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Our betting pool seems to work better when I just pick teams at random

By Ernie Williamson

The Bulletin


More than 1 in 4 adult Americans bet on National Football League games, according to the American Gaming Association.


The association says more than $250 billion has been bet since the Supreme Court struck down the federal statute that had restricted regulated betting primarily to Nevada.


Although a huge sports fan, I have not joined the betting craze … with one exception.  


And that one exception has taught me that casual betting among friends for fun is one thing, but high-stakes betting is not for me.


Football is just too unpredictable, and knowledge about the sport often does not translate into winning bets, particularly if your bets involve a point spread.


I often hear handicappers on the radio or television bragging about 70-percent win rates on their bets or guaranteeing certain picks. In fact, according to ESPN, the widely accepted success rate ceiling for standard football bets is between 54 and 56 percent.


Even though it turned to my advantage, here is my own recent example of how unpredictable betting on football can be:


In 2001, my dad, bored with watching games in which he had no rooting interest, suggested games would be more interesting if small amounts of money were involved.


He pitched the idea to family and close friends.


Pop’s Picks was formed and, although my dad has passed, the betting pool goes on in his honor. This year 14 of us paid the modest entry fee.


The rules for Pop’s Picks are simple.


For each of the 22 weeks of the NFL season each participant picks five games - college or pro - to bet on. The bettor can bet on the winner against the spread or the over/under on total points in the game.


He gets one point for every game he gets correct and two points for one of the games designated as a “two-pointer.”  That is a possible six points each week.


The person with the most points after 22 weeks gets the top prize money. Second- and third-place finishers also earn prize money. The last place finisher gets the entry fee back.


Having never won Pop’s Picks, I was determined that this was going to be my year. The money was not the motivation. It was a matter of pride.  I wanted to beat my brother and nephews, all previous winners.  


For the first 15 weeks, I made what I thought were informed picks. I studied offensive and defensive statistics, checked injury reports, and even paid attention to how the weather might impact my picks.


I also read what the expert analysts were predicting.


Despite my efforts, after l5 weeks, I was wallowing in my customary middle of the pack. Out of contention again … or so I thought.


Frustrated, I quit putting in the time picking games. It was not helping.


Over the next couple of weeks, I picked games without even looking at the spread or who had home-field advantage. Several times I just picked the first five games I came across.


Andy, my nephew, updates the results every week. I stopped looking at them.


But I glanced at the results in week 20 and was shocked. I had moved all the way up to second place. My random picks had outperformed my studied picks.


I am writing this with three games - including the Super Bowl - left over the next two weeks.


My success with random, unstudied picks has created a dilemma: With a chance to win Pop’s Picks, should I stay with the more relaxed approach that got me this far? Or, with the title on the line, should I research the games?


I think I will just wing it.


(Contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516).

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