NCAA tournament trumps Super Bowl in Las Vegas

Mar 30, 2012 |
For Nevada sportsbooks, the NCAA tournament is their “One Shining Moment.” Not even the almighty Super Bowl can compete.

“This year the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament for us dwarfed the Super Bowl in terms of our network handle,” said Todd Fuhrman, senior sportsbook analyst for Caesars.

The sportsbook at the MGM Mirage reported a 40 percent increase in bets on the opening Thursday of the tournament compared to last season.

The Nevada Gaming Control doesn’t track betting numbers on the NCAA tournament alone. It lumps the NBA in with college basketball on its monthly revenue reports. But industry officials estimate the NCAA tournament accounts for 70 percent of all basketball wagers in March.

Last March, Nevada sportsbooks took $137.5 million in basketball wagers. Nevada sportsbooks took  $93.8 million in Super Bowl bets this year.

“The NCAA tournament will surpass the Super Bowl, but maybe not the entire NFL playoffs,” said John Avello, a longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker and sportsbook director at the Wynn.

With four of college basketball’s blue bloods colliding, the two Final Four games on Saturday certainly will attract plenty of gambling attention. “The big bets,” said Avello, “tend to surface around this time.”

But in some cases, there might not be as many bets placed on Louisville-Kentucky or Kansas-Ohio State than a game from the opening Thursday of the tournament.

Fuhrman said there’s a good chance his book will have taken more bets on Colorado State-Murray State—the first game to tip on the opening Thursday—than it will on either of Saturday’s games.

“The opening weekend, far and away, is the busiest we’ll be for any four-day stretch throughout the entire year,” said Fuhrman. “The Sweet 16 and Elite 8 start to subside quite a bit, and then the Final Four and national championship, as far as Vegas is concerned, is pretty anti-climatic.”

Fuhrman added that college basketball’s national championship game is one of the lowest bet championship games of any sport.

“It’s probably closest to a World Series game, because we don’t have much time to book it,” Fuhrman said. “College football, you essentially book the BCS title game for six weeks; we get two weeks with the Super Bowl, but in college basketball we get about 48 hours roughly.”

Final Four Odds/Ends
  •  Both Final Four games are rematches from the regular season, but there’s obviously a lot more riding on Saturday’s games – especially in Las Vegas. Avello predicts he’ll have “20 times” the number of bets on the Final Four games compared to the regular-season meetings between Louisville and Kentucky and Kansas and Ohio State.
  • Kentucky is an 8.5-point favorite over Louisville. That’s the largest point spread for a Final Four game since 1999, when Duke was favored by 11 over Michigan State.
  • Kansas beat the Buckeyes, 78-67, on Dec. 10, at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks began as small home underdogs, the first time they had been an underdog at home since at least the 1997-1998 season. But shortly before the game, Ohio State star Jared Sullinger was ruled out, and Kansas quickly became a 1.5-point favorite by tipoff.
  • As of Thursday afternoon, Caesars Palace was holding slightly more betting tickets on Louisville +8.5 than Kentucky. The action was very even, though, said Fuhrman, who added that the betting action was also very balanced on Ohio State-Kansas.
  • This was the second year the Wynn sportsbook took bets on every game of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Avello estimated that the women’s tournament generates “5 percent” of what the men’s tournament does. “Maybe a little less,” he added.
  • Odds to win NCAA tournament at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino SuperBook, the day after Selection Sunday: Kentucky 2/1, Ohio State 8/1, Kansas 12/1, Louisville 30/1. Odds as of Friday morning: Kentucky 5/7, Ohio State 13//5, Kansas 5/1, Louisville 10/1.
  • Kentucky is a little over a 1/2 favorite (-210) to reach 15 points before Louisville at the MGM sportsbook.
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