NCAA college basketball tournament has the potential to set all-time highs

Mar 15, 2011 6:08 AM

This year’s college basketball tournament has the potential to set all-time highs in handle throughout Nevada sports books thanks to the new television contract that debuts this week with staggered start times.

The deal between the NCAA, CBS Sports and Turner Sports now allows bettors more time to get to the windows, which should in turn create a significant increase in volume.

Under the old scenario, bettors would play their group of games during what the start times dictated. If three games were going off within 10 minutes of each other, a popular betting strategy from regular bettors would be to play a two or three team parlay on those games and link those up in parlays with a few of the other 33 games starting later.

Because most play with a limited bankroll, their allotment on straight bets may go to only one or two games during that stretch while waiting to see if they won or not.

With the new staggered format, bettors will now be able to cash without missing opportunities on the next wave of games and roll some of that money over, or if it goes bad, know that they have to go to the ATM and get more cash because a decision is in.

Either way, the bettor now has time to regroup or press the action, which wasn’t always available in the past.

The true value to the sports books is hard to forecast without having seen it all unwind before, but Thursday and Friday’s action is expected to exceed what they did last year just because of a longer time frame for the public.

"I think it’s going to be good for our handle," said Lucky’s veteran Sports Book Director Jimmy Vaccaro. "We should see us get an increase of about 5% over last year’s handle. When all the games start at relatively the same time, many of the bettors miss out. Now they’ll all have plenty of time to get action on the next game."

One of the biggest problems with games starting while others are ending so close together is just being able to make the bet on time as Las Vegas Hilton Super Book Executive Director Jay Kornegay explains.

"Even when some of those games would end in enough time for bettors to get down, a lot of them would get shut out no matter how many windows we had open," Kornegay said. "Bettors like to cash immediately after games, and then you have others who like to bet just before the game. When you have both sides doing both in a small window of opportunity, having some of them getting shut out is inevitable. Hopefully the staggered schedule negates some of that."

Most of the average Joe’s like to bet one game at a time – or a wave of games in parlays – seeing how their bankroll goes. Betting a 4 p.m. game at 9 a.m. with their early plays is rarely seen. These bettors want immediate action and they want immediate cash when they win.

It’s part of what makes the first weekend of action so exciting in a Las Vegas sports book. There’s an exhilarating rush of hustling through a crowd to get action in at the last minute, kind of like the frenzy that goes off at a race track with two minutes to post.

Because of the layers in betting opportunities, Coast Resorts Sports Book Director Bob Scucci certainly thinks handle will be up, but he isn’t necessarily sure about the win percentage being equally increased.

"This is far more advantageous for the player than us because they have more opportunities to re-group over the course of the day and come up with another game plan should they lose, whereas before they were forced to do a lot of their betting all at once," Scucci said. "It’s kind of like the NFL on Sunday’s, but with many more levels, with parlays on each level generating more and more outstanding risk."

On Sunday nights during the NFL season, even if the players have a mediocre day, no matter what a sports book does, it’s hard to even out the liability because most of the extended risk is paying out 10, 20, or 40-1 odds on parlays. No matter how creative the bookmaker is, they can’t reduce that risk by much by taking straight bets paying 11-10 odds.

Increasing a money-line on the late game to make it attractive for sharp bettors for large money is one way to help, but it still doesn’t come close to leveling off what some of the payouts are.

While handle alone on Thursday and Friday looks to exceed anything done in the past, the staggered schedule on Saturday and Sunday is still up for debate. On each of these days, half the games will start after 3 p.m., making the annual routine altered a bit for many Las Vegas visitors.

Whether it’s show or dinner reservations, a lot of other variables come into play for making the late Saturday game not as attractive in the past.

Most guests check out Sunday afternoon and either drive home to California or have to catch a flight, meaning there’s a chance several of these players on the Strip will be leaving before the games are done. On a normal Sunday in the second round the games would be finished by 4 p.m. This year, four games will be going or will have yet to begin by that time.

It’s likely the rise in handle from Thursday and Friday will outweigh any decrease from Saturday or Sunday’s games that may occur. The Vaccaro estimate of a 5% increase figures to be right on the money.

Staying with blowouts

Another aspect of the new TV deal is that the sports book staff is likely to take less abuse from a crowd that, let’s just say, is usually a bit intoxicated after two hours of watching the game. The number one abuse taken by the staff is always about games being taken off the air by the network.

"We’ll have a group watching their game where the spread may be 18 and the national CBS feed thinks a 20-point game with five minutes to go isn’t competitive, switching it to another game we already had the feed on," says Kornegay, "These fans start yelling like an angry mob at us as if we intentionally changed the game, not knowing we can’t control what the network does."

With four different networks going at the same time on Thursday and Friday, much of the past obscenities thrown at the staff should be at a minimum this year. With the ability to get more bets in with less shut outs, this could be the best handle Nevada has ever seen for the tournament. If we see some angry drinkers yelling and screaming, it will likely now only be because of picking the wrong side.