Heisman Trophy odds coming to Vegas?

David Payne Purdum
Barring a stiff arm from officials, we could see Heisman Trophy odds popping up at Nevada sportsbooks this year.

Nevada Gaming Control is reviewing applications from two sportsbooks interested in offering betting on the Heisman Trophy. If approved, it would be the first time the state’s books would be allowed to accept wagers on an event decided by a vote. And that’s an emphatic if.

Nevada sportsbooks haven’t been allowed to take bets on things like Super Bowl MVP or reality TV shows for decades. The ban spans back to 1980, when late Vegas bookmaker Sonny Reizner posted odds on “Who shot J.R.?” from the popular TV drama Dallas. Gaming Control quickly swooped in and forced Reizner to refund all wagers, citing the risk of loose-lipped writers or actors compromising the wager.

In January 2011, the NGC amended Regulation 22 and gave sportsbooks the opportunity to apply to offer wagers on events other than horse and greyhound racing or athletic events. But only five proposals from sportsbooks have been approved since Regulation 22 120 took effect. Four of those involved the World Series of Poker; the other was a Reno air show.

The application is only two pages long, but does require some legwork on the sportsbook managers’ end. The most difficult part is turning out to be getting in touch with someone from the actual event. For example, Gaming Control will need confirmation of the voting process from the Heisman committee.

“We wanted to offer American Idol,” said Jay Kornegay, executive director at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino SuperBook. “The ratings were just so big that I thought it would generate a lot of attention. But we had trouble communicating with anyone actually from the show to help us get Gaming Control everything that they needed.”

Gaming Control has turned down applications for odds on X-Factor. And unless the books currently inquiring about the Heisman can prove to Gaming Control the security of the voting, their requests also will be declined, says Deputy Chief of Enforcement Teresa Zellhoefer.

“We want to know who votes, how the votes are placed and counted, who knows the results and when they know them,” explained Zellhoefer in a recent phone interview. “We have to look at it from all angles. It’s not just taking the wager.

"We also have to look at it from the standpoint of if we have a dispute. If we have to arbitrate a dispute on a wager, we need avenues to pursue those. If there’s a judging, we have to look at the judging. Is there the possibility of a leak? Is there a possibility of the information being released before it is to everyone? In order to protect the bettors and the sportsbooks, we have to look at everything.”

In December, a few days before the traditional Saturday-night Heisman ceremony,, a website that has correctly predicted the last nine Heisman winners, listed Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III as the favorite, citing knowledge of 122 of the 926 Heisman voters.

Within hours, the offshore sportsbooks was pounded with bets on Griffin. RG3 shot past Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Alabama running back Trent Richardson, going from a 3-to-1 underdog to an overwhelming favorite at -400 (1/4).

That’s the kind of stuff that concerns Gaming Control. A possible solution to that issue would be to take down the odds in mid-November, though.

Bookmakers, meanwhile, have to assess whether the time and effort required for the application process is worth the betting handle that would be generated by the event. Kornegay says he receives only a handful of requests for Heisman odds, mostly coming from visiting fans. Somewhat surprisingly, Michael Perry, manager at, estimates the amount bet on the Heisman Trophy is about a quarter of what’s bet on the NBA MVP.

With Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley the early favorite offshore, this certainly would be a good year for Las Vegas books to offer Heisman betting. In mid-April, both the SuperBook and the MGM sportsbook had taken more than twice the amount of bets on USC to win the national championship than any other team. Odds are those same bettors would be willing drop $20 on their golden-boy QB.


(Odds as of Sunday, courtesy of

--Barkley is the favorite at +300. A quarterback has won the Heisman in 10 of the last 11 years, and the Trojans are the second favorite to win the BCS title, behind LSU. USC will likely be favored in every one of its games.

--Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith have seen the biggest adjustments to their odds. Ball opened at 6/1, but has been bet down to 4/1 and is the second favorite behind Barkley. Smith has gone from 12/1 to 8/1, as he prepares for a step up in competition in his first year in the Big 12.

--Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron is an attractive long-shot at 20/1. He passed for 304 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide’s spring game, but also tossed three picks. With Trent Richardson in Cleveland, McCarron will have to put up bigger numbers for Alabama to contend. The Tide are listed as the third favorite behind LSU and USC.

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