Monday, April 4, 2011

Las Vegas Betting Notes: Masters Takes Center Stage in Sports Books This Weekend

By Micah Roberts

Mickelson and Woods are favorites to win The Masters
With the NCAA Tournament coming to a close, it signals another season of change for Las Vegas sports books. Betting patterns are altered by the customers and vacation requests by book employees are more easily accepted by book managers across the city. April begins a lull in traffic through the sports books that gets progressively worse all the way to August when the NFL pre-season starts, and even that is up in the air now with a possible strike.

Horse Racing picks up some steam as we near the triple crown, but that doesn’t appeal to many of the traditional sports bettors like it did just a short decade ago. The telling sign that that season has changed, without knowing what month it is or what sport has stopped, is to simply look at a typical Saturday morning in any Las Vegas sports book from September through March and compare it with what we’ll see this Saturday. It’s dead, quiet and there will be minimal windows open for betting.

The busiest day for the sports books now becomes Sunday morning from 9 am to 11 am as bettors all gather to bet their early baseball and NBA games.

It’s kind of surprising that more bettors -- the type that rush to the books for their four-team parlays in the NFL -- don’t bet baseball more just because it’s the best value for the player against the house odds. Not only does the player get the edge of playing a .10 cent line -- less at some places, but they get true payouts on parlays as opposed to fixed odds from a chart for basketball and football odds that decrease with each additional leg added to a parlay when using a true .20 cent payout formula.

Because of the true odds payouts in baseball, Sports Book Directors will be walking on egg-shells for the next four months just hoping to make some kind of profit until football starts and avoid the losing month that inevitably happens quite often during baseball seasons.

In addition to all the great MLB, NBA and NHL action going on this weekend, we also get a chance to wager on the most bet upon golf event of the year, The Masters. Beyond all the history of Augusta National that makes it so popular, handle for the sports books is spurred because most books have had the odds offered since last December allowing the millions of visitors to the city since then a chance to take home a few souvenir tickets for friends, family or themselves.

The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book offers, by far, the most extensive weekly wagering menu on all golf tournaments. The architect of all the creative odds and propositions in Assistant Manager Jeff Sherman who will offer over 40 golfer match-ups with another 40 props this week. Sherman also plans to do match-ups for each round as well as offer updated odds after each round has completed.

Phil Mickelson is the 13-to-2 favorite after winning the Shell Houston Open last week with Tiger Woods next at 10-to-1. After that, Sherman doesn’t have anyone else lower than 15-to-1.

“I think this is as wide open as it’s ever been,“ said Sherman. “It’s kind of like the NCAA tournament we just saw where it wouldn’t be surprising to see to see anyone up to the 40-to-1 range win it.”

Woods has won The Masters four times and has 14 grand slam wins, but none since 2008 and fell to No. 7 in the world rankings. However, Sherman says despite all the woes with his golf swing, there is much respect.

“He’s still Tiger, but these are the longest odds I can ever remember posting on him. Part of that is because of his troubles on the courses, but most of it comes because there are just so many good golfers out there capable of winning. There is parity like never before.“

Golfers Sherman likes to do well this week include Dustin Johnson (20/1), Nick Watney (15/1) and Matt Kuchar (25/1).

Baseball and NBA Saves Sports Books Saturday
The two most bet upon games of last weekend were the Final Four games, but without the NBA and baseball helping, it would have been a losing day for most. The combination of favored Butler winning and covering and 2-point underdog Connecticut winning outright was a bad one for the house in both straight bets and parlays. Keeping the parlay risk to a minimal 13-to-5 majority payout was helped by the Connecticut game staying under the total. However, the Sharps had bet that game under from the opening number of 141 ½ to a closing number of 138 ½.

NBA Notes
Lowry and Rockets are red-hot
There are only five to six games remaining for most NBA teams as some scramble to make the post-season while others try to maneuver for playoff position. Out west, the Hornets and Grizzlies are tied at 44-33 and hold the No. 7 and 8 spots, but only three games out are the red hot Houston Rockets with Kyle Lowery and Kevin Martin leading the way going 8-2 in their last 10 games. On Wednesday they’ll have a chance to help their own cause with a game at New Orleans. In their other four remaining games, only Dallas has a winning record.

Meanwhile, the Hornets have a tough road ahead with games against Phoenix, Memphis, Utah and Dallas. The Grizzlies have somewhat of easy road in their games. In addition to the Hornets, Memphis will face the Clippers twice, Sacramento and Portland. No odds are offered on the possibilities of making the playoffs in Las Vegas sports books, but if they did, I would take some Houston action with hopes that the Hornets tank it. To supplement that wishful action, I’ll just take Houston Wednesday night at New Orleans.

