Monday, March 28, 2011

Las Vegas Final Four Betting Notes: Could Handle Suffer With Two Conderella's?

By Micah Roberts

Will bettors be excited about VCU-Butler in Final Four?
What will you all be doing early Saturday evening? Is the first game of the Final Four between the small programs of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler "Must See TV"? This will be the question many of the Las Vegas sports books will hope the answer to is "Yes" despite not having the traditional glamour schools from major conferences participating.

Even CBS has made it clear they know who the country would rather see by putting the VCU Cinderella story in the less attractive time slot prior to the east coast prime time hours. Ratings are a winner for television, but does it also translate to the betting window in Vegas?

These are some of the questions that not only Vegas sportsbooks will be dealing with, but the entire nation. Do we like two Cinderella's in the Final Four, or do we like just one every couple of years?

It may sound trivial, or not even an issue, because the Final Four has become such an institution over the years with every game seeming just as meaningful as the next, but is that really true? If you’re being pressured to do yard work Saturday by the wife, knowing you have to sacrifice one game over the other, at what time do you start shaving the palm trees?

It's probable that unless you're from Virginia or Indiana, the Kentucky-Connecticut game will get star billing in every household. At the same time, how can anyone not be compelled with it being the first Final Four ever to not have a No. 1 or 2 seed present while also offering a No. 8 and 11 seed?

The rabid college basketball fans who frequent the Las Vegas sportsbooks every day will be ready for the pre-game show and primed no matter who's playing, but for the fringe fan -- the guy who breaks out his home state's college shirt once or twice a year, it's a tough sell which could have final handle numbers for the weekend games off a little.

Las Vegas Hilton Super Book
"I don't think so," says the Las Vegas Hilton's Super Book's Jay Kornegay, "I think the four teams have a little bit to offer for everyone that loves college sports. Yes, VCU isn't as well known, but that's part of the excitement and Butler is kind of a well known name just from being there last year."

Whatever sporting event is coming to a close, it attracts more people to the betting windows and increases handle. The events cross over into homes of folks who don't necessarily follow the sport weekly. Events like the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and NBA Finals don't see more volume because the regulars are betting more, it's the people who want a piece of the excitement and a rooting interest that don't play daily who make the difference.

Casual sports fans know Connecticut, they know Kentucky, but they don't know Butler or VCU. You've got the well known Big East and SEC conferences battling who have been on television all year up against the Horizon and Colonial conferences, who are barely seen no matter how much you're willing to pay in DirecTV packages.

"I think this is going to be a normal Final Four compared to years past," said Cantor Gaming's Sports Book Director Mike Colbert, "But I will say that the handle for the UConn-Kentucky game will far outweigh the other game."

There is the innocence of the college sport and the school name across the chest that comes out and grabs the attention of casual fans when underdogs knock off giants that compels them in the same way that endeared us to the movie Hoosiers.

"Most college basketball fans are like me and enjoy seeing the whole story unfold no matter who wins it just because these games are always intriguing," said Colbert, "But across the board, it's the big teams that still draw the big money."

While the Final Four is a big weekend with two big games Saturday and the Championship game on Monday, it's still not up there on the level of the Derby or Super Bowl.

It's hard not to be thrilled for the underdogs 
"It's not like the first weekend of the tournament by any means," Colbert said, "People don't fly in to Vegas for Final Four weekend like they do for the first two weeks."

People are worn from the barrage of games that have captivated us all for the last two weeks and when the last three games come around, people want to watch, but they aren't making destination plans to do so.

"The NCAA Tournament is kind of unique for us because the big splash for us happens in the first two rounds," says Kornegay. "It's the only major sport we have where the final game doesn't have the same type of impact for us as the preceding games."

The actual impact of two Cinderellas making the Final Four to Las Vegas won't be known until next week, but Kornegay believes the entity of the event will hold more weight than the participants.

"I don't think it really matters who is in the Final Four, they're going to bet it no matter what."

Check Ego's at the Door, VCU Made the Final Four...Deal With It!
I've never seen the national sports media carry a grudge like they're doing with VCU during their run. Most acknowledge that it's a phenomenal story with a team that barely made the tournament having to win a play-in game just to make the field of 64, and then making the Final Four.

Jamele Hill would still rather talk of VCU making 68
National sports writer Jamele Hill -- who has most recently found fame with her mug on ESPN's "Around the Horn" -- and the always positive hoop spin doctor Dick Vitale have been quick to remind everyone on the social network, via Twitter, that VCU still shouldn't be there. They are sticking to their guns regarding their initial tirades when the selection committee came out with their top 68 teams.

