picking contest for entertainment purposes, I come in near the bottom of the standings. I might as well pick teams based on what mascot would win in a fight. That seems to be the strategy a gambler used this weekend when he lost $300,000 betting on the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers have been a pleasant surprise this season, entering this past weekend’s game against the San Francisco 49ers with a 4-2 record. This despite missing their star quarterback, Cam Newton, for most of the year. And though they were on the road against the undefeated Niners, they were only four-point underdogs at kickoff. They opened at +6.5.
According to ESPN.com, the MGM sportsbook in Nevada took three separate $100,000 bets on the Panthers from the same person on Sunday. He got the Panthers at +4.5 on one of the wagers and at +4 for the other two. He didn’t need the Panthers to win, just lose by no more than four points. A three-point loss or better would be the best scenario for him, as he would win all three bets.
The Carolina Panthers lost 51-13. $300,000 down the drain.
“At one point, I saw the in-game line come across at Panthers +40.5,” Jeff Stoneback, director of sports for MGM in Nevada, told ESPN. “That basically made our day.”
It sounds like the Panthers/Niners game was really good for the sportsbooks. Caesars Sportsbook senior oddsmaker Alan Berg told ESPN that some “big-time players” liked the Panthers on Sunday and that the overall handle (the amount bet) was high on the game.
Why would bettors have so much confidence in a four-point road underdog? The Panthers had won four games in a row, all with their backup quarterback, Kyle Allen. While their opponents were not a Murderer’s Row, they did beat the Houston Texans on the road (Houston is 5-2 when not playing Carolina) and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have a winning record in non-Carolina games. On the flipside, while San Francisco has beaten the hell out of most of its opponents, said opponents have been bad. The Niners’ strength of schedule is the weakest in the NFC and the second-weakest in the entire league, and that counts the Panthers, who still have a winning record.
Without going into detailed statistical analysis (because I wouldn’t know what I’m talking about if I tried to dive deep into what the sharps look at), it all added up to the Panthers looking like they had a solid chance to win outright or at least keep the game close.