Sunday, March 16, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Thirty years ago, Jimmy Vaccaro would huddle around a radio with some of his sports book staff on Selection Sunday and furiously scribble the NCAA Tournament matchups as they came over the airwaves.
The veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker, now with the South Point sports book, then quickly formed point spreads for the first-round games to sate the mob waiting to bet.
“There was a time when the tournament got announced and it would be mayhem,” Vaccaro said. “Those days are gone.”
Sports books will have it much easier today when CBS reveals this year’s 68-team March Madness field. The tournament has grown exponentially in every area since the mid-1980s, when Vaccaro last recalled the aforementioned scene — except for the initial gambling rush in Las Vegas.
Most shops will post numbers for first-round games within four or five hours of the selection show, but only after exercising a fair amount of patience. Ninety percent of the money wagered won’t come until Thursday and Friday right before tip-off anyway, so there’s no reason to risk posting bad numbers.
“We’re not in a big rush, to tell you the truth,” said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the LVH Superbook. “There’s just not a big demand to put them up right away. You want to look at the market, adjust accordingly to your thoughts and where you think your clientele will bet.”
Kornegay and his crew have an idea of what numbers they’ll use immediately but won’t have even finished inputting games into their operating system by the time spreads start trickling out.
A few offshore books are always first to the punch, establishing a market within a few minutes as wagers come in. One Las Vegas book — usually the Wynn's — will join with its lines shortly after while most books look on.
“Someone will try to get the numbers up there quickly and everyone else will follow,” Kornegay said. “If I had people waiting at the windows for it, we’d put it up earlier. But most people are printing out brackets, looking at them and thinking how their teams fared in the selection process. Later, they start to look at the lines.”
A select few local pro gamblers will be ready to pounce on the tournament lines tonight. But sports books’ slight delay has little to do with the vulnerability it could endure from that action, according to Kornegay.
Unlike the old days of the tournament, sharp bettors’ cash makes up a minuscule percentage of the total handle and sports books regularly find themselves on the same side as their wisest customers.
“It doesn’t matter what happens Sunday night, Monday morning or any time until Thursday,” Vaccaro said. “The public drives this tournament now. You’re going to be rooting real, real hard for the team you took all the early money on because you just get overwhelmed by the public on Thursday or Friday, and a lot of the times they’re on the other side.”
Vaccaro inadvertently put his book at great risk during Selection Sunday several times in a different era. He can remember opening first-round games two or three points off from what the consensus line would be around town.
There was no easy way to check the numbers of every other competitor in those days. And there was no imminent promise of tourists showing up to unload millions of dollars into the lines.
“We were doing things on the fly back then,” Vaccaro said. “You won’t see anything like that anymore, and it’s much more advantageous to the books this way.”