Utah fans pay price for USC wagers

Jan 1, 2002 2:00 AM

Mesquite is just 30 miles from the Utah state line so it would figure that support for the Utes would have been strong at the Las Vegas Bowl.

Not, so.

“The Utah people were betting USC and that surprised us,” said Chris Day, race and sports director at Virgin River Casino. “There’s a lot of interest in Utah and BYU, especially in football. We had good action on the game and it worked out well for us.”

Utah came away with a 10-6 upset victory over Southern California last Tuesday as a 3½-point underdog before a record paid crowd of over 30,000 at Sam Boyd Stadium, although there were nearly 8,000 no-shows.

“Football is definitely our bread and butter here,” said Day, who came up to Mesquite with Tony George in 1994. George was promoted to general manager at the Oasis, which enabled Day to step in and take over the top sports position at Virgin River.

“We have the best of both worlds here,” Day said. “At Virgin River, you don’t have to deal with the rat race and yet we’re still a part of the action. We are more of the old time Vegas, with just 65 seats in our book. A lot of the charm is still here and we know everyone on a first-name basis.”

Virgin River, Oasis and Casablanca are all under the same management, much the way Primadonna, Buffalo Bill’s and Whiskey Pete’s operates in Primm, just a few miles from the California state line.

“We are very similar to Primm in that respect,” Day said. “I like to believe we have better odds, particularly in baseball where we carry just 10-cent lines.”

Utah and Brigham Young are particularly popular betting plays in football and basketball, unlike the apathetic interest these days involving UNLV and Nevada-Reno games.

“We get a lot of people from St. George and there are a lot of Mormons who like to bet, which might surprise some people,” Day said. “Football is our bread and butter, just like it is in Vegas. Utah people bet USC in the bowl game and the BYU people are doing the same. They are betting Louisville.”

Brigham Young was a 2½-point underdog against Louisville in the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve night at Memphis. The status of All-America tailback Luke Staley swayed the odds toward the Cardinals and the BYU fans mostly agreed.

“I think Staley being hurt and declaring for the NFL provided a letdown for the BYU fans,” Day said. “I think that has a lot to do with the money being wagered on Louisville.

Virgin River is located off exit 122 and I-15 for those who have never visited Mesquite.

“We’re glad to be a part of the Bookies Battle that GamingToday is running,” said Day, who stood third out of 61 competitors with just two weeks left in the NFL regular season.

“It seems like the 49ers, Bears and Steelers are gaining more and more support each week,” he said. “People are just riding their coat-tails, but we’re doing all right.”