Sure, the few selections were debatable, but after all that has happened, you would think that these ambassadors of the college game might celebrate the accomplishment more.

How about guiding the anger in poison tweets to more worthy topics in regards to the college spirit like questioning the tactics of John Calipari, who somehow is still allowed to roll out his card tricks in the face of the NCAA after crushing two programs, right?

We forget that these kids are just that, kids. It's a game with young adults who are going to school, not getting paid -- in most cases -- and should be void of the type of commentary we reserve for the professionals. Negativity by the media, especially at this level, is unfair. It makes you understand a little what Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy was saying when he went on his famous "I'm a MAN" tirade with the media.

Even though Calipari's players may benefit more than others, to see two teams like Butler and VCU do what they are doing should inspire and show that the college game isn't all about non-sanctioned agents, AAU coaches, shoe camps and networking.

It shows that if you have good coaching, players who have some talent that want to better themselves, get an education and work well as a team, you can reach the pinnacle no matter what small conference you're from. Most of the VCU and Butler players have played with each other for three years or more and are a true team in the concept, while Calipari and Kentucky continually have players with basically one-year contracts.

Even though I thought Colorado should have made the field of 68 like many others, I know who I'm rooting for right now without my tiny ego getting in the way.

Las Vegas Sports Book Notes
Walker and UConn are 9/4 to win the next 2
The Las Vegas Hilton adjusted their future odds for the Final Four with Kentucky being the 7/5 favorite (Bet $100 to win $140) followed by the team they're playing in the semi-final match, Connecticut, as the second choice at 9/4 (Bet $100 to win $225). Butler is 3/1 (Bet $100 to win $300) with super-Cinderella VCU getting 9/2 (Bet $100 to win $450) odds.

So VCU lost to Drexel, Georgia State, James Madison, Northeastern, and well, let's just say quite a few others. However, they are also the only team to win five NCAA tournament games and win by double-digits against four of them. They won as double-digit underdogs against both Purdue and Kansas, so why not take down Butler and whoever makes the final?

As for Butler, after getting through a tough three game losing streak at the end of January -- losing to the likes of Youngstown State -- they have reeled off 13 straight wins coming into the Final Four as the hottest team remaining. They have also covered their last six games in a row.

The SEC wasn't a highly regarded conference within the RPI rankings, but Kentucky did what they had to along the way and has won 10 games in a row, including winning the SEC conference tournament. They knocked off Florida in the SEC title game -- a team seeded higher than them in the NCAA's -- and then went out and beat a Big East team, Big Ten, and ACC squads to get where they are at. They may have the most impressive credentials of all which is why the Wild Cats are the favorites to win it all.

Connecticut didn't lose to a team outside of the Big East all season. They started the season off with 10 straight wins and are currently on a nine-game winning streak that includes winning the Big East tournament. Everyone knew they were good coming into the season, but we kind of got side tracked because of the nine conferences losses. Whatever it is they have done, they have sandwiched in a terrific season of excellence. The most attractive aspect of siding with the Huskies is that they have a star in Kemba Walker who is filling it like not many others have on this stage.

Because of the star player angle with Walker and Connecticut truly being who were all thought they were from November, I'll take them to beat VCU in the Championship Game by nine points.

Sweet 16 Results Good for the House
With all the upsets that occurred last week, it was only natural that the sports books did well. However, after missing out on a string of VCU upsets, the bettors finally jumped on the bandwagon with them against Kansas on the money-line and point line. Despite paying out 5/1 (Bet $100 to win $500) and higher with VCU money-line plays, there was a large cash reserve in the bank with the likes of public favorites Ohio State and Duke losing outright.

Monday, March 21, 2011

NCAA Tournament Betting Notes From Las Vegas: Great Handle Throughout Vegas Books

By Micah Roberts

Ticket writers busy
Las Vegas Sports Books have never seen the type of Madness that just passed through town over the four day weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. For each and every employee of sports books around town, they were put to a grind like never before with the combination of never ending lines of bettors that began early and ended late.

Supervisors and Directors were put to the task of ensuring everything went smooth from their end with the ultimate goal of giving the guest their best experience possible, while also hoping to grind out a win with all the cash that came through.

There is no official stat that the state keeps immediately after these fours days of games like they do for the Super Bowl, but all indications are that the handle will be up considerably.

"Our handle over the weekend was relatively flat to last year, " said Las Vegas Hilton Executive Director Jay Kornegay, "But last years figures were inflated considerably for us due to us having big house players playing large money on the games that we didn't see this year. The great indicator for us this year was ticket counts which were up about 10%."

