Ask A Bookmaker With Jay Kornegay: Degenerate? Really?

ask bookmaker kornegay

Welcome to US Bets’ recurring “Ask a Bookmaker” column, which answers many of the common (and uncommon!) questions gamblers and enthusiasts have about how sportsbooks operate in the modern age of sports betting.

The executive vice president of race and sportsbook operations at the Westgate SuperBook, Jay Kornegay has been in the sports betting industry for more than 30 years. After getting his start in Lake Tahoe, Kornegay took his talents to Las Vegas, where he opened the Imperial Palace sportsbook in 1989 before taking the reins of the 30,000-square-foot SuperBook in 2004. A Colorado State University alum whose putting stroke tends to betray him on the back nine, Kornegay has helped navigate the SuperBook’s expansion into multiple states since PASPA was overturned in 2018.

Have a question you’d like to ask Kornegay? Send it to [email protected] The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

There’s a fairly common narrative out there that holds that anyone who bets on preseason NFL games is a degenerate gambler. Is there anything to that sentiment or is it a total myth?

There are two different groups. You’ve got the general public that perceives betting on NFL preseason games as only done by degenerates. I believe there are some recreational players that love football and enjoy betting on preseason games, but it’s a very small percentage of the handle. The majority of the handle that we take in on preseason games is from sharps. Betting preseason football is based off of information, and the sharps are always seeking that information to take advantage of stale lines.

If the sharps can find any angle which creates value on one side or another, they’re going to play it, no matter what sport it is. If you do put one of those third-tier sports up, it’s going to have very small limits because information is very tough to find. So our comfort level is very low and it would reflect the limits offered on those types of obscure sports. If a sharp player were to play a sport like ping-pong, I can guarantee it would be a very aggressive move by us.

I imagine NFL totals markets get influenced quite a bit by announcements that certain players will or won’t be appearing in a given preseason game. What are some other markets that sharps typically try to exploit?

I don’t know if you see a lot of exotic wagering on preseason football. It’s limited to sides, moneyline, and totals. You will see certain first-half, second-half markets, but you won’t see extensive betting menus surrounding preseason games. So the sharps really do focus on the sides and totals, wherever they find perceived value.

Before mobile betting, I take it that retail sportsbooks had a pretty good handle on who their sharper customers were, since you’d see them in the flesh. Has the post-PASPA explosion of mobile sportsbooks made these folks more difficult to identify? How do you sniff them out nowadays?

I’m not sure if it’s harder, but it’s challenging to a certain extent, where the bets that come in at the counter, most likely with cash, are a slower transaction versus wagers coming in on mobile. Our challenge is managing the sharp plays via mobile because they come simultaneously. There’s a lot of sharps who are on the same page, and when there are stale numbers up there, you can easily find 20 different wagers coming in at the same time at the same number. Therefore, it’s more challenging for us to handle those type of moments. The process is still the same — we’re still looking at educated players and who should be categorized as sharps and other categories.

Given all the uncertainty over how much certain key players will play, would you say that preseason games are a lot tougher to handicap than regular season games? Do you set your limits a lot lower as a result?

Because these games are dominated by educated play, we don’t have that comfort of diluting the sharp play by the recreational play. It’s basically the bookmakers versus the sharps. And that’s fine. I’m certainly not complaining. Almost every wager that a sharp player makes is based off of information, but it’s different degrees. There’s vague information and then there’s concrete information and everything in between. 

You do, at times, have to read between the lines for what that information is telling you. A coach could say, “We’re looking to get through the preseason without any injuries.” OK, does that mean that the starters are gonna rest this first game? Play one or two series? With those vague quotes, you have to read through the lines to get an idea who’s going to play in that particular game. There are more direct quotes from coaches that will tell you exactly what’s going on — their starters will play the first quarter or the first half. A quote similar to that can move the line dramatically. 

Just like during the regular season in all sports, if we get a sharp player who’s well-respected and has been known to do very well with information, we will certainly move more aggressively.

Does the SuperBook have a higher handle for preseason NFL games than it does for regular season MLB games at this point in the year? If so, why do you think that is?

Game versus game, they’re very comparable handle numbers. An NFL preseason game is comparable to a very good, high-interest MLB game. Like, for example, Brewers-Cardinals, that’s probably the most popular game on the baseball board [last Friday]. That’d be very comparable to any of those NFL preseason games.

The Baltimore Ravens have now won 21 straight preseason games dating back to 2015, but haven’t made it out of the second round of the playoffs in that span. How much stock do you put in a team’s preseason record when adjusting their futures odds just prior to the start of the regular season?

Very little or nothing at all. When we’re watching their first teams and they look impressive or a quarterback looks better than we expected, that might call for a very small adjustment, but you won’t see anything more than that. If you see a marquee player coming off injury — [Ravens running back] J.K. Dobbins, he missed the entire season last year and there are a lot of questions surrounding his health. If we watch a preseason game and he looks 100 percent, that can move a futures line, but it would be a small adjustment.

Art by Blundell Design

Author: Ryan Gonzales