Tuesday, March 27 at 8:00 PM ET
LAS VEGAS – March Madness has been wild as always with fantastic finishes – especially in regard to the betting numbers -- and it all comes down to the Final Four this Saturday and the title game on Monday. The casinos here are getting ready for, uh, well, a regular spring weekend.
This phenomenon has always amazed me.
The Super Bowl is the king of sports betting events here in Vegas with big crowds taking in all the parties and big betting handle for the title game. March Madness is No. 2 and gaining, but while the opening weekend has big public parties throughout town and many private parties for high-rollers in addition to the standing-room-only crowds in every sports book, the crowds drop off precipitously for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games of the second weekend and even for the Final Four.
There aren’t any official figures compiled by the Gaming Control Board, but some bookmakers said handle was down 50 percent last week from the first two rounds. Actually, that’s not too bad considering there were 48 NCAA tournament games that first Thursday through Sunday with just 12 this past weekend. So, obviously these games are still getting bet even without the planeloads of tourists coming into town.
Here’s how the early betting went for the two Final Four matchups so far (ViewFromVegas Consensus Lines as of Tuesday morning):
Kentucky -8.5 vs. Louisville, over/under 138
An offshore book put up this line early in the second half of Kentucky’s blowout win over Baylor. They went with the Wildcats -9.5 and it got bet down right away all the way down to 8. The Wynn Las Vegas and Lucky’s chain of sports books were the first in Vegas to post the line and went with 8.5 as well. Several Vegas books did go to Kentucky -9, but most have settled back at 8.5 as that’s the consensus number. It’s interesting to note that the three remaining books at 9 are the Wynn, Mirage and Caesars, all in close proximity in mid-Strip (and expected to see more tourist money this weekend, which will undoubtedly be on the Wildcats). The over/under opened 137.5 on Monday morning and got bet up to 138.5, but has been coming back down. I’m calling the consensus 138 though just two books are at that exact number (Stations and Club Cal Neva) while some are still at 138.5 and an equal number at 137.5 with the LVH SuperBook (formerly Hilton) at 137.
Ohio St. -2.5 vs. Kansas, over/under 136.5
There has been much less movement on this game. Offshore opened Ohio St. -3 and dropped it to 2.5 quickly and that’s where every other book has opened it. Except for the Wynn, which went with Ohio St. -3 and, except for a brief dip to 2.5 on Monday afternoon, has held the line there with every other book in the world dealing 2.5. The over/under opened 134.5 on Monday morning and was steamed to 136.5 and has sat there ever since.
Speaking of the over/unders: in last week’s “Vegas Beat” column, I pointed out that unders had dominated through the first two rounds (30-16-2!) and that I was predicting more overs in the second weekend. It didn’t quite work out last Thursday/Friday as the totals split 4-4, but the overs went 4-0 on Saturday/Sunday in the regional finals. Those scoring outburst are probably behind the early moves on the overs in the Final Four, even though it’s being played in a dome, which tend to lower scoring).
And speaking of trends reversing in general, remember how favorites were rolling early in the tournament? Chalk was 14-8-2 ATS halfway through the opening Friday, but that edge was completely erased as underdog were actually leading 27-26-2 ATS heading into the Elite 8 before favorites went 3-1 last Saturday/Sunday to take the slightest of leads at 29-28-2 overall. Never underestimate the oddsmakers’ ability to even out betting trends.
Back to the futures
The LVH has Kentucky 5-7 to cut down the nets as NCAA champions on Monday night with Ohio St. 13-5, Kansas 5-1, and Louisville 10-1.
This reminds me of what I wrote two weeks ago in this space, specifically “It’s almost always better to take a team you like and bet the money line on them and parlay your winnings from game to game (or series to series in MLB, NBA, NHL playoffs) instead of betting a future-book price off the board.”
Let’s see how that fared with our four regional winners:
Louisville (8-1 to win Midwest): The money lines on the Cardinals’ games were -270 vs. Davidson, -130 vs. New Mexico, +220 vs. Michigan St., and +105 vs. Florida. While a $100 future bet at 8-1 would have brought back $900, a game-to-game parlay using those money lines would have turned into $1,590.47. Much, much better at nearly a payoff of 15-1.
Ohio St. (7-5 to win East): The Buckeyes were -4000 vs. Loyola-Maryland, -370 vs. Gonzaga, -400 vs. Cincinnati, and -155 vs. Syracuse. While the $100 future-book bet would have paid back $240, the money-line parlay was worth $267.76.
Kansas (9-5 to win Midwest): The Jayhawks were -1500 vs. Detroit, -420 vs. Purdue, -380 vs. North Carolina St., and -130 vs. North Carolina. The future-book bet paid back $280 while the money-line parlay came back $195.14.
There was one glitch in the theory, sort of. Kentucky was 5-7 to win the South. Now, since they were the No. 1 seed of the whole tournament and a No. 1 has never lost to a No. 16 and they were a 26.5-point favorite over Western Kentucky in their first game. Searching my records, no books offered a money line on UK except for Pinnacle, which made the Wildcats -8000 (lay $80 for every $1 you want to profit). Using that price with their -900 vs. Iowa St., -550 vs. Indiana, and -420 vs. Baylor, the money-line parlay returns $164.61 from the original $100 investment while the 5-7 payoff would be $171.43. But as you see, that was a negligible amount, plus maybe that -8000 was a bargain. If the price was -9000, the ML parlay would have been $164.38, almost right on the number.
Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper in Vegas and has written for Daily Racing Form since 2000. Tuley started his own website, ViewFromVegas.com, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including ESPN.com. In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 45, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas.