A Chat with Al DeMarco of SportsGamingEdge.com

With March Madness set to tip off, we thought it would be nice to pick the brain of someone who knows a little about the sports gambling world to see if we could get any tips for betting the games (legally of course).

Al DeMarco is the General Manager of SportsGamingEdge.com and is the featured handicapping analyst on SportsNet New York’s Daily News Live. He’s also a regular contributor on FoxSports.com and MSNBC.com. We recently caught up with Al to talk a little about his site and the tourney, including which team he likes as a dark horse this year.

The Scores Report: Thanks for giving us the opportunity to pick your brain, Al. Can you talk a little about Sports Gaming Edge – how you got started, what your goals are and what people who haven’t been to your site can expect to find when they visit it for the first time?

Al DeMarco: SportsGamingEdge.com is essentially a one-stop-shop for gamblers. From free picks and in-depth analysis from the nation’s premier handicappers to the latest odds, scores and injury news – we have it all. And 95% of the information available is free; no registration required, no purchase necessary.

We are a 100% online business; there are no salesmen, no phone rooms, no hassles – all business is conducted online. That’s one the reasons I created this site among others seven years ago. The sports handicapping industry has a bad reputation because of the carnival barkers who dominated it back in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. These were guys that ran massive phone room operations with hundreds of salesmen that only cared about separating customers from the money in their wallets; winning and losing was an afterthought.

What you see is what you get on SportsGamingEdge.com. When we win, we acknowledge the winners. If we lose, we acknowledge them, too. And since we have thousands of customers on long-term packages, we’re held to the highest of standards. Integrity is everything to us; without it we have nothing.

TSR: And what are some of the things that your site can provide the general betting public or just the sports public?

AD: Our sole purpose is to try to make gamblers money over the long haul. No one wins every single day, as handicappers are prone to winning and losing streaks just like the teams they handicap on a daily basis. But over the long haul our intention is to turn a profit and most of us do.

I have a degree in broadcast journalism and worked for many years as a sports reporter, managed a national sports wire service, and worked in radio before getting into the handicapping business 25 years ago. Most of the handicappers at the site have been in the business for 15 years or more as well. That’s incredible considering this is an industry where you are constantly judged by your performance and many guys can’t make it 15 months let alone 15 years.

Think of it this way: we are no different than financial advisors. We carefully analyze all the data at our disposal on a daily basis and make an informed and educated decision on who will win that night.
Recreational gamblers will win occasionally, but they don’t win long term because they don’t have the time, energy or resources to dedicate to handicapping every game, every day. But that’s what we do 365 days a year.

TSR: March Madness is about to start and as a handicapper yourself, do you have any general tips that you can share when picking winners?

AD: There is no one magic formula, one rule that can be applied to deliver winners in the Big Dance. Trends and statistics abound; that much I’ll give you. Problem is every tournament has to be looked upon as a separate entity. Yes, history often repeats itself when it comes to sports handicapping, but I guarantee you that for every trend and stat that you find supporting one side or system, I can find two to counter your attack.

For many years, taking underdogs early in the tournament has been the overwhelming consensus way to go. In the 2005 and ’06 tourneys, the strategy was brilliant as the puppies barked to the tune of 37-26-1 against the spread (ATS). But the past two years, the chalks have gotten their revenge by going a combined 42-21-1 ATS in opening-round action.

But before we exile the puppies to the backyard, take note of how the top two seeds have fared in each region. Over the past four years these eight power schools have combined to go 12-18-2 ATS in the first-round of the Big Dance. That means I’d be very hesitant to lay the big points with North Carolina, Pitt, Louisville, et al, the next two days.

Other noteworthy trends to consider for the first-round of the tournament:

The No. 2 seeds went 2-2 versus the oddsmakers in first-round play last year, leaving them 6-9-1 ATS the past four March’s and 15-22-1 going back nine years.

No. 3 seeds are a money-making 16-11-1 ATS the past nine years, while No. 4 seeds are only two games over .500 (19-17) in the same stretch.

Look further down the brackets, however, for a real moneymaker: No. 6 seeds are 20-11-5 in first-round play over the last nine March’s, while the seventh seeds are even better at 23-12-1 ATS.

TSR: What’s the biggest advice you can give in helping someone fill out their brackets?

