For Las Vegas bookmakers, big money is in the championship game

16 December 2013

LAS VEGAS -- A majority of the 35 postseason college football bowl games represent only a modest opportunity for Las Vegas bookmakers to boost their bottom lines.

But the BCS championship game featuring Auburn and Florida State and a slate of five New Year’s Day bowl games can bring the big money, sports book executives say.

“The mediocre bowl games, your Middle Tennessee State versus Navy or Cincinnati and North Carolina, are moderately bet only because they’re on television,” William Hill trading director Nick Bogdanovich said.

Bogdanovich expects the BCS national title game on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., to get a majority of the wagers. As of Thursday, Florida State is a 9-point favorite.

He also expected heavy interest in the Sugar Bowl — Oklahoma versus Alabama — on Jan. 2, and on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl — Stanford and Michigan State — and the Orange Bowl — Clemson versus Ohio State.

“There are so many bowl games,” Bogdanovich said. “Still TV is the key. If it gets on TV, they want to watch their favorite team and bet on them. It’s incredible.”

Those 35 postseason games over the next three weeks mean 70 out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, teams (56 percent) go to a bowl. That includes the UNLV Rebels, who Station Casinos has as a 6.5-point underdog against North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

“Who could imagine UNLV would be playing in a New Year’s Day bowl, in Dallas, in the Cotton Bowl?” said Jason McCormick, director of race and sports at Red Rock Resort. “The fact that they are … is great for our business. It’s a trigger that will lead to some great early visitation.”

Cantor Gaming has North Texas as a 7-point favorite over the Rebels; William Hill has the Mean Green a 6½-point favorite.

“The way the bowls are scheduled, they start on Dec. 21 and go through the first week of January,” Wynn Las Vegas race and sports operations director Johnny Avello said. “There is still a lot of buildup starting on Dec. 21. The money gets bigger as we get closer to the championship game.”

Avello said that’s typically how it has gone the last few years.

There are four games Dec. 21, including Fresno State and USC in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Southern California is a 5-point favorite, according to Cantor Gaming.

“While not as popular as the NFL, we have seen a steady rise in the popularity of college football, both within our book and through use of our mobile sports wagering app,” Hannah Sloane, a Cantor spokeswoman in New York, said in an email.

Sloane said Cantor has seen 47 percent of its college football wagers done via mobile devices. Mobile wagering is also a modest part of the handle at Station Casinos and William Hill.

Sports betting is big business in Nevada. During 2012, professional and college football was the most popular sport on which to bet on at casinos statewide, garnering 45 percent of total wagers.

Of the $3.45 billion wagered on sports last year, $1.56 billion was wagered on football, basketball was second with $975.01 million, followed by baseball with $693.17 million, and all other sports combined at $215.9 million.

Statewide wagering on college and professional football set an all-time monthly record of $342.6 million in October. Revenue from football wagering increased 390.2 percent to $18.1 million, compared with a loss of $6.2 million in October 2012.

McCormick said the business, or handle, generated at Red Rock Resort during the bowl season compares to about three average NFL Sundays.

“It continues to drive visitation,” McCormick said. “More games on the board, draws people’s interest and gets them in to the casino. With us being in the locals market, they are looking for an opportunity to win money.”

He said they might not be fans of Pittsburgh or Bowling Green but if the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is the only game on at then, they’ll wager on it and watch it.

The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit and the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego between Northern Illinois and Utah State are the two bowls scheduled for Dec. 26.

At Wynn Las Vegas, Avello said the 2013 college season has been tough, even though “we’ve had a couple of good weeks.” Avello attributed the tough season to Florida State and Auburn being a combined 22-4 against the spread.

Wynn Las Vegas isn’t on the hook for any potential large payouts should Auburn win a national championship. The Associated Press reported that there were 14 tickets from the LVH that have the Tigers at 1,000-1 to win the national title.

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