Trap games. What are they? Are there really such things?
My definition of a trap game is the bettor’s perception that a team is looking forward to another game rather than focusing on the one currently at hand.
As a Las Vegas oddsmaker for 30 years, I can tell you that although there are situations where bettors insist this to be true, my only question is: what is it worth on the line?
The onus here is on the bettor. I can tell you that even when it’s perfectly clear that a team is facing an opponent one day with an eye towards a future game, we do not adjust our thinking to what the line should/would/could be for that initial game.
This goes for the opposite of that scenario as well: if a team is facing the tougher of the two opponents in the first game. That second game might be tabbed a “trap” or “letdown” game, but would there be a difference in the line? No.
Oddsmakers are always adjusting the overnight lines the following morning after we’ve seen a team play the night before. In the NBA, we look at how many starters played at least 40 minutes the previous game and if there are any injuries of note. These things, among others, can affect performances in the latter game.
Honestly, we don’t have to worry about the addition of the trap game factor. It’s up to the bettor to plunk down their money on the opposing team in the game in question. More importantly, who decides which games the players would deem a trap situation?
Trap games may not be limited to the game where the team is overlooking one opponent over another. A trap game be as subtle as a strong favorite overlooking the talents of a lesser team and suddenly finding itself in a dog fight rather than, by the bettors’ perception, cruising to an easy victory. If you give both those situations the “trap game” nod, then there are probably scores of games you are not counting as trap games where you should be.
What we do know, and this is the most important thing, is that a trap game usually affects the favorite, with the underdog making the surprise result. But as oddsmakers and bookmakers, we know the betting public can’t stand to bet the underdog, which minimizes the trap game effect.
Everything is situational. Take Monday night in the NBA for example: the Golden State Warriors were 14-point favorites over the host Philadelphia 76ers. The Warriors were playing the first of back-to-back games of a five-game road trip with a tilt versus a much tougher Washington team the next night.
This is a straight forward definition of a trap game. And lo and behold, the 76ers lost but covered in a very sloppy 119-108 Warriors win. But no one seemed to care as the line didn’t budge from the opening overnight numbers.
The million dollar question remains is: if bettors insist that a trap game exists, then how much are they worth on the line?
If they’re real, quantify them. If the line is supposed to create even action on both sides, the Warriors-Sixers 14-point spread was a perfect number, as it didn’t go anywhere from start to finish. In this case, if we all agree Monday’s Golden State-Philadelphia matchup was a trap game when the overnight line came out Sunday, the line probably should have been Warriors -16 or -17, and that oddsmakers and bookmakers intentionally dropped the line to -14 because they knew this was a classic trap game.
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.
The line was -14 from start to finish. Congratulations to those who bet Philadelphia. The fact that Stephen Curry went 0-for-11 from 3-point range had more of an affect than probably anything else. But because no one thought that was going to happen, the trap game never existed.
Oh, we can look at it now and say that. But obviously, the wiseguys who move the numbers didn’t think that way prior to tipoff. They probably were more influenced by the fact that Kevin Durant was returning to the Golden State lineup after missing the previous game and that Joel Imbiid was definitely out for Philadelphia. The fact that the 76ers had won four of their past six games also didn’t waver where the money went.
I think if we dissected all of the possible scenarios that could qualify as a trap game (in whoever’s opinion), the results would be as evenly mixed as most other betting angles and systems over the long haul.
But, all said, here’s what we do know: trap games are a bookmakers’ best friend. The more factors that worry bettors, the better for a bookies’ bottom line. If the results were actually overwhelming, there would be evidence to support it.
Peter Korner is a long-time Las Vegas oddsmaker and analyst, working at the Las Vegas Sports Consultants and operating his own odds service, The Sports Club. Find out more about Pete and his storied career in the sports betting industry here.