The Chicago White Sox have been good to loyal fan Justin Salgado this year, and not just because they easily won their division.
The 25-year-old from Schererville made a preseason bet on Lance Lynn to win this year’s Cy Young Award, given to each league’s most outstanding pitcher. With Lynn dominant in midsummer, Salgado had a chance to cash in early and he took it, winning $800 on his $100 wager.
It was a savvy move — he would have won $1,700 had he stuck it out but Toronto’s Robbie Ray is now the overwhelming favorite — and it shows how Salgado simultaneously manages his sports wagering and his allegiance to the team.
He jumps on bets that will pay off with the success of the Sox; recently, he wrote a post for the Sox on 35th blog about how they feast on left-handed starters. Otherwise, he looks for neutral ways to profit, such as betting that the team and its opponent will score fewer runs than expected.
“I’ll never bet against them,” he said. “I just can’t do it as a fan of the team.”
Sports betting forces fans to weigh their hearts against their heads when it comes to their favorite teams, and the postseason prospects of the White Sox present an especially tough conundrum.
The Sox began their series against the Houston Astros as a slight underdog, and should they meet the Tampa Bay Rays in the next round, they’ll be underdogs again. But you can also bet on the Sox to win by a certain margin, or on the total number of runs scored, or on the performance of individual players right down to a single pitch.
In other words, there are plenty of ways to make money — or get yourself in trouble.
“Just be careful and bet within your means,” Salgado said. “If the payout is high, that means it’s a long shot.”
Since Illinois legalized sports betting last year, gamblers within the state have wagered close to $700 million on baseball, putting it in third place behind basketball ($1.6 billion) and football ($941 million), according to Illinois Gaming Board records.
Most of that money has been bet online rather than at the state’s casinos, but that hasn’t stopped Chicago’s sports teams from angling for a piece of the action. As the Chicago City Council mulls a proposed ordinance that would allow arenas and stadiums to have their own sportsbooks, teams such as the Bears and Cubs have already signed “partnerships” with gambling companies.
As for the South Siders, team spokesman Scott Reifert said: “The White Sox are very interested and are actively investigating options, but there are several hurdles to overcome before we proceed, including approval of a revised gaming ordinance by the city of Chicago.”
A wrinkle in Illinois’ gambling law means those who want to bet on their phones must first register in person at a casino to activate their mobile account. Once that’s done, they can wager as they like from the comfort of their couches, even after the games are underway.
Jay Croucher, head of trading for PointsBet, said baseball is more conducive than other sports to betting within the flow of the game, given the breaks every half inning or with a pitching change. About half of baseball wagers are made that way, a proportion he expects to increase.
“Now we’re seeing player props become more popular — Eloy Jimenez to hit a home run, Lance Lynn to get 10-plus strikeouts,” he said. “As the U.S. market gets more accustomed (to sports betting), niche markets and inning-by-inning markets are becoming more popular.”
But for those who just want to bet on the White Sox to win, he said, the team’s underdog status shouldn’t be too worrying.
“I think they have almost as good a chance as anyone in the American League,” he said before the series began. “The gap isn’t a representation that (the Astros) are better, just that they have home field.”
Most of the local action at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is, unsurprisingly, coming in on the Sox, said Ross Sansone, who helps run the sportsbook. Though people can bet remotely via the casino’s BetRivers app, he said he expects a big crowd to wager in person Sunday, when the evening Sox game will be paired with NFL football.
“That’s the day we’re looking forward to, actually, ramping up the staff and having all five (betting) windows open,” he said.
Danny Burke, host of the Rush Hour sports betting show on VSiN and Marquee Sports Network, said baseball offers plenty of chances to outwit the bookmakers during the regular season, given the glut of statistics available to anyone with an internet connection. But that flips on its head during the postseason.
“The whole dynamic changes,” he said. “You don’t know what the feeling is around teams. You don’t know if you can trust a pitcher as much under the big spotlight of an elimination game. … I would definitely say I have more success in the regular season than the postseason because it’s just a completely different beast.”
Burke gave the Astros a slight advantage over the White Sox prior to the series, though he said an upset wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Still, he said hometown gamblers should be wary of giving in to Sox fever.
“(People) want to bet with their emotions so they not only can see their team win but make some money while doing so,” he said. “If you want to be a successful bettor you have to have no bias. Sometimes the viable option is to fade your favorite team.
“So as much as everybody is happy that a Chicago team is in the playoffs and wants to bet the White Sox, don’t go too crazy. I’m not saying you can’t throw a little bit of money on there and root for them along the way, but don’t be throwing your whole bankroll on a series that’s going to be really tough for the White Sox.”