Published September 20, 2012
Football fans can continue to debate about whether replacement referees are having an effect on NFL games, but no less an authority than the oddsmakers of Las Vegas believes the inexperienced zebras are responsible for higher scores.
Oddsmakers told The Associated Press that casinos are considering tinkering with their point spreads as interim referees, some of whom were pulled from the small college ranks, take over the officiating on Sundays. No actual adjustments have been made yet after two weeks of gridiron action, but oddsmaker Mike Colbert of Cantor Gaming said home teams could deserve an extra half-point boost. Hosts are getting 55.1 percent of penalties called in their favor, up from 54.8 percent last year. Such little things can make a difference in what's been called a game of inches.
"When you're taking hundreds of thousands of dollars per game, those half-points are really meaningful," gambling expert R.J. Bell of Pregame.com told the AP.
Oddsmakers try to set a line so roughly equal amounts are bet on both sides, with bookies making their money off the "vig," a flat fee taken off the top. But with inexperienced referees filling in while the veteran officials are locked out amid a labor dispute, setting a line has become even more complicated than usual.
"It's starting to concern us a bit," Colbert told the AP. "(Officials) should have no influence on the total or the side."
The replacement referees have been criticized for taking too long to review disputed plays, spotting the ball inaccurately and missing common penalties such as holding. Critics have also suggested that less-than-seasoned refs could lead to injuries. But the NFL has said they replacement referees will improve as the season continues if the labor dispute is not solved.
Casinos expect an average of 46.1 points scored per game for Week 3 — the highest projected total ever for Vegas casinos, Bell said. He said there really is no other variable that could explain it other than the new referees.
The NFL employs 121 fulltime referees, who reportedly make an average of $149,000 a year for their Sunday afternoon services. Most have other full-time jobs. The two main stumbling blocks in the labor dispute are retirement benefits and the NFL team owners' desire to impose new accountability standards on the referees.
On the retirement, issue, refs currently have a guaranteed pension that the owners would like to convert to a market-vulnerable 401(k) plan. The owners are seeking new accountability by gaining the ability to pull poorly-performing refs and replace them from what would be a new pool of backup referees. Although this would expand the number of referee jobs, the officials are against it.