Reno is separated from San Francisco by a state line, a mountain range and about 220 miles. But you wouldn’t know it during the NFL season, as 49ers fans dominate the landscape at sportsbooks in Northern Nevada.
That fanaticism is heightened during the NFL playoffs and is at nearly a fever pitch this week, with the Niners traveling to face the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
It creates quite a dilemma for books in the region, even more so for Terry Cox, the director of the race and sportsbook at the Peppermill Resort Spa and Casino. That’s because Cox oversees a handful of other books, including one all the way across Nevada in Wendover, 400 miles east of Reno on the Utah border. Setting the line and deciding when and how to adjust it is a bit more of a chore than it might be at other sportsbooks in the Silver State.
“We have a lot of 49ers fans here in Reno, but not in Wendover,” Cox said. “We have to walk a fine line. As soon as you get too high a number, people in Wendover start saying, ‘Well, I’m going to take the other side.’”
But generally speaking, Cox said Reno transforms into a Niners town starting in September. The playoffs only add to the madness, bringing out casual bettors and quite a few who have no idea what they’re doing.
“The question we’re getting the most right now is, ‘How do I bet on the 49ers?’” Cox said. “And our answer is always the same: ‘Well, first, you put your money on the counter.’ It’s amazing. At some point, you think there can’t be anybody who doesn’t know how to place a bet. Then along comes a 49ers playoff game.”
Wendover notwithstanding, Cox said the Peppermill and his other area books can’t take their cues from Las Vegas books, due to the 49ers’ massive influence. At most spots in the Las Vegas area, Seattle is a 3.5-point favorite. Cox has Seattle at -3, and he’d go much lower than that if somehow he could.
“It’ll always be shaded a little bit because of the 49ers. We know we’re gonna get buried in an avalanche of Niners money,” he said. “But you can’t deviate far from the consensus line, or you’ll get whacked by the sharp money on the other side.
“If you look at the money coming in, we should have the Seahawks at -1, but you can’t do that.”
So who does Cox root for in this situation?
“It truly is a no-win, no-lose situation,” he said. “If the 49ers win, we’re gonna lose a ton of money. But we put all that money in those people’s hands, and they’ll come back over the next two weeks to bet the Super Bowl. We just make thousands of customers happy, give them a drink and point them toward the casino.
“And if the Seahawks win, we’ll win a bunch of money."