XFL Week 1 betting report: Oddsmakers navigate unique handicapping challenge

XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck at a press conference in Seattle
XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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The highly anticipated XFL reboot takes center stage this weekend – with two Saturday matchups kicking off the 10-week regular season – and oddsmakers are just as curious about how America’s newest professional football league will play out as bettors are.

Football enthusiasts are about to encounter a unique new set of rules that have made setting XFL point spreads and totals a unique challenge for bookmakers in the six states that allow legal betting on the upstart league.

“It’s a dart throw,” DraftKings director of race and sports operations Johnny Avello told BetIndiana News on Friday. “We’re gonna make some major adjustments after Week 1, but this is a good starting point.”

One thing’s for sure: the XFL is doing everything it can to facilitate higher-scoring, exciting games, especially as it looks to avoid the same fate as last year’s failed Alliance of American Football experiment.

“The problem with the AAF was that the offenses were so horrendous,” Westgate SuperBook vice president of risk management Ed Salmons told BetIndiana News on Friday. “AAF totals started in the high 50s and by the end were in the mid 30s and no one cared.”

Entering the first wave of XFL action, the lowest total on the Week 1 board at the Westgate is Saturday’s inaugural matchup between the DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons, lined at 49.5. An opening weekend filled with a healthy dose of scoring and exciting plays will go a long way towards garnering attention from the betting public early on.

Also read: ESPN/ABC to discuss betting lines during XFL broadcasts

“If you’re forward-thinking with this, it’s going to really encourage scoring,” Salmons continued. “And if you have scoring and the public likes it, they’ll bet it. When you look at the AAF, if the product stinks, no one’s going to bet it. And the AAF stunk, so any people that bet that were wiseguys – you had people scalping it.”

Like last year with the AAF, a high percentage of early XFL betting action has come from sharp bettors picking off varying lines at a number of different sportsbooks, as oddsmakers try to balance their own action heading into Week 1. According to Salmons and Avello, there has been no shortage of arbitrage play.

“It does create opportunities,” Avello said. “But that also tells you that each place is doing their own work, not relying on other places to tell them what the odds should be, and I respect that. Does that give some arbitrage opportunities for sharp bettors? Yeah, it does a little bit. But, hey, it’s early in the game, so let’s try to get it right, at least do the best job we can early and make our adjustments as we go.”

One of the most interesting quicks of the XFL is its innovative extra-point rules. Instead of kicking an extra point after a touchdown, teams have the option of going for one point from the two-yard line, two points from the five-yard line, or three from the 10-yard line. Thus, unlike the NFL, where a disproportionate number of games land on 3 and 7, it remains to be seen what the key numbers will be in the XFL.

“You would think 8 would be more of a key number, or 6, because I don’t know if they’re going for 1, they’re probably going for 2,” Avello continued. “They’re gonna go for 3 sometimes, depending on what the score is or how far they are behind, but that’s not gonna be the norm.”

Salmons shares a similar sentiment: “It’s hard to think that anything right now is a key number. Absolutely nothing like the NFL.”

Regardless of how the first week goes, the XFL is lining up the deck in its favor. Games will be featured on major TV networks (ABC, ESPN and FOX) and by all indications, the league’s financial backing is sound and ready to withstand whatever early hurdles it encounters. Commissioner Oliver Luck (Andrew’s dad) is a proven leader who was instrumental in expanding the NFL’s European presence. But only time will tell if the league suffers the same fate as the AAF or the 2001 version of the XFL.

“They have everything in place to make this thing work,” Salmons postulated. “Now the product has to be good. Hopefully it takes off.”

Updated XFL Week 1 betting lines

Seattle Dragons at DC Defenders (-8, 49.5)
Los Angeles Wildcats at Houston Roughnecks (-6.5, 50)
Tampa Bay Vipers (-3, 51.5) at New York Guardians
St. Louis Battlehawks at Dallas Renegades (-9.5, 52)

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