Bookies living it up so far with football

AP News
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Posted: Oct 03, 2014 6:06 PM
Bookies living it up so far with football

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jimmy Vaccaro thought he would offer bettors a little fun — and a long-shot chance at some real cash — when he put up a proposition this week at 25-1 odds on the Jacksonville Jaguars going winless this season.

What he didn't think was that anyone would bet serious money on it.

"We had it up for about two hours and a kid came in and wanted to bet $1,000 on it," Vaccaro said. "I told them to write it up."

Some proof, perhaps, that people will bet on anything. But Vaccaro doesn't mind risking a $25,000 payout in a football season that has proven quite profitable so far for most of the legal bookies in this gambling city.

"I don't gloat about it because it can change," said Vaccaro, who helps run the sports book at the South Point hotel-casino. "But it's been the best I've seen for quite a while."

That football is big business in sports books comes as little surprise. The sport accounts for more than half of all sports betting revenue at the books, which won some $202 million last year on record wagering of $3.6 billion.

That was double the betting done in legal sports books just a decade ago, and all signs are this will be the biggest football season ever.

"The handle has been fantastic and it's continuing to grow," said Johnny Avello, who runs the sports book at the Wynn. "We've had nothing but people betting on sports."

That's good news for the only state — at least for now — that allows full-fledged betting on sports. Even better is that the bookies are doing better than the guys on the other side of the counter so far this year.

At the South Point, Vaccaro said the house has won every week of the NFL season, mostly because some key games that drew heavy action broke the right way. That was true last Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings won outright against an Atlanta Falcons team that had been bet up from a 3-point favorite to a 6-point pick.

"You win those type of games it puts you in a great position for the rest of the day," he said. "That could change drastically, but so far, so good."

The rise in sports betting has been steady over the past 10 years, though bookies say this year may end up having the biggest increase of all. That's because football remains as popular as ever, and a new generation of younger bettors seems to have embraced it with enthusiasm.

Indeed, the longstanding stigma against sports betting seems to be fading away, particularly now that daily fantasy companies offer online wagering that is strikingly similar to the proposition bets put up in sports books.

And if New Jersey is successful in its current effort to join Nevada in offering sports betting, the market will only grow.

"If New Jersey gets it, Pennsylvania is going to get it, and California and New York will want it," said Nick Bogdanovich, the oddsmaker at William Hill U.S., which operates dozens of sports books in Nevada. "There are casinos and lotteries and horse tracks in every state so what is one more form of gambling. And this one is the one you have the most chance of winning."

Technically, that's true, though the skill of the best handicappers is what limits sports books to about a 5 percent average win on money bet. Luck plays its part, too, though the bettor who put $1,000 on the Jaguars becoming the first team since the 2008 Detroit Lions to go winless through an entire season may be stretching his a bit too far.

"As convinced as you are that they won't win, it's still awfully hard to lose them all," Vaccaro said. "But wouldn't it be funny if they beat the Skins on Sunday? Then I'd have to come up with something different to keep things interesting."