Stateline books marching on |

Stateline books marching on

Despite the fact Nevada-Las Vegas continues to viva in the NCAA basketball tournament bracket, Stateline’s sports books expect brisk business.

Today kicks off a big weekend for the sports books, a weekend that’s the beginning of gambling’s long March. In fact, the start of March Madness ranks bigger at the Harveys Resort and Casino, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and Caesars Tahoe sports books than any other save the Super Bowl and opening week in the NFL.

“The NCAA tournament, it’s like your March Super Bowl,” said Harrah’s sports book manager Steve Schorr.

Even though the U.S. Senate is contemplating throwing the book at betting on college sports, bettors will be throwing themselves at the books for the first round of March Madness. And despite the growth of offshore gambling on the Internet and UNLV’s presence in the tournament bracket – which, according to Nevada gaming law, means bettors can’t pick a Southern-Region or overall winner as long as a Nevada school is in the tournament – they’re still patronizing casinos.

“This is the biggest besides, obviously, the Super Bowl,” said Harveys sports and race book manager Geoff Lannert. “This is like New Year’s Eve to us. This is the night before the big tournament.”

Caesars book manager Paul Peterson took that one step farther. The Super Bowl is over in an afternoon, but basketball tournament betting challenges the week before Super Sunday.

“Obviously, the Super Bowl is our busiest day of the year,” he said. “But for sheer volume over a span of days, March Madness comes close.”

The reasons for that popularity boil down to the obvious. There are 32 first-round games, many of which pit a nationally known favorite like Duke or Michigan State against a higher-seeded underdog. Others draw action from fans who want to bet on teams because their followers think they have special insights on their alma maters, schools in their regions – or hunches.

“In college, there’s so many teams, sometimes the lines aren’t that accurate,” Schorr said. “That’s why people gamble on it so much.”

While some gamblers have – or think they have – better insights than linesmakers, there’s not much variation. All three big Stateline books start with the line Las Vegas Sports Consultants lays down. Both the Harrah’s book and the Caesars book are part of networks: Harrah’s headquarters can make small variations to the books at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Harrah’s Reno and Harrah’s in Pahrump, Nev.; by the same method, Caesars Tahoe carries the same lines as Caesars Las Vegas and the Hilton casinos throughout Nevada. Harveys, by contrast, has an independent book, which allows the book to vary the line in Stateline.

Lamar University is a 750-1 underdog to win the East Regional at both the Harrah’s and Harveys books. That’s extremely lower than the trillion-to-one odds USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan gave the Cardinals to win the tournament. In fact, Harveys caps its odds to win at 9,999-1, so the Cardinals couldn’t be five-digit underdogs to win. But that’s not unique to Harveys.

There are no million-to-one underdogs at the books because, as Harrah’s Schorr put it, “Strange things sometimes happen in sports,” he said. “If it did happen, you wouldn’t have a job anymore.”

The 750-1 odds haven’t kept bettors from putting bets down on Lamar, though. However, Nevada rules don’t allow gamers to pick the Cardinals – or any other team – to win the tournament as long as UNLV is in the bracket. Nevada law prohibits bets on a Nevada school, or the bracket the school is in.

If an opponent eliminates UNLV, though, business should pick up after the first round as bettors can pick their favorites to win the tournament. NCAA tournament action starts off hot with the first 32 games, then cools off, then picks back up as the Final Four approaches and the books offer proposition bets on the final two games.

Illegal offshore gambling outlets on the Internet, though, have no such rules. While it’s hard to judge how much volume because betting is becoming more popular, Harveys sports and race book manager John Eiler said the internet books are taking some action.

Peterson agreed. He said the handle (total number of bets) in Nevada dropped for the first time last year after several years of gain. Part of that is Internet gambling, particularly offshore outfits.

“The Caribbean is primarily responsible for that,” he said.

However, efforts at banning wagering on college games haven’t affected tournament action this March at Stateline’s big three.

“I don’t think it’s really had an effect on the betting public except for the people who are in the business,” Schorr said. “Most people don’t pay that much attention to it.”

There is no last-days-betting-in-Rome feeling at Caesars, according to Peterson.

“It’s drawn attention to it, but I don’t think it’s really coming into the sports bettor’s mind,” he said.

In fact, volume at the three has remained about the same as previous years. As on gaming’s other big days, managers have special propositions to hold bettors’ interest, like Harveys’ Battle of the Sexes competition, where a school’s NCAA men’s and women’s tournament entries face off, Caesars’ challenge to pick the most points spreads in the tournament, or Harrah’s parlay cards. All that, coupled with the choice of watching the opening round round-the-clock on Harrah’s 57 televisions, at the 270-capacity Video Stadium at Harveys, or at all the bars in Caesars, translates to a unique strain of spring fever.

It’s madness, I tell you.

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