March fever!

Mar 21, 2006 3:39 AM

March Madness? To Las Vegas books, this past weekend was sheer Gladness.

"We did so well and had so much business that I have been given the go-ahead to reserve a ballroom for next year’s tournament," said John Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas.

Avello’s sentiments were echoed throughout the valley as NCAA basketball tournament betting was up, as was the house win.

"Our handle was up over 40 percent from what it was last year," said Mike Colbert, sports book manager at the Plaza. "Between the Super Bowl and March Madness, this has been a tremendous start to the season for us."

The Plaza’s updated line to win the NCAA title is as follows:

UConn 5-2, Duke 7-2, Memphis 8-1, Villanova 8-1, Florida 10-1, UCLA 11-1, Texas 12-1, Boston College 12-1, Washington 25-1, Gonzaga 25-1, LSU 25-1, West Virginia 25-1, Georgetown 30-1, George Mason 100-1, Wichita State 100-1, Bradley 100-1.

Avello said the enormity of March Madness surpassed even the Super Bowl in terms of longevity.

"The NCAA’s are always bigger than the Super Bowl because you’re dealing with four-straight days of huge crowds, rather than one," Avello said. "People are in our book from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. It’s just an enormous success and the ballroom next year will be much better suited to accommodate all our patrons."

Avello was pleased with how the tournament has gone, based on the numerous betting opportunities the house had to win.

"If you had to pinpoint one game, I would say Michigan State losing to George Mason was big for us. However, that wouldn’t be the story. What really matters is the 200 different betting props. Figure you’re dealing with 48 games  48 first-half, 48 second-half and 48 money lines. As long as you don’t lose 5-of-7 big decisions, we shouldn’t get buried."

Marty Seagren, sports book manager at the Rampart, said that both the action and results were better than last year.

"Lots of dogs won, which helped us a lot," Seagren said. "I would say Washington over Illinois was huge, Bradley and George Mason reaching the Sweet 16 was huge, Alabama and Florida were big. We did well on Boston College and Florida, along with Duke. Everybody bets Duke."

Seagren said that people tend to bet the tournament with their heads instead of their hearts.

"The trend is betting California and Western teams," he said. "We were kind of lucky in that respect this year in that we had a good edge against the wise guys."

Mike Colbert pointed to Washington’s second round victory over Illinois as a major victory for the Plaza.

"We opened the game as a pick, then went to Illinois -1, then -1½ and finally to -2," he said. "People were still betting the Illini. It was by far the biggest game of the tournament for us."

Lisa McDowell, sports book supervisor at Jerry’s Nugget, said that the book did all right after the first week of the tournament, though action was not as brisk as at other venues.

"We didn’t get hurt that badly by the results," McDowell said. "But, we have more of a football crowd at Jerry’s."