What a fantastic weekend it was to be in Las Vegas as the National Finals Rodeo was shutting down and all my countrymen from Ireland were here to see Conor McGregor win in UFC 194.
The only college football game was Army-Navy, but it was a wonderful event with Army playing tough as 22-point underdogs in a 21-17 Navy win. Best of all from a locals perspective, despite all that is going on, the Las Vegas Strip was as close to a ghost town on a weekend as I’ve ever seen.
Room capacity might have been the lowest it has been all year and the effect was having more elbow room on one of the busiest streets in the world.
On Sunday, you wouldn’t know it was a slow time of the year for the hotels, or at least at the sportsbooks as the few that were in town were all piled in to watch Week 14 NFL action – and they held their own with the books showing only the smallest of profits.
The public’s best win of the day came with New England who had been riding a two-game losing streak after starting the season 10-0.
Last week the Patriots were looking at being the AFC’s No. 3 seed in the playoffs as they stumbled through their first two losses of the season. However, following losses by both Cincinnati and Denver in Sunday’s Week 14 action, coupled with the Patriots 24-9 win at Houston in the late game, it’s the Patriots once again in control of their own destiny with the No. 1 seed with three more games to play before the playoffs start.
Prior to the Patriots dropping their second straight game to temporarily put them in the No. 3 position, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook had them as the massive 5-2 favorite to win the Super Bowl. After the loss, they fell into a tie with the undefeated Panthers at 4-1.
On Monday, with New England back in the driver’s seat for home field advantage and with Rob Gronkowski back in action, the Westgate dropped them back down to 7-2 as the lone favorite.
Bettors all had a feeling the Patriots wouldn’t lose three straight games and they came strong on them laying 3 all the way up to -4.5. William Hill sportsbooks had 85 percent of the tickets written on the game on them as well as 89% of the overall cash wagered. This was by far the most one-sided action of the day and took a big chunk of the profit the sportsbooks had tucked away after grinding out the first 13 games.
“We ended up being a small winner, but it wasn’t a great day,” said Boyd gaming sportsbook director Bob Scucci prior to the Patriots win. “We had a lot of great two way handle on each of the games and the games we had big public action on (parlays) we seemed to have sharp action on the other side so they both kind of balanced each other out.”
Scucci wasn’t lucky enough to have sharps balance out the risk on the Houston side like they did with so many other popular public games. He said the Patriots covering would mean giving back about half of what they had won on the day, but the game staying UNDER 46 would help.
The first 11 games of the day was just a case of the books winning a few and the bettors getting their fair share of victories as well.
“The Panthers was our worst game of the morning, and Cleveland wasn’t good either, but we did fare well with Detroit failing to cover – that game ran all the way to -3… and the Chargers and Saints covering also went our way.”
Carolina ran its record to 13-0 with a 38-0 pounding of Atlanta, which easily covered the 9-point spread. The public and sharps were both on that side. The Falcons failed to cover the spread for the ninth straight game.
Johnny Manziel made good on his return to the Browns starting lineup with a 24-10 home victory over the 49ers. Sharp action pushed the Browns from -1 to -2.5, while the public was backing San Francisco with its parlays.
The Rams finally bucked its five game losing streak with a 21-14 home victory over the Lions, who were bet by sharp money from pick ‘em to being the 3-point road favorite.
The Chiefs had won and covered six straight games prior to its home match against the Chargers and bettors laid 10 all the way up to 12.5, but there was rain throughout and KC could only muster a 10-3 win.
With New Orleans losing four straight, the public was down on them at Tampa Bay and the Bucs, who had covered six of its last eight prior, were bet up from -3.5 to -6.
“There were lots of significant lines moves this week, probably more than any other week,” said Station Casinos sportsbook director Jason McCormick.
So after showing just the smallest of profits through the first 11 games, there were only two games to bet on in the afternoon and the majority were dialed in on the favorites putting them together in parlays and teasers.
“We kind of spilt the afternoon games with both favorites receiving lots of action,” said Scucci. “I would have much rather had the Cowboys cover in the afternoon than the Raiders just because we had more large wagers on the Raiders than Dallas.”
While straight bets hurt most of the books with Oakland, the silver lining for them was the bettors’ parlays and teasers destroyed because of Denver losing. Some of those teasers were left over from Thursday night with the Cardinals and Carolina was another popular teaser choice. Denver and Green Bay were the last of the touchdown favored teams on the board that are popular with teaser players.
There were mixed reports around town concerning the handle. Some said it was the worst of the NFL season and others said it was right on par with what they have been doing.
“I think the biggest reason for things being slower this week was no college football on Saturday because we bettors usually churn their winning tickets from Saturday into NFL action,” said Scucci. “It’s holiday season, of course too, and the rodeo was just closing out.”
For the remaining few weeks of the NFL regular season the books will have an infusion of excitement and additional cash wagered due to the college football bowl season starting. These NFL teams seem to be getting harder and harder to read, which favors the books to keep its win streak against the public alive.
At one juncture the books and public were tied at 3-3, but the books have reeled off eight consecutive Sundays without losing.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].