The volume and handle for most books were up, and every book worked harder than ever, most doing so with less labor thanks to the economic climate the city is still in. By the time Saturday's games rolled around, many ticket writers found themselves looking for the sign from the bullpen that relief was coming to close out the game, but the sign never came; they had to just keep on plugging away, punching tickets like they never had before.

"I really felt sorry for the writers, said Kornegay. "The crowds were overwhelming and was so much work for the tellers, with much of the extra efforts coming due to the new staggered schedule."

The staggered schedule spread out the games giving bettors ample time to make their wagers which created more business than what has bee seen on the same weekend over the years. However, the high volume of action didn't neccessarily equate to more win.

College basketball betting isn't as one sided with favorites like the NFL or college football is, but they still generate the most curiosity and intrique with the betting public. Thursday's opening day saw the favorites go 7-5-1 which equated to a small win for most, but still had the risk from those games heading into Friday's where the books were helped by quite a few upsets with the favorites going 5-11. The action was massive, but the hold wasn't.

When Saturday's results started getting posted there was all kinds of mounting liability with big parlays shaping up as the favorites went 7-1. One of the biggest turnarounds that went the bettors way was when San Diego State found themselves in a battle with Temple. The Aztecs were 5 1/2-point favorites and were forced to double overtime where they ended up winning by seven. Due to overtime, the total of 125 1/2 was also affected as it took the second overtime to push the total over the number, a side the majority of parlays around the city had.

"The San Diego State game was by far the worst game for our books," said Lucky's Sports Book Director Jimmy Vaccaro, "That game helped a lot of players keep their parlays alive, but when everything was tallied after Sunday's games, we had a good week."

With all of that risk carrying over to Sunday's games ready to pay out at a rate of 10 and 20-to-1, the sports books would need a miracle to get out of the day unscathed somewhat, and they got it. Almost all the favorites fell going 2-6 on the day with only Ohio State and Kansas taking care of business for the bettors while their popular choices of Syracuse, Purdue, Notre Dame and Arizona all were beat straight up.

After everything was tallied, the overall win results were mixed around Las Vegas, but the one constant was that the action was non-stop like never seen before. After talking with a few sports book Directors in town, I could hear the exhausted tone in their voice as if they had just run a marathon. And in many ways, they had just run one, a four day mental marathon.

Every one who worked in the sports book last weekend, from the top, all the way down to the bottom, deserves a round of applause for putting on arguably one of the most entertaining shows Las Vegas visitors could witness over the weekend.

The money was flowing freely from the bettors and the results from that cash flow is going to be quite apparent in all other aspects of casino operations as well.

Getting Value in Futures with Kansas
The Sweet 16 offers all kinds of variety that we all crave for March Madness giving us a nice mix of favorites with three No. 1 seeds still alive along with some Cinderella's in the making with five teams seeded eighth or higher. Because of all the upsets, you can see the math in the possible matchups changing the future odds drastically at the Las Vegas Hilton.

The team that stands out the most is Kansas in their region where they'll face at least two Cinderella stories if they hope to make the Final Four. Kansas came into the tournament as the third choice at 5-to-1, but are now co-favorites to win it all with Duke and Ohio State at 5-to-2, both of whom have a much more difficult road ahead of them than Kansas.

The Buckeyes have to beat Kentucky and then possibly Norh Carolina to make it while Duke has to face Arizona and then either No. 2 seed San Diego State or No. 3 seed Connecticut. Kansas, meanwhile, has the luxury of playing a No. 12 seed and then either a No. 11 or No. 10 seed to make the Final Four, a much easier road to navigate than their two co-favorites.

Kansas will be huge favorites in their next two games and then a considerable favorite in the Final Four semi-final match. Should they make the final, they would be favored over everyone but Ohio State which makes the four game money-line parlay tough to match what the Hilton is offering now.

Usually with favorites at this stage, it's tough to get value on the futures and the best method is to bet each game on the money-line and roll over the winnings. In this case, Kansas does have upside value, especially if Ohio State or Duke don't make the Championship game.

VCU says "That That!"
One of the greatest stories of the tournament thus far has been the path paved by Virginia Commonwealth, becoming the first team ever to win three games in the first week of play. It was only a week ago that everyone in the nation with any opinion on college basketball felt that
VCU didn't belong as one of the top 68 teams in the nation, but they have gone on to prove them all wrong with their play on the big stage. Perhaps all the talk and attention they were getting nationally -- for not belonging -- inspired them to play at their best.

