Tis the season to be scary.
Halloween isn’t just an excuse for girls to dress up like gothic hookers or a chance to eat an entire Costco case of snack-sized candy bars. It’s about facing your fears head on.
For sportsbooks, they’ve been staring down their demons all fall, with college football favorites sucking the money out of their wallets like a parched vampire latching on to a virgin with AB negative blood. As noted by our David “House of Payne” Purdum
, teams ranked in the AP Top 10 have covered over 65 percent of the time heading into Week 9.
But while this college football season is bordering on zombie apocalypse, in terms of money won and lost, it hasn’t be the scariest situation for some of the industry’s most-hardened and steady-handed figures.
We talked to some big-name bookmakers as well as one of the sharpest knives in the handicapping drawer about their most terrifying experiences taking or making wagers.
John Avello, executive director of race and sports operations at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, recalls the hordes of manic Wisconsin Badgers fans storming the sportsbook, like a scene from Night of the Living Dead
, after the infamous 2002 meeting with UNLV.
Wisconsin bettors flocked to Las Vegas to cheer for – and bet on – their beloved Badgers. But, with 7:41 remaining in the fourth quarter and Wisky up 27-7 as a 5.5-point favorite, the lights suddenly went out due to an electrical issue at Sam Boyd Stadium. The game was called before it could reach the 55-minute mark, set by sportsbooks, to make the action official.
What happened next has become something of Las Vegas lore. Badgers backers, who had been drinking all day, stumbled into the casinos to cash their tickets, only to find out the game was not official and they would only receive a refund. Needless to say, madness ensued.
“The people from Wisconsin thought the bookmakers did it,” remembers Avello. “They were coming in the books ready to battle. They were fired up and ready to bash a bookmaker. That was a nightmare that night.”
Bert Osborne, sportsbook director at South Point, remembers a unique situation in which his books, the Barbary Coast and Gold Coast, offered a special spread on Super Bowl XXVI between the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills back in 1992.
With every other sportsbook posting the Redskins at -7, owner Michael Gaughan offered bettors two lines – Buffalo +7.5 and Washington -6.5 – in order to bring in more action. The bold move worked, with bettors lined up outside of the casino waiting to place their wagers, but made for some tension-filled moments for Osborne and his staff before the game finished 37-24 for the Redskins.
“Can you imagine sitting on that powder keg when the rest of the town is painted seven?” he says. "If it had landed on seven, it wouldn’t have been a pretty picture, that’s for sure”
Horror stories aren’t just reserved for books (that’s for damn sure). Renowned Las Vegas handicapper Steve Fezzik has been haunted by one particular bad beat since 1996 – a game that forced NCAA lawmakers to rewrite the overtime rules and usher in video replay.
Fezzik recalls taking Southern Cal +8.5 against Arizona State on October 19, 1996. The game was back and forth and, tied 28-28, headed to overtime. The schools battled for two extra frames, with ASU eventually taking the lead on a 25-yard TD run from Terry Battle.
On USC’s next possession, Trojans QB Brad Otton pitched the ball out to his running back but was off the mark. The ball, which should have been ruled dead, was instead live and scooped up by Courtney Jackson for an 85-yard touchdown return, giving the Sun Devils a 48-35 overtime victory and spoiling what would have been a sure-winning +8.5 with today’s overtime rules.
“It would never happen now, with review and the change to the overtime rules,” says Fezzik. “But I lost +8.5 with a team in overtime – yes. It’s one of those bets you don’t think is even theoretically possible to lose. That would have to be the most ghoulish story I can tell you.”
If you thought those tales where terrifying, just check out my College Four-Play
season record, which is a bloodcurdling 13-19 ATS after another 2-2 finish in Week 8.
If that doesn't pucker your butt hole, try locking yourself in a dark room and listening to the theme music from Unsolved Mysteries
. I'm giving 2-to-1 you don't last 15 seconds before running for the light switch.
Now on with the picks…if you dare.Georgia Bulldogs vs. Florida Gators (+2.5, 49)
This weekend may be the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party but for Gators fans, this season had been the World’s Longest Drinking Binge after losing three straight games heading into the annual showdown with UGA.
Florida gets QB John Brantley back, but he’s still going to be a step slower coming off that severe ankle injury. Expect the Bulldogs pass rush to tests that wobbly wheel early and often and grind out a win in Jacksonville.Pick:
Georgia -2.5Memphis Tigers at UCF Knights (-28.5, 48.5)
Central Florida is giving a ton of points for a team that hasn’t scored more than 28.5 since stomping Boston College 30-3 back in Week 2. The Knights are averaging under 17 points in their last five outings and face a Memphis team that is showing a little life.
The Tigers are coming off a win over Tulane and have scored almost 22 points per game since getting blanked by SMU. If Memphis even scores one touchdown, UCF has an uphill climb to cover this spread.Pick:
Memphis +28.5Central Michigan Chippewas at Akron Zips (+7.5, 50.5)
Offensive linemen get no respect. Not from the fans, media or even the oddsmakers.
Akron, which has struggled the past three weeks, is getting some big cogs back in the trenches. Starting center Adam Bice and starting guard Zac Kasparek are expected to be on the field Saturday after missing the past few weeks with injuries.
Central Michigan’s defense has been terrible, allowing 39 points an outing in the last six games. The Chippewas have only two wins against weak competition (outside of Michigan State), while the one-win Zips have gone up against some tougher opponents in Ohio State, Temple, and Cincinnati this season.Pick:
Akron +7.5Oregon State Beavers at Utah Utes (-5, 47.5)
Oregon State is starting to pick up the pieces from a shattered season, that’s been plagued with injuries, inexperience and an 0-4 start. Things are looking up for the Beavers. They’ve split their last four, going 3-1 ATS in that span, and are seeing rapid maturation from freshman QB Sean Mannion.
He’s fourth in passing in the QB-rich Pac-12 – one spot ahead of Mr. Heisman himself. Mannion earned the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week honor after slinging it for 376 yards and four touchdowns in OSU’s 44-21 win in WSU last weekend.Pick:
Oregon State +5