The greatest annual four-day festival in Las Vegas has come and gone with the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament now in the record books. For all parties involved on both sides of the counter it was another fantastic success with bettors getting a running start to it all with some winners until the books cleaned up in the second round.
“It was great all weekend, super busy, with Sunday slowing down a bit,” MGM Resorts race and sportsbook VP Jay Rood said Sunday evening as the weekend was winding down. “We lost on Thursday, but did well on Friday and Saturday. If Arkansas can hang on to win or cover we’ll be in a great position heading into the UCLA game where everyone is on the Bruins.”
Arkansas did hang on to cover +11.5 in a 72-65 loss to North Carolina, but bettors got some of it back with UCLA covering -4 in a 79-67 win against Cincinnati. Bettors also took their lumps in the other late game when popular Duke (-6.5) lost, 88-81, to South Carolina. The few bettors who took a shot with the Gamecocks on the money-line were paid +280. It was one of two underdogs to win outright on Sunday, the other being Michigan’s 73-69 win over Louisville (-3).
Most books showed the same type of success patterns for the weekend as MGM did, but the party got kicked off the right way with a big public win on Thursday.
“We lost everything late,” said CG Technology VP of risk Jason Simbal. “Purdue (-8 vs. Vermont), Iowa State (-6.5 vs. Nevada), Wisconsin (-6 vs. Virginia Tech) and Arizona (-18 vs. North Dakota); they were all favorites and all bad for us.”
The popular OVER wager also hit on all those games and the combination of favorites to OVER on all four of those late games had many of the crowds cashing big parlays, which in turn took the books from being a small winner on the day up that point to being a big loser.
It was the perfect start Madness partiers around town were hoping for and many kept the party going all night, and of course making sure to bet Friday’s early games just in case the partying got too intense for a 9 a.m. wake-up call.
So even though the weekend scoreboard reads: Sportsbooks 3, Bettors 1, at least bettors got to ride that ultimate wave of winning and celebrating on Thursday before the books took it all back, and then some, over the next three days. There was laughing, dancing and pure Vegas fun for a while before the house gained its edge back. It was everything the partiers had envisioned on the plane ride to town.
For the books, they got themselves a big scare on the first day after being beat up weekly in the past NFL season. If the bettors could win big on Thursday, why not Friday and Saturday, too?
Because of such expectations to continue a trend of consistent win in March due to the tournament, coupled with what happened in the NFL, sleep was hard to come by Thursday night for most of the book bosses.
A consistent theme all over town was the books reporting larger handle than last year’s Madness.
“Our handle is up a little bit over the same four days last season,” said Rood, “and part of it is due to it being our first tournament with phone wagering. From Wednesday through Sunday we’ve signed up 2,000 people.”
MGM Resorts has 10 sportsbooks along the Strip to help gain that many accounts in such a short time span, but it’s an incredible accomplishment. Rood said they dedicated an employee doing only phone account transactions and sign-ups through the weekend in anticipation of a rush, but he could have never projected 2,000 new accounts in four days.
Overall, the favorites ended up going 21-26-1 ATS, which is generally going to equate to a fantastic house win. The OVER went 29-18-1, which is generally a good sign for the public.
The regional semi-finals and finals this weekend will all have heavy action, but nothing like what was witnessed this past weekend with games all day long. Thursday and Friday’s games will all be in prime time. Nevada books expect to handle over $300 million during the tournament and a large chunk of that already happened.
Also, a big thank you goes out to all the ticket writers at the sportsbooks everywhere who put in so much extra work over the last week. Between long lines, explaining to novices how to bet, missing a few breaks and taking shorter lunches for the good of the customers, you all deserve some recognition for being the ones who really made this party roll so smooth. You’re on the front lines. You make it all possible and step up in the big moments.
So if you’ve got a ticket writer who always gets your bet in correctly, smiles and keeps you coming back, go give him or her a $5 bill and tell them you appreciate their work.