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With three of the four NFL underdogs winning over the weekend, you might be inclined to think that the Las Vegas sports books did very well, but that’s not necessarily the case.

In fact, the final results after Sunday’s games had more to do with extended risk and liability from a month of college football bowl games than the highly anticipated wild card weekend.

Following the Packers win over the Eaglesthe final of the four playoff gamesthe sports book were sweating the “Fight Hunger Bowl” in San Francisco between Nevada and Boston College, which would ultimately decide their fate.

It seemed odd after watching all these BCS bowls for a week that an unranked team in Boston College would be playing the second best team from the WAC in a bowl game this late, but here they were on Jan. 9, on the eve of the National Championship game.

When Nevada opened as 9½-point favorites, the Sharps jumped all over Boston College pushing the line down to 7½ where it stood until game day. Once the results started piling in from the pro football games and Friday night’s LSU win, the liability got pretty large on Nevada because of public support.

We’re not just talking about straight bets that paid winnings off of juiced bets either, but about major payouts. Nevada was the final leg of many parlays that had been bet weeks in advance that were going to payout 20-1, 40-1 and higher. Between parlays off the board and parlay cards, Nevada was going to be a six figure loss for most sports books in town.

After giving up the first touchdown of the game, Nevada reeled off the next 20 points and carried a 20-7 lead into late in the fourth-quarter. After a series of questionable Nevada penalties on a late Boston College drive with under five minutes to go, the Eagles got into field goal range and kicked the cover field goal rather than going for a fourth-and-six play. For the sports books, that field goal saved what would have been a disastrous day.

Saturday’s upset wins by the Seahawks and Jets were very good decisions for the sports books, but the extended risk from those games leading into Sunday’s games were pressing and everyone had the Ravens with a slight lean to the Packers. The only saving grace for the books after the Packers win was the total staying under 46½-points, leaving the final posted game for the day being the Nevada game.

The sports books should consider themselves lucky that the risk wasn‘t higher on the game thanks to Miami-Ohio beating Middle Tennessee in the Bowl on Thursday. MTSU opened as a 2-point underdog but closed as the 2-point favorite. Everyone was on the Blue Raiders for some reason and it was that loss, after many successes during the week with Stanford, Ohio State and LSU, that chopped off much of the liability.

This week the sports books can get back to having a normal playoff week without the looming risk of old college football games haunting them. Four isolated games with only eight decisions. Sure, the possibility exists that an eight-teamer can hit, but it’s much less likely when the eight options are being dictated rather than the plentiful board full of games like we’ve seen the last few weeks.

Last year we saw three of the four underdogs cover in the wild card round and the same thing happened over the weekend. In the divisional round last year, we saw three of the four favored teams cover with the Chargers taking a fall as big favorites to the Jets. Look for similar occurrences this week with the favorites.

Don’t be afraid to lay the points with all four favorites this week as they are all much better than their opponents. They had the week off for a reason.

Each one of the games has a tie-in to the regular season. The Falcons beat the Packers 20-17 in Week 12, the Seahawks won at Chicago 23-20 in Week 6 and the Patriots and Steelers both split their series matchups against their divisional rivals.

The Jets offense was much more in sync when they won their week two game against the visiting Patriots as opposed to the dead team that got blasted 45-3 in week 13 at New England. The Ravens and Steelers played a typical battle in their long line of fights in both of their games won on the other’s home field.

The Seahawks stuck it to the Saints in a big way Saturday, looking better than they have all season – one that saw all nine of their losses come by 15 points or more. Laying 9½ with the Bears seems a tall task, especially considering that the Bears were only 6½-point favorites in week six when they lost, but man, it’s hard to get that sour Seahawks taste out of the mouth after watching them melt down from week eight.

The top bet of the week looks to be the Patriots laying 8½, followed by the Falcons, Steelers and then the Bears. Good luck!

Tuley the Great

Dave Tuley of wrote on my Facebook page last week detailing all four eventual winners along with a total, and hit them all. A five bagger! Tuley, who writes a weekly sports gaming piece in the Daily Racing Form, has been known for some time in Las Vegas for his expertise in finding underdog pro football winners.

It will be interesting to see what he has in store this week, a round that is pretty favorable to the favorites. Knowing his tendencies, I would think he’d be leaning towards the Ravens and Seahawks, but we’ll have to find out later in the week.
Bill Bennett Celebrated

Because my late mother worked for Circus Circus while I was growing up in Las Vegas, and that I got my first job in the sports book industry there in the early 90’s, it was with eager anticipation that I found and read Jack Sheehan’s book, “The Forgotten Man,” about former Circus Circus president Bill Bennett.

The title of the book couldn’t be more appropriate because Bennett is somewhat of a forgotten man when people speak of the origins of Las Vegas, but Bennett was a pioneer in his own class with not many rivals.

His marketing campaigns and ability to go after the family vacationers on budgets kept Circus Circus churning millions of dollars in profits in what was an otherwise untapped market. His success in building that empire brought thousands of jobs from his other conquests such as building the Excalibur and Luxor in Las Vegas, as well as the Colorado Belle and Edgewater in Laughlin. He also was a key figure in building the Las Vegas Motor Speedway which has brought millions in non-gaming revenue annually to the market.

My fondest memories of Bennett was how much he cared about each individual that worked for him, something that has long passed in today’s corporate Las Vegas. Every Christmas, Bennett made sure that each one of his employees got a turkey and two bottles of wine for the holidays.

It was a small and simple gesture, but it was a thanks that the employees appreciated and what endeared him to all. When Bennett left unceremoniously from the corporation he founded – that later became the juggernaut of the entire town – so did the turkeys and wine.

Cheers to Bennett and Sheehan for writing the book so well and documenting Bill’s contributions to Las Vegas as we know it today.


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