The Colonial conference gave a great showing for themselves with George Mason taking out Villanova before losing to top seeded Ohio State and then Old Dominion took Butler, a team in the sweet 16, to the final seconds of their first round game. It's kind of ironic that a conference like Big East that had 11 teams make the tournament now have as many teams alive in the tournament as the city of Richmond, VA has.

Rebel Yell
Having watched UNLV play in almost every game since the early 80's, I can't remember many losses -- maybe only Duke in the Final Four -- I was more disappointed then their 73-62 loss to Illinois, a game that wasn't as close as the score suggests. The Illini shot almost 60% from the field, but committed 15 turnovers and still made the Rebels look like they were a team that didn't belong in the final 68. Once Illionis got out to hefty lead early on, it was as if the big stage lights had the Rebels forgetting everything they did to get them there, mainly their defense. Once their confidence was shattered, they continually made poor decisions and couldn't make a basket.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Las Vegas College Betting Notes: Staggered Schedule Should Help Handle

By Micah Roberts

Kornegay says less players will get shut out
This years College Basketball tournament has the potential to set all-time highs in handle throughout Nevada sports books thanks to the new television contract which debuts this week with staggered start times. The deal between the NCAA, CBS Sports and Turner Sports now allows bettors more time to get to the windows which should in turn create a significant increase in volume.

Under the old scenario, bettors would play their group of games during what the start times dictated. If three games were going off within 10 minutes of each other, a popular betting strategy from regular bettors would be to play a two or three team parlay on those games and link those up in parlays with a few of the other 33 games starting later. Because most play with a limited bankroll, their allotment on straight bets may go to only one or two games during that stretch while they waiting to see if they won or not.

With the new staggered format, bettors will now be able to cash without missing opportunities on the next wave of games and roll some of that money over, or if it goes bad, know that they have to go to the ATM and get more cash because a decision is in. Either way, the bettor now has time to regroup or press the action that wasn’t always available in the past.

The true value to the sports books is hard to forecast without having seen it all unwind before, but Thursday and Friday’s action is expected to exceed what they did last year just because of a longer time frame for the public.

Jimmy Vaccaro
“I think it’s going to be good for our handle,“ said veteran Lucky’s Sports Book Director Jimmy Vaccaro. “We should see us get an increase of about 5% over last years handle. When all the games start at relatively the same time, many of the bettors miss out. Now they’ll all have plenty of time to get action on the next game.“

One of the biggest problems with games starting while others are ending so close together is just being able to make the bet on time as Las Vegas Hilton Super Book Executive Director Jay Kornegay explains.

“Even when some of those games would end in enough time for bettors to get down, a lot of them would get shut-out no matter how many windows we had open,“ Kornegay said. “Bettors like to cash immediately after games and then you have others who like to bet just before the game, so when you have both sides doing the both thing in a small window of opportunity, having some of them getting shut-out is inevitable. Hopefully the staggered schedule negates some of that.”

Most of the average Joe’s like to bet one game at a time -- or a wave of games in parlays -- seeing how their bankroll goes. Betting a 4 pm game at 9 am with their early plays is rarely seen. These bettors want immediate action and they want immediate cash when they win. It’s part of what makes the first weekend of action so exciting in a Las Vegas sports book. There’s an exhilarating rush of hustling through a crowd to get action in at the last minute, kind of like the frenzy that goes off at a race track with two minutes to post.

Because of the layers in betting opportunities, Coast Resorts Sports Book Director Bob Scucci certainly thinks handle will be up, but he isn’t necessarily sure about the win percentage being equally increased.

“This is far more advantageous for the player than us because they have more opportunities to re-group over the course of the day and come up with another game plan should they lose, whereas before they were forced to do a lot of their betting all at once,” Scucci said. “It’s kind of like the NFL on Sunday’s, but with many more levels, with parlays on each level generating more and more outstanding risk.”

On Sunday nights during the NFL season, even if the players have a mediocre day, no matter what a sports book does, it‘s hard to even out the liability because most of the extended risk is paying out 10, 20, or 40-to-1 odds on parlays. No matter how creative the bookmaker is, they can’t reduce that risk by much by taking straight bets paying 11-to-10 odds. Increasing a money-line on the late game to make it attractive for sharp bettors for large money is one way to help, but it still doesn’t come close to leveling off what some of the payouts are.

While handle alone on Thursday and Friday look to exceed anything done in the past, the staggered schedule on Saturday and Sunday is still up for debate. On each of these days, half the games will start after 3 pm making the annual routine altered a bit for many Las Vegas visitors. Whether it’s show or dinner reservations, there are a lot of other variables that come into play for making the late Saturday game not as attractive in the past.

