You can read my list of top sports betting stories for 2008 and judge them pro or con. But it’s hard to top last year’s Patriots-Giants Super Bowl, which took the books the rest of the year to heal.
I spoke with three major movers in the industry – Red Rock Casino’s Jason McCormick, the Las Vegas Hilton’s Jay Kornegay and Wynn’s John Avello – for their reaction to 2008 and what lies ahead for 2009. Some 10 months later, thoughts are on that Super Bowl and the 14-point line for the Patriots which still for the most part isn’t really questioned.
"I still think the Super Bowl line was a great one," McCormick said. "We were looking at a Patriots team that was 18-0. The money line (+350) is what the books got beat on."
"The line was good," Kornegay said. "The books didn’t really expect all the action that would come in on the Giants. The anticipated money on the Pats never materialized. If it was a 7-point spread, it wouldn’t have been as big a deal. But there’s no second guessing from me after the fact. The odds were in our favor that we were going to be okay. We took the hit."
Avello conceded that he believed the Giants were never in doubt of covering the spread.
"I thought the public would have bet on the Patriots," Avello said. "The line should have been closer to 10. New York was on the upswing and New England was not. The money line, though, was right. New England would win seven times out of 10."
As for this year’s Super Bowl, don’t expect last year’s result to affect the way the books come out with the number.
"We won’t have a conservative line," Kornegay said. "As always, we will try to get balanced action. The Super Bowl is probably the most uncomfortable day of the year because everything is riding on just one decision."
Arguably the other huge favorite to flop was Big Brown, as much as a 1-9 favorite in the Belmont only to be pulled up at the top of the stretch and finish well back of the 38-1 longshot winner Da’ Tara.
"The Wynn book was actually helped a lot by the Da’ Tara result," Avello said. "We had futures bets on Big Brown at 125-1 to win the Triple Crown. Big Brown was bet all the way down to 10-1 on that prop, but there were still all those earlier bets to be accounted for. Big Brown was just empty that day. In normal circumstances he would have won going away. Da’ Tara turned out to be a horrible horse."
The other major scare for the books involved the Tampa Bay Rays, who had 250-1 futures payouts staring books in the chops if they had won the World Series.
"That certainly would have been the icing," Kornegay said. "We broke even with the Phils winning the Series. Usually the books’ hold is 30 percent on futures bets. That certainly would not have been the case if Tampa won. We still had to pay out 100-1 for them winning the division and pennant, but we dodged a bullet."
The Las Vegas books also seemed to dodge a bullet with regard to the smoking ban and the allowing of cell phones.
"The smoking ban didn’t affect race and sports books," McCormick said. "Several books have non-smoking sections, while most want you to come in and enjoy a smoke. As for the cell phone ban, it has seen its time. Everyone has a cell phone. We enforce it to how the Gaming Control Board wants it. Personally, I really have no problem with them."
Kornegay said Gaming Control made the right decision in lifting the cell phone ban during a mandated one-year probation period.
"I think it made our guests a lot more comfortable," Kornegay said. "As for the smoking ban, we have received positive comments both ways. I think the smokers are used to it and we accommodate them. The Football Central events we hold upstairs is non-smoking and has been well received."
In 2008 we saw the opening of Aliante in North Las Vegas and just recently Encore as a brother to Wynn Las Vegas. In 2009 comes the new M Resort in South Las Vegas, scheduled to open in late February or early March.
"We all know the economy is down right now," Avello said. "Past recessions we’ve experienced don’t go normally past a year. I am more on the optimistic side. We will start coming out of this by the end of the third quarter of 2009."
If so, then what’s ahead on the betting menu, where Las Vegas books have been accused of being conservative compared to the more maverick books offshore.
"For 2009, I can certainly see the industry expanding the betting menu," McCormick said. "I think we’ll have first period wagering for hockey, plus more first and second half betting in football. You could well see in-game wagering in soccer. It may be in 2010, but this type of wagering is in what Cantor Gaming does a fantastic job with. With Cantor buying LVSC you can expect in-game bets in our near future."
With all the previous talk on the sports side, the industry is quite concerned about what is not going down in thoroughbred racing.
"It would be nice for us to experience good weather for the eastern race tracks, which would help out the horse players," Kornegay said. "Hopefully the tracks can get together and agree upon racing surfaces to make thoroughbreds run more consistently."
"The race book side has seen a downturn," McCormick said. "Horse racing is not a younger man’s game. Those 45 and older and betting horses and we are depending on them for business."
"The horse racing industry nationally needs to get more cohesive with the race tracks," Avello said. "I think everyone needs to pull together and quit dividing the sport that we love. We need to keep people interested in horse racing."