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October 20, 2014

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Vegas odds call for historically competitive Sweet 16 as gambling slows

Crowds and lines thin for second weekend of March Madness

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Jeff Roberson / AP

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) dunks against Wichita State during the second half of a third-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 23, 2014, in St. Louis.

March Madness in Las Vegas

Patrons celebrate Dayton's upset of Ohio State during the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament Thursday, March 20, 2014 during a party at the South Point. Launch slideshow »

LVH Superbook updated odds to win NCAA Tournament

  • Florida: 7-to-2
  • Michigan State: 7-to-2
  • Louisville: 7-to-2
  • Arizona: 3-to-1
  • Virginia: 10-to-1
  • Wisconsin: 18-to-1
  • Michigan: 18-to-1
  • Ketucky: 18-to-1
  • UCLA: 25-to-1
  • Baylor: 25-to-1
  • Tennessee: 25-to-1
  • Iowa State: 30-to-1
  • UConn: 30-to-1
  • San Diego State: 50-to-1
  • Stanford: 50-to-1
  • Dayton: 75-to-1

Shorter lines characterize the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in Las Vegas, both those forming in front of betting counters and those projecting on boards above the wagering windows.

A historic decline on both fronts, the point spreads and the money betting into them, could occur this weekend in sports books. Although the Nevada Gaming Control Board doesn’t officially track the volume wagered on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, several sports book directors are referring to it as the highest ever.

Veteran bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said South Point and its associated properties increased their handle by 7 percent over last year, which set a previous best.

“It was bigger than I’ve ever been associated with,” Vaccaro said. “I think, in ballpark figures, the dropoff will be anywhere between 40 to 50 percent of our business between last week and this week.”

Sounds exactly like the point spreads. The average line on the 16 third-round games played Saturday and Sunday was 7 points, twice as high as the mean for the next set of eight games Thursday and Friday.

The average spread is minus-3.5 in the Sweet 16, the lowest figure in at least a decade for this group of games.

“These are some incredible matchups,” said Jason McCormick, Red Rock Resort sports book director. “It’s a bunch of basically pick’em games. It’s going to create some fantastic basketball.”

Sports books posted one game with a line of greater than two possessions, and it was just by a half point. No. 1 seed Arizona gives No. 4 seed San Diego State 6.5 points in the final game to tip Thursday night.

Five of the seven other games are separated by a single possession, according to sports books, with a point spread of minus-3 or below.

“These teams are getting so close as far as their talent,” Vaccaro said. “The gap between teams isn’t that great anymore, and you can really see it in the point spreads. There is no game here that would shock anyone with the outcome.”

It’s not usually that way. Five of the last six years have featured a Sweet 16 with at least one double-digit underdog.

The average Sweet 16 spread hasn’t fallen lower than minus-5 since 2006. While some of the tightness is a product of parity as Vaccaro suggests, the draw also assisted this year’s closely contested nature.

The two teams to reach the second weekend that sports books rate lowest, No. 10 seed Stanford and No. 11 seed Dayton, happen to play each other in Thursday’s first matchup.

“The Cinderella slipper is guaranteed to be in the Elite Eight,” McCormick said. “Dayton was probably the best team of the first two rounds for us, with their upset over Ohio State and then following it by beating Syracuse. They were great for the house.”

The Flyers won’t drive action in the Sweet 16, though. Their game against the Cardinal, where Dayton is plus-3 on the point spread, is already emerging as the most sparsely bet of the eight matchups on the board.

The betting attention is on the stalwarts. It may seem like upsets have filled the 2014 NCAA Tournament with six of the top 12 seeded teams meeting their demise in the first weekend. But the five teams that went off as favored to win the tournament at most shops in Las Vegas remain alive — No. 1 seed Virginia, No. 1 seed Florida, No. 1 seed Arizona, No. 4 seed Michigan State and No. 1 seed Louisville.

The latter four were additionally all favored to win their respective regions.

“Florida deserves to be the favorite in the tournament right now,” McCormick said, “especially when you consider if they beat UCLA here, they’ll go into the Stanford-Dayton winner as an 8- to 10-point favorite over either of those teams.”

McCormick reports the betting market isn’t treating the Gators like the runaway favorite. UCLA plus-5 against Florida is a popular underdog play at both Stations Casinos, anchored by Red Rock, and the South Point.

Michigan State continues to get the most support, as gamblers haven’t shied from taking it minus-1.5 against Virginia in Friday’s final game.

“The Michigan State-Virginia game stands out because it’s two top-notch teams,” McCormick said. “You go back to the seeding and they probably shouldn’t be playing this early but we’re getting a great matchup.”

Other than Michigan State, McCormick reports most early money on underdogs. No. 6 seed Baylor plus-3 against No. 2 seed Wisconsin and No. 8 seed Kentucky plus-5 versus No. 4 seed Louisville join UCLA as trendy taking-points picks.

South Point is receiving more immediate money on the favorites, as Vaccaro mentioned Arizona minus-6.5 and Michigan State as the top two plays thus far. The property stimulated extra action by lowering its juice for this weekend’s game.

Instead of taking the customary 10 cents out of every wagered dollar, South Point is down to a nickel for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight sides.

“It’s not that this is anything Earth-shattering,” Vaccaro said. “But it’s trying to do something nice for week two.”

With tourists bolting from town and games becoming tougher to call, creativity can go a long way for sports books in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament — just not far enough to come anywhere close to the first.

“It’s not all bad,” Vaccaro said. “You get away from being hectic last week and just become consistently busy.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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