Most guests check out Sunday afternoon and either drive home to California or have to catch a flight meaning that there’s a chance several of these players on the strip will be leaving before the games are over. On a normal Sunday in the second round the games would be over by 4 pm. This year, four games will be going or will have yet to begun by that time.

It’s likely that the rise in handle from Thursday and Friday will outweigh any decrease from Saturday or Sunday’s games that may occur and Vaccaro’s estimate of a 5% increase will be right on the money.

No More Yelling at the Sports Books
Another aspect of the new TV deal is that the sports book staff is likely to take less abuse from a crowd that, lets just say is usually a bit intoxicated after two hours of watching the game. The number one abuse taken by the staff is always about games being taken of the air by the network.

“We’ll have a group watching their game where the spread may be 18-points and the national CBS feed thinks a 20-point game with five minutes to go isn’t competitive and then switches it to another game we already had the feed on,“ says Kornegay, “These fans start yelling like an angry mob at us as if we intentionally changed the game, not knowing that we can’t control what the network does.”

With four different networks going at the same time on Thursday and Friday, much of the past obscenities thrown at the staff should be at a minimum this year. With the ability to get more bets in with less shut-outs, this could be the best handle Nevada has ever seen for the tournament. if we see some angry drinkers yelling and screaming, it will likely now only be because of picking the wrong side.

Contests All Over Las Vegas
To show just how meaningful the NCAA Tournament is to Las Vegas sports books, all you have to do is look at all the contests being offered at several of the casinos. A sports book marketing budget generally is spread across the year with about 80% going towards the football season and the other 20% spent for March Madness. The tournament grabs bettors attention like only football can and in order for most books to funnel the majority of the bets their way, contests with all entries fees returned or huge overlays are the way to do it.

Station Casinos is once again going with their popular Last man Standing contest that paid out over $41,000 to one winner last season. This year Stations is guaranteeing $40,000 no matter how many entries are taken, up from the $25,000 guaranteed last year. The entry fee is $25 and if you buy four, you get one free. All you have to do is pick one winner a day against the spread. If you your entry is the last one standing, you win.

Station sports books are also enticing guests with value for the month by offering $1 Budweisers and hot dogs on days that the tournament is being played. The combination of getting that value as well as watching the games in any of their beautiful books make it a hard deal to pass up.

Another local favorite, Coast Resorts, has a deal that is hard to pass up as well. In addition to having a great viewing experience for all the games, they are offering a free contest that pays one winner $10,000 at the end of the contest. 100 contestants will get paid in this no points contest that pays a total of $16,000. The best thing about the contest is that is done out of their convenient kiosk. The only thing that is required is that you have one of their players card. It’s free money out there waiting to be taken. All you have to do is get there and pick some winners.

If playing at the contest at the Orleans, they also have a deal that could win you more cash just by making your bets there. Every $50 bet gets you a drawing ticket to win up to $10,000 which they’ll be doing the first four days of the tournament. If your going to make bets, you might as well enter this contest and get your chance at free money.

Lucky’s sports books will be running their contest for the second consecutive year with $6,000 guaranteed for a $10 entry fee. There is also a bonus of $1,000 for whoever has the best record during the first four days of the tournament.

Leroy’s sports books have their “Three ‘n Out” contest running again for a $25 entry fee with all entry fees returned as prize money. The only way you can lose is to lose three times during the tournament picking one game a day against the spread. The deadline for entry is March 5th at 5 pm.

The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book is another great place to watch the games in their Hoops Central showroom. The best thing about it is that your in an environment kind of like being at an arena with all the ooh’s and ahh’s on every play that help give the tournament a life of it‘s own.

Hilton Updated Odds
The updated Tournament odds at the Hilton have top seed Ohio State as the 7/2 favorites followed by Duke 9/2, Kansas 5/1, and Pittsburgh 8/1. Aftert those four, the next in line is San Diego State at 12/1 and North Carolina at 15/1. After doing my brackets early on, I kept having Michigan State making it to the Final Four and they are currently 100/1. If anyone believes in UNLV getting past Illinois, and then Kansas in the next round, the Rebels are 200/1 to win it all.

Along with Michigan State, I have Ohio State, Kansas and San Diego State making the Final Four in my own bracket. It's not exactly going out on a limb, but I do have Utah State, Gonzaga and Richmond all making the sweet 16.

Jimmy Vaccaro on How Important The Tournament Is
“You only get a few cracks at big weeks a year and these next few weeks will be the last until football starts with a small spike of activity late in the NBA playoffs. After not doing as well as we would have liked in the Super Bowl, it’s very important for us to make the most of this month.