B-ball losing its appeal

May 15, 2007 5:10 AM

In Nevada, March Madness does not apply to the NBA.

The state’s sports books raked in 17 percent less from basketball wagers compared to last March, according to figures released by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Reasons vary, but books agree that the drop can be attributed to less betting interest in the NBA, while the NCAA basketball tournament continually posts solid results in March.

"Yes, we’re concerned about the decline in handle, but there isn’t a whole lot we can do," said John Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas. "The (17 percent) is not really a surprise. People just don’t care about the NBA regular season."

Avello also noted that NBA figures in March have been down the past three years, although he eventually sees it leveling off.

"I think it has reached rock bottom," he said. "The Lakers and Celtics are not the teams they were and the superstars seem to be drawing less attention from the public. However, in betting, the gap between March Madness and the NBA narrows. There is no doubt that the NBA can’t compete with the NCAA tournament as a more attractive event."

Tom Foster, race and sports supervisor at the Golden Nugget, believes wise guys sense in mid-March that some NBA teams may be playing to lose.

"The NBA is the only league that allows teams to tank games," Foster said. "Teams are trying to get as many ping pong balls (for the NBA draft lottery) as they can."

Foster explained that books such as the Nugget did a better job this year in recognizing which teams were "tanking," and the adjusted lines caused bettors to hesitate on wagering.

"In 2006, we were hammered in the NBA," Foster said. "This year we were ready for the tanking. We recognized when Paul Pierce would have a phantom injury or when Michael Redd would be benched in Milwaukee games for the final quarter. The lines here were adjusted and bettors didn’t want to bet."

Foster said the NBA was "big-market driven" and that bettors, knowing the New York Knicks were out of the playoffs in late March, may have been swayed by the adjusted odds and opted to sit those games out. He also cited the downfall of offshore books such as Pinnacle with limiting the number of choices bettors had in making NBA bets.

"When Pinnacle went down and no longer accepted U.S. wagering, it hurt Las Vegas as well," he said. "Less numbers were available to bettors so they couldn’t shop around as in the past. A lot of the guys would middle their NBA bets with us or other players. Also, some bettors are turned off by the NBA’s new hip-hop image. The sport just hasn’t been as popular since (Michael) Jordan left."

NBA deficits in March, however, were not across the board in Vegas.

"I guess our players like hip hop," said Jay Kornegay, race and sports director at the Las Vegas Hilton’s SuperBook. "Our handle was up on the NBA in March and both pro and college basketball exceeded from what we took in from 2006.

"I have no idea why it would be down, except that the college game during that time period continues to grow in popularity," Kornegay said. "The pro game has lost some casual fans. I can see the Pinnacle factor if betting was down the entire quarter, but if only in March doesn’t make sense to me."

Further research showed that betting indeed was down for the quarter, as well as over the past 12 months. In the first three months of 2007, basketball win was down 6.9 percent compared to the first quarter of 2006; and basketball win slid 5.9 percent over the past 12 months.

Kornegay questioned the notion that adjusted betting lines deterred "wise guy" money, noting that if bettors sensed teams were not using their best players in order to improve draft position, wagers would come in greater numbers against those teams.