Bettors flying high!

Nov 22, 2005 3:50 AM

Bettors playing and collecting on NFL favorites this season have become the "T.O." to Las Vegas sports books — a Terrell Owens-type story that just won’t go away.

"It is what it is," said John Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas. "I’m not bothered by talking about it. More than anything else, I believe this is simply favorites winning because they are flat out the better team."

Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports operations at Station Casinos, said that under normal conditions favorites beating the underdogs would be an aberration. Now, he’s not so sure.

"I don’t really have a theory," Manteris said. "I’ve seen short term flings before, but this is becoming a concern. I don’t usually hit the panic button so fast, but I have to admit that the Eagles loss to the Cowboys (blowing a 20-7 lead in the final five minutes) bothered me more than any game since the (Buffalo-Tennessee) Music City Miracle. We took a double hit with both line and total."

Jay Kornegay, race and sports director at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook, took a lighter side approach to the weekly frustration.

"I’m looking forward to another losing weekend," quipped Kornegay, who noted that the books have been on the short end in the NFL for the last 2½ years. "I think it’s simply a case of no longer dealing with an overwhelming number of novice bettors. The public has taken advantage of information available through the Internet and the media. Knowledge through osmosis, if you will."

Like the Owens saga, the more that "squares" or the general public keeps winning behind favorites, the more this story grows. Consequently, the losing pattern for the house becomes a major concern.

"The days of bettors going to the window and playing say the Cleveland Browns because they like them are gone," Kornegay said. "People know about the injuries and their impact right down to the offensive line. Two weeks ago, when favorites went 12-2 ATS, the one game we needed to win was the Jets covering +6 at San Diego. If we don’t get that game, it would have been a big disaster. Still, this is the worst I’ve seen in my 18 years."

Manteris agreed that it has been the regular customer and not the "wiseguys" or professional gamblers who have taken advantage of the run on favorites, covering the line and delivering weekly beatings to the house.

"We as professionals in the industry have come to respect the public as sophisticated bettors," he said. "In general, the public still likes playing favorites. However, now if they think the number is too short, they will pounce on it."

Avello said that Vegas books need to step back and assess the situation on a week-to-week basis to determine if an adjustment in thinking needs to occur.

"If teams are getting better or worse, the pointspread is the first adjustment that can be made," Avello said. "However, books don’t like to over-adjust. You are starting to see a change. This past week, for example, Denver was a 13-point favorite at home against the Jets. Earlier in the year, it would have been 5 or 6."

The losses for the house on the NFL this season are in the millions, but the bookies concur that the situation should only be viewed on a week-to-week basis.

"No matter how bad things get, we can reimburse the customer," Kornegay said. "At the Hilton, the staff makes an evaluation every week to make sure we are in the best possible condition to win. Our number one job is to provide a service and give our players the opportunity to use their own opinions to beat the house. Sports books live off parity, and right now the cupboard is dry."

Manteris said that the house losses in football are strictly with the NFL, not with the colleges.

"Both last year and this year have been strong for the books," he said. "But as you know, if you don’t have a good NFL year, you won’t have a great year in sports."

Avello amplified on the "overkill" of the favorites versus dogs breakdown.

"It really is the T.O. to the books," he said. "I don’t expect the story will go away this week. What I see is a different story to talk about each week. That means more business for the industry, and that’s a good thing."