AD: The biggest mistake made in filling out a bracket is picking too many low seeds to advance to the Sweet 16 and beyond. The Cinderella stories like George Mason advancing to the Final Four or Davidson making an Elite 8 run happen once every 10-15 years. That doesn’t mean you avoid calling for upsets in the first two rounds, but remember you generally win or lose your pool based on the first four days of the tournament.

I’ve always believed that you’ve got to push through at least 23 teams into the second round in order to maximize your possibilities from a mathematical perspective as the tournament advances.

Here’s what you should keep in mind:

No. 1 seed don’t lose to 16 seeds. Since the field was expanded to 64/65 teams 24 years ago, the top seeds are 96-0 straight-up.

No. 2 seeds almost never lose (although Duke certainly was given a scare by Belmont last year), going 92-4 since the tournament field expansion. The last loser was eight years ago.

You would think No. 3 and No. 4 seeds would be more vulnerable, but that’s really not the case. The third seeds are 81-15 the last 24 years, including a 4-0 sweep last March, while the fourth seeds are 76-20. However, two of those 20 losses happened last year when San Diego toppled U.Conn and Siena vanquished Vandy.

My projection: No upsets this year as every top 4 seed gets through the first round unscathed.

As for the lower seeds, that’s where you look for your upsets, which are even more critical if you’re playing in a pool that gives you a bonus point for a lower seed winning.

The 5-12 seed is the one the media always touts and it’s for good reason as the higher seed in this match-up is only 19-13 the past eight years. Two of them got tossed early last March. This week I believe two No. 12’s advance: Western Kentucky (for the second straight year) and Arizona.

The 6 vs. 11 seed is just as unpredictable as the 5-12 pairing as the sixth seeds are only 17-7 the last six years. This year I believe Temple stuns Arizona State.

The 7-10 pairing used to be unpredictable, but the higher seed is 7-1 the past two years and 60-36 since the tournament expanded.

Finally, the meeting between the 8-9 seed is where you find the most upsets as the lower seed actually holds a commanding 52-44 advantage of the years.

One final bracket tip: Only five teams from outside of the BCS “power” conferences have advanced to the Final Four over the past 16 years. That’s 5 out of 64, including Memphis last season. The media loves to fit Cinderella with a golden slipper, but often it simply doesn’t fit.

TSR: Who is your dark horse this year to make a deep run?

AD: Missouri because of its all-out style of play for 40 minutes and its aggressive defense. I think the Tigers stun No. 2 seed Memphis in the West Region before falling to U.Conn in the Elite 8.
Arizona was criticized heavily for making the field, but I think the Wildcats upset Utah in Round One and Wake Forest in Round Two before exiting in the Sweet 16.

TSR: When betting the tourney, do you lean more towards the favorites or the underdogs?

AD: Gamblers – and handicappers – naturally lean toward favorites; it’s basic human nature. As I pointed out earlier, that strategy has certainly paid dividends in the first round of the tournament the past two years. And if you add up the entire 2009 tournament, the chalks were the play, going 39-24 versus the spread. But, again, each tournament has to be judged on its own merits and each game handicapped separately.

TSR: What are the main differences to betting college basketball during the season as opposed to the March Madness Tournament?

AD: In the regular season teams are prone to the letdown and look-ahead factors, the two biggest angles to consider when handicapping any contest. In the Big Dance it’s a one-and-done affair; there is no time to celebrate a past win or get caught looking ahead to the next opponent.
TSR: Is there anything else that you wanted to add about SGE or the tournament?
Before I got into this business, if there were 40 games on the board, I’d find a way to bet 41. But now after 25 years in this business, I know for a fact the key to successful wagering is to narrow down a big card and find those few select games to bet on. It really is quality, not quantity. Play too many games, and the odds are stacked against you. That’s why at SportsGamingEdge.com you will never find one of our analysts releasing 10 games in a single day. Plus, every play is rated so gamblers know how the selections are meant to be played from a bankroll allocation standpoint.

Finally, my Golden Rule of Gambling: Never bet more than you can afford to lose. Those that do so will avoid falling into a deep financial abyss from which there is often no escape.

TSR: Thanks for your time, Al! I encourage all of our readers to check out SportsGamingEdge.com and good luck to anyone throwing a little coin on this year’s tournament. Also, be sure to check out Bullz-Eye.com’s interactive March Madness Bracket.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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