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Don’t tear up your wager slip too soon

Rick Chandler

If Paul Peterson has learned anything in his years of working in the sports betting industry, it’s the following: If you think you’ve seen it all, think again.

“There are all kinds of weird things that can happen in a sporting event, and when the unexpected happens, there is always someone (a bettor) on the wrong side of it,” said Peterson, the Race and Sports Book supervisor at Caesars Tahoe. “Just when things look normal, that’s when someone will parachute into the boxing ring. You never know.”

On the surface, sports wagering seems fairly straightforward. You bet, and if your team loses, you lose your money. But it’s not always that simple. Sometimes, confusion reigns.



It happened this past Sunday, at the conclusion of the National League Championship Series baseball playoff game between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. When Robin Ventura hit a grand slam in the 15th inning to win the game for the Mets, it set off a celebration not only among the Mets’ players and fans, but also the thousands of bettors across the nation who had put money on New York.

One of the ways you can make money on a sporting event is by betting the “over-under” – or guessing that the total runs scored in a game would be more or less than a set number established by the house. The over-under on Sunday’s Mets-Braves game was 7 1/2. So when Ventura hit his grand slam, which apparently gave the Mets a 7-3 win, the “over” bettors thought they were in for a payday.



But not so fast. Television viewers witnessed Ventura touching first base and then getting mobbed by his delighted teammates. He never touched the other bases, so his hit was ruled a one-run single. So the Mets actually won, 4-3.

And the “under” bettors were suddenly the winners.

“There was some initial confusion over the score on television,” said Steve Schorr, the Race and Sports Book manager at Harrah’s Tahoe. “At first they had the final score at 7-3. So some “over” bettors tried to cash in their tickets real quick. But about a minute later (NBC) changed it to 4-3 and made it official.”

According to Rus Wilson, who was also on duty that day at the Harrah’s Sports Book, some bettors were about to toss their winning slips away.

“We told them to hold on, that the score might change,” Wilson said. “When it did, we had a lot of elated customers.”

One of those customers had played a parlay ticket which included the “under” bet. When the score was changed to 4-3, his ticket was suddenly worth $12,000. And Wilson, who had told him to hold onto it, got a large tip.

“A couple of guys came up right after the grand slam and wanted to cash in their ‘over’ bets,” Wilson said. “But we couldn’t do it, because the machines are hooked up to the system in Las Vegas, and we can’t run the tickets through until the score is official.”

Baseball bets are “usually pretty straightforward,” said Peterson, who has worked in the Caesars Sports Book for 12 years. “You tend to see more unusual things happen with boxing, such as the Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield fight (which was called a draw, amid much controversy). The house suffered that night. A lot of people who bet on Holyfield got their money back.”

But the biggest days for the sports books are Super Bowl Sunday, and the first day of the NFL season, followed by the New Year’s bowl games.

“Football betting has really changed over the past few years,” Peterson said. “More people have more access to information due to the Internet. You now have a pretty sophisticated group of number crunchers out there. So that’s why you’re seeing movement in the point spread of four, five, six points in some cases, which was unheard of before.”

But things are still comparatively calm in the sports books. Calm, that is, compared to the betting atmosphere in Peterson’s first job.

“I was in the bookmaking business in Dublin, Ireland, in the 1960s and early ’70s,” he said. “It was a little different there. You had betting parlors on just about every street corner, like you would see 7-Elevens in this country. The Irish love to gamble, and it’s more accepted there than it is here. And they can be pretty passionate about it.”


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