NCAA March Madness smashing success so far for sports books

Mar 25, 2014 3:00 AM

The first weekend of the 2014 NCAA Tournament was a smashing success for every sports book in town.

Even though most of the bettors left town with less money than they came with, they would all agree the experience was worth the price of admission. The books did well over the weekend, winning all four days, with two of them better than the others. They excelled at putting on the grandest sports betting party that no other city in the world can recreate.

On the first Thursday, I walked to several sports books along the Strip and was just amazed at how great a show the sports books put on. At the William Hill book inside the Riviera, I was delighted to see a half-point parlay card with an outstanding pay chart. It was the best tournament card I have ever seen – no ties lose like we normally see.

From there it was the LVH Super Book. As I was getting nearer to the front door, it was like a major convention was in town, except the bodies flowing into the LVH weren’t wearing suits but bright colored t-shirts with their team’s logos. It seemed like most were Wisconsin red, they were everywhere.

The vibe was intense with the LVH book jammed with about 1,500 people and another 2,500 in the showroom. It was pretty intense.

I then walked over to the Wynn. Plenty of team colors present, but most of the shirts had collars on them. I was told by one of their guests the weekend party at the showroom was the best tournament experience he ever had.

At Palazzo, they had blackjack inside the Legasse Stadium; Treasure Island, where they are renovating their book, put on a magnificent party in their showroom that must have had about 1,800 people attending. And there was another party inside Gilley’s where they brought betting stations in. It had another 400 fans, and offered $3 Bud Light drafts.

The Mirage blew my mind away. I had never seen so many people in that book before. It was organized chaos and an awesome sight. At Caesars Palace, the first thing I noticed, other than the 600 standing in the crowd, was they had security on each side of the book handling their queues.

It may seem like a simple thing, but not everyone does it, and I left there impressed because that’s just one minor detail of many they prepared for on the weekend.

Overall, the entire city gets an A+, because every casino was ready and made the biggest betting weekend of the year look like they do it weekly. High-fives go out to every ticket writer, supervisor, and boss. You all worked extremely hard and got some overtime, but made it look so easy and had every guest leaving with a smile.

No NCAA juice at South Point: When the Arizona-Gonzaga third round match tipped off Sunday, the South Point moved all the juice on their Sweet 16 sides to -105. So instead of paying the traditional minus 110, such as $110 to win $100, bettors can now lay 105 and bet only $105 to win that $100.

This is not only a great move to attract more action, but it’s also quite the PR move to get the name of the South Point out there everywhere. There’s only a small piece of the pie to be had by every sports book in the city, so why not try and grab 5 percent more of the share.

Thursday and Friday are the busiest 48 hours of the year for the sports books, but the volume drops significantly in each ensuing round simply because there are less games. In the Sweet 16 round, there will be far fewer tourists in town for the games than the first weekend. Getting local clientele to the book at what is still a busy time is at an even greater premium to increase volume.

South Point has at least ensured the bulk of the sharp action around town this week. For the $100 bettor, saving $5 in juice may not seem like a big deal, but to the player dropping $5,500 a game, that extra $250 per bet adds up. Professional bettors from all over town will flock there, and along the way may also hang around the casino and play table games, slots or dine.

Book director Bert Osborne isn’t worried about more wiseguy play saying, “I’ve got most of those guys on the phones (account) already, so now I’ll just be seeing them in person more.”

Great contests: Station Casinos guaranteed $50,000 for their Last Man Standing elimination contest, but the $25 entry fees taken in actually exceed that amount. With 100% of all additional fees returned to the prize pool, there was $54,525 up for grabs. Of the 2,671 entries taken, only 215 survived through the first four days, which also is pretty telling about how the books did against bettors.

South Point had a nice daily NCAA Tournament contest going where for a $5 entry contestants could play for a guaranteed $10,000 just for picking the most winners among the 16 games offered. There was an individual contest for both Thursday’s and Friday’s second round games.

On Thursday, two contestants among the 1,850 entered went 16-0. On Friday, two contestants went 15-1. There were 1,950 entries. At $5 a pop, that means the public nearly paid for the entire contest, with the exception of the amount it took printing the cards.

Baseball dilemma for sports books: The sports books really do hate to take away any edge routinely given to their bettors, but there comes a time when the numbers just don’t add up.

We can expect to see at least one major chain of books make a change in their odds. If there is one area of the major sports that routinely holds only 1-3 percent, while other sports are holding 4-7 percent, why would the book continue to offer the best odds on the sport with the lowest hold? That sport with the low hold is baseball where most books offer a .10 cent split, unlike basketball and football spreads that are .20 cents. 

In addition to the huge edge it offers professional bettors, the small bettor also gets to smack the book around too because of true odds on parlay payouts that can multiply quickly – no pay chart here. 

The only problem for the book making the change is that it shifts the competitive balance a little bit. Perception is sometimes reality, and if hundreds of regular bettors feel they’re getting wronged, it is something that could alter a normal routine, such as getting a phone app with another book that has .10 cent lines. And once baseball is over, does that routine continue during football?

Those are all tough questions the book has to weigh out before making the move. They’ll definitely see handle drop with less wise-guy play, which will boost the win percentage, but overall win may also be down due to losing those smaller bettors who churn $50 daily in wagers. 

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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