The Lakers took a major blow to their hopes of gaining the No. 1 seed out west when they lost to Denver on Sunday ending their nine game winning streak. The Spurs had been in a six game free-fall until beating Phoenix on Sunday and maintain a 2 ½ game lead over the Lakers.

The most interesting playoff matchup out west looks to be No. 4 and 5 seed with Oklahoma City and Denver. The Thunder have shown that they can beat just about anyone this season but have lost two in a row, including one to the Clippers. The Nuggets have gone a tear since hi-jacking the Knicks and dumping Carmelo Anthony. The loss of Chauncey Billups was initially thought to hurt the Nuggets more, but the combination of Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton running a two-headed point guard -- on the court at the same time -- has been tough for all teams they have faced.

Since the deal with New York, the Nuggets have gone 14-5 and have nearly secured the No. 5 slot. They may miss the star treatment of Carmelo from the officials in the playoffs, but they have so many scoring options now with not having to run everything through one player.

The Bulls and Heat are playing their best ball of the season in the East while the Celtics have sputtered. The trade that sent Kendrick Perkins away may have backfired on GM Danny Ainge. His hopes of bringing in a quicker Jeff Green to be their James Posey-type of player while waiting for their twin O’Neal towers to return inside and elevate their game hasn’t happened yet. Shaquille O’Neal returned to action over the weekend for five minutes only to have his calf break down, something that can’t be promising since it could be stemming from his achilles problem.

Baseball Notes
Britton shined in MLB debut Sunday vs. Rays
The Rays played like one of the best teams in baseball last season with great defense, getting good pitching and timely hitting. This season, they find themselves only being able to muster one run a game in their first three chances of the season against Baltimore and got swept at home. Compounding matters for Tampa Bay is that their best player, Evan Longoria, just went on the 15 day disabled list.

Whether it’s a matter of good pitching by Baltimore or bad hitting by the Rays, Buck Showalter’s staff came out and made a statement for the rest of the AL East to take notice of. A pitcher that could make big difference this year is Zach Britton who made his major league debut Sunday throwing six strong innings allowing only one run off of three hits. Britton had a terrific spring but was supposed to start the season in triple-A until Brian Matusz was placed on the disabled list.

Despite having a lineup full of free swingers like Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Derek Lee and Adam Jones, they have quite a nucleus of really good hitting players that stack up well against most lineups in baseball. Should Brian Roberts and Vladimir Guerrero be able to stay healthy, this could be a great season for the Baltimore faithful and definitely worth taking a shot with at 40-to-1 to win the American League and 80-to-1 to win the World Series.

While the O’s soar, the Red Sox slid miserably going 0-3 for the weekend at Texas where the potent lineup of Boston couldn’t get anything going against Texas pitching. Meanwhile, the Rangers hitters put on a show belting 11 home runs in the three games outscoring Boston 26-11. For the Red Sox, it's their worst start since 1996 when they started the season 0-5.

Through the first weekend of baseball games we had six games with favorites of minus-200 or above and only the Phillies were able to win, doing so in all three of their games against the Astros. The other three games saw the underdogs win outright with the Padres beating Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals opening day, then on Saturday the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies and the Orioles took down Tampa Bay.

A team better than the Phillies to bet OVER the total in each game this year may be the Cincinnati Reds. With Philadelphia, you have their tough staff to worry about ruining your bet, even though the Phillies can score runs in bunches. With Cincinnati, they have a stacked lineup with only a few good pitchers that should lead to quite a few games going OVER. Drew Stubbs at the top of the order for the Reds has the makings of being a Carlos Gonzalez type and thus far has not disappointed.

It was nice to see Felix Hernandez and Jaime Garcia go the distance and get complete games over the weekend. Even though their pitch counts were barely over 100, it’s rare to see pitchers -- who are coddled so much because of the team‘s investment in them -- go the distance this early in the year.

The pitching performance that stood out the most, beyond the Orioles Britton, was Toronto’s Kyle Drabek who pitched seven innings of one hit ball with seven K’s in their win Saturday over the Twins. We’ve been hearing the name for the last two years as a great prospect for Philadelphia, not only because he’s the son of former Pirates Cy Young award winner Doug Drabek, but because he has great stuff. It’s easy to see why the Phillies were so reluctant to deal him even if it meant not getting Roy Halladay.

UNLV Head Coach David Rice
We should have an official announcement by Wednesday where former UNLV player David Rice will be announced as UNLV’s new head basketball coach. The match should be a perfect fit of mixing the old with the new for UNLV, accentuating on all the positives. With Rice, The Rebels will get back to runnin’ and gunnin’ like the old days while also maintaining the integrity and stability to the program that Lon Kruger brought. It’s a win-win for everyone, especially for the fans in Las Vegas.

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