Recession? No, we bet!

Mar 25, 2008 5:00 PM

Road to San Antonio by Mark Mayer |


Recession! What recession? Not during March Madness.

"It’s been, in one word, phenomenal," said Chuck Esposito, director of race and sports operations at Caesars Palace. "We had people camping out at 3 a.m. Thursday trying to get seats in our sports book."

Las Vegas loves the Madness, much as it does the Super Bowl. The attitude, however, among fans toward the city’s biggest moneymakers is different.

"The Super Bowl is about the event," Esposito said. "The Madness is about the games. People plan vacations every year around the tourney. They enjoy the great games, terrific weather, fine dining and the gambling. It’s a win-win for our economy for sure."

As for the betting, the house took a hit Thursday when the favorites went 13-3 against the spread. Esposito equated the public’s victory to what occurred last year.

"It was virtually a duplicate," he said. "I believe favorites were 14-2 a year ago and the public profited. "The dogs did better Friday and Saturday, which helped. Sunday we broke even."

Jimmy Vaccaro, one of the storied figures in sports betting, happened to be at Caesars and echoed Esposito’s sentiments.

"The line was like 150 deep to make a bet," Vaccaro said. "I went all over town during the tournament and saw huge crowds at the Golden Nugget and the Hilton as well. "These places did a great job in taking care of the public and had first class setups. The crowds were down a little on Sunday, but that was due to Easter."

The Hilton did banner business with three straight sellouts at the Hilton Theater, according to the SuperBook’s main man Jay Kornegay.

"Our handle was up, the crowds were up and results were down," Kornegay said. "We got off to a rough start and did better Friday and Saturday. In all, the house was about even but we’re not looking for even."

Kornegay sees UNC and Kansas the dominating teams left in the tourney. His upset possibles are Davidson and Michigan State, with UCLA on warning.

"Laying 12 or 13 points to Western Kentucky seems like a lot for a team that does down to the wire quite a bit," Kornegay said of the Bruins.

Vaccaro likes North Carolina to handle Washington State, Stanford to knock off Texas and Louisville to get past Tennessee.

"I think North Carolina would be favored over the Miami Heat," Vaccaro said. "The line is short. The Tar Heels are the best of the No. 1 seeds left. Memphis could spit it up if it comes down to the last 30 seconds the way they shoot free throws.

"Stanford will give Texas all it wants with the two big kids (Lopez twins)," Vaccaro said. "With (Rick) Pitino, I give Louisville the edge over Tennessee. He runs a better controlled chaos."

Esposito lost Georgetown, but still has UCLA, Stanford and North Carolina in his Final Four bracket.

"I think Michigan State-Memphis and Tennessee-Louisville could be phenomenal games," he said. "It wouldn’t surprise to see some upsets."

The house would certainly like that.

And, here’s a few I hope won’t lose this week.

UNC -7½ vs Wash St: The Heels have had it easy and they keep playing in-state. But, UNC will get a scare here from the Pac 10 Cougars. WASH ST.

W.Virginia -1 vs Xavier: We are big Joe Alexander fans. He’s playing in the NBA next year and the Mounties are dancing to the Elite Eight. WVU.

Louisville -2 vs Tenn: The Cards were an NCAA sleeper two months ago. Nothing has changed. Bruce Pearl will put on a show for the Vols, but Pat Summitt would win. U OF L.

Wisconsin -4 vs Davidson: You have to love the Wildcats and Stephon Curry. He won’t score 40 or even 30, though, against the tough D of the Badgers. And this W team can score. WISKY.