Hoops hysteria in Vegas

Mar 12, 2002 11:20 PM

March madness, mayhem or mania ”” whatever you want to call it, the hyperactive hysteria of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament ”” is just about here. And, for sports book operators, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

"We’ve been in a funk since the Super Bowl, and we’re excited about the upcoming tournament," said the director of a Strip sports book. "There’s plenty of anticipation with the players, who have been counting the days for the bracket pairings."

The brackets were announced Sunday, and already the surge in college hoops betting has begun. Even though the first bracket games won’t be played until Thursday, bettors have already made enough choices to move some of the opening lines.

"We’ve seen a lot of money come in on the underdogs," the sports director said. "Bettors like to bet trends, and that’s always been an opening round trend: bet the dogs.

"Some of the popular choices so far," he continued, "include Penn, which was bet down from +5 to +4, and McNeese State, which dropped from +14 to +12.5."

Other teams that have seen some significant early betting action include Gonzaga (bet from —6.5 to —7); Indiana bet up from —5.5 to —6.5; and Southern Cal bet from a 10-point favorite to minus 11.

"We expect to see plenty of betting, including parlays and future bets," said Eric St. Clair, assistant manager at the Rampart Casino’s (former Regent in Summerlin) sports book. "We’ve seen lots of early action on the teams that just won their conference tournaments, such as Alabama and Oklahoma."

St. Clair said there’s also been steady action on future bets, that is, the team to win the tournament. Odds range from 3-2 and 5-2 for high-profile teams such as Duke and Kansas, respectively, to 3,000-1 and 400-1 for outsiders such as Holy Cross and San Diego State, respectively.

Also available at the Rampart Casino is a free Sweet 16 contest, in which players can win $5,000 for picking the Sweet 16 teams. For a complete listing of tournament contests, promotions and other events connected to March Madness, check out GamingToday’s coverage, beginning on page 28.

March Madness begins in earnest with the first and second action this weekend, followed by the Regional Rounds (Sweet 16) the following weekend. The NCAA semifinals will be played March 30 in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome and the finals on April Fool’s Day.

The tournament is a boon for sports books, which expect to rake in as much money as they do on the Super Bowl, the largest betting event of the year. That figure should top $70 million this year.

"The NCAA basketball tournament is made for gambling," Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Mirage, told CNN. "There is a reason virtually every newspaper in America prints the brackets. Part of the excitement of the Cinderella teams making it is that they’re long shots coming in."

Betting on the NCAA tournament has helped drive up its TV ratings. On average, an NCAA tournament game is watched by 6.5 percent of U.S. households, versus 4.9 percent who tune in to watch the NBA playoff games.