Sports Books hope March Madness mirrors Super Bowl success
By Buzz Daly
Hitting a parlay is the best-case scenario for bettors since it generates maximum return for minimum risk. That is how Las Vegas anticipates the profits of parlaying the Super Bowl with March Madness, which follows just a few weeks later. These are the sports books’ two humongous wagering events of the year.
The Super Bowl did its part and hopes are high that this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will keep the profits rolling in. Prior to the Super Bowl, Vegas sports books experienced a horrific losing streak that drenched their bottom line in gallons of red ink. If the books can recover with two big paydays in a row, casino bosses will throw away their PeptoBismol.
Although action keyed specifically to the three-week basketball betting buffet is not tallied by gaming regulators, it is generally conceded that each year the handle gets bigger and bigger. So powerful is the draw of college baskets, that the madness actually commences in the weeks preceding the tournament.
The action starts heating up as the regular season schedule finishes, quickly followed by conference championship tournaments. These determine not only where a school is seeded for March Madness, but which bubble teams are invited to the Big Dance, and which ones are wallflowers.
By now, even novices know that the opening weekend – Thursday through Sunday – is a fast and furious marathon of jammed books and dawn to dusk betting. This year’s action gets underway March 16, following the addition of the final two teams earlier in the week. Selection Sunday, March 12, is the start of the hype-tsunami that accompanies March Madness. It includes jubilation over being selected, angst over a team’s seed, and anger or relief at the site where the team’s opening game is scheduled. All of this is magnified out of proportion by so-called experts whose overheated pontification might just as well be about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
While the rest of the nation (as well as Vegas) is consumed by Bracket Fever, we enjoy the added advantage of attacking the diverse betting menu offered at sports books. Bracket-pickers obsess over the win percentage of seeds in trying to pick a potential Cinderella, whereas bettors analyze point spreads, totals and look for half-time mistakes by odds makers. Interest in the action among bettors and bracket watchers from the start of the tournament to its finish is diametrically opposite.
The glut of games during the opening weekend, and to a lesser degree that of the Sweet Sixteen, is the icing on the cake for bettors. Action is the name of the game in Vegas during the hectic opening rounds. But for those whose fortunes are keyed to brackets, the big payoff comes with the results of later rounds, climaxing in the Final Four. For bettors, that’s the time when the pace of the Tournament has chilled to that of a standard championship event.
By the time the Final Four tip off, April 1 and 3, fortunes will have been made and lost in Vegas. Of course, by that time, there could be juicy futures bet jackpots awaiting some sharp/lucky bettors. Conversely, the books might be in a sweat over the possibility of paying off big on a long shot. The books are forced to navigate treacherous waters in which heavy favorites and popular Cinderella teams cover the spread. But as South Point odds maker Jimmy Vaccaro points out, “we’ll be okay as long as we get volume.” And every year, March Madness delivers volume, without fail.
Casino Player goes to press before the schools are selected and seeded, so I cannot offer picks of specific teams. This year’s college basketball crop has not seen any single school dominate, and injuries have compromised some of the best squads. But I can provide statistical observations and tendencies of bracket results based on previous years as reported by NCAA.com. These are straight-up results.
-The 12th seed wins about 12 percent more often than it is picked.
-Teams seeded #6 have a slightly higher win percentage than #5 seeds, despite playing a potentially tougher opponent on paper.
-A #16 seed has never beaten a #1 seed.
-Historically, about six upsets occur in the first round, generally among the #10 to #15 seeds.
Opening weekend strategy by bettors should factor in the reality that the blitz of games puts pressure on the books to post solid numbers in a timely fashion. While there is no doubt they can handle this pressure, the books have a very tight margin for error. Bettors simply have to scan the board, spot a mistake, and then make the books pay. Sharp bettors closely monitor half-time lines and pounce when a soft number is posted. The books adjust quickly, so it is crucial to be alert and waste no time in making your play.
Remember, the lines factor in all relevant and known data, so the best way to get an edge is to spot something and bet before the sports books notice it and adjust the number. A key strategy that many sharps use to their advantage is to track game totals and then, when the first half is either significantly high or low, bet the total posted for the second half if it doesn’t compensate for the discrepancy.
Like the Super Bowl, public money on March Madness overwhelms sharp money. This means that value seekers (dog bettors) have a slight advantage as casual fans usually have a bias for favorites, which is reflected in the lines. Chalk players don’t really care about betting an inflated number, wise guys are loathe to do so.