March Madness bettors lose as underdogs have their day

Updated March 20, 2017 - 7:14 am

If you just woke up from a dream in which the dude from “The Dan Band” was singing “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” to the crying Northwestern kid, consider yourself lucky.

That means you’ve watched plenty of NCAA Tournament action.

The action at Las Vegas sports books was fast and furious Thursday through Sunday in the first four full days of the tournament.

“We wrote as much in the first two days as we did on the Super Bowl, which is incredible,” veteran South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “They bet every game, even if they don’t like somebody. Because they’re here and it’s March Madness, they find an excuse to bet a game.”

The tournament and the Super Bowl, which in February generated a Nevada record wagering handle of $138.5 million, both bring big crowds and big money to the city. But the demographics are different.

“The Super Bowl attracts an older, distinguished crowd, and there are a lot more couples and females,” Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “March is made for man-cation. That’s exactly what it is. They’re all in groups of two and six guys ripping it up and having a good time.”


Many of those visitors had to man up Sunday after tearing up their betting tickets on popular favorites North Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon, Louisville and Duke on a ’dog day afternoon at the books. The Tar Heels, Wildcats and Ducks won but didn’t cover, while the Cardinals and Blue Devils each lost outright.

“It’s been fairly quiet in the book as of late,” Caesars Palace sports book director Frank Kunovic said late in Arkansas’ upset bid of top-seeded North Carolina. “Any time it’s quiet in the book, we’re doing good.”

That changed in the evening, when the crowd at Caesars went wild as Southern California — yet another underdog — delivered a buzzer-beating backdoor cover in its 82-78 loss to Baylor. Kunovic said all the money at Caesars/Harrah’s/Rio was on the Trojans, who closed as 5-point underdogs after the line opened at 7½.

USC trailed by six with five seconds left following a pair of free throws by Baylor, and many bettors needed an otherwise meaningless basket for the cover. De’Anthony Melton missed a 3-pointer off the front of the rim with three seconds left, but the ball bounced to Chimezie Metu, who put back a one-handed shot at the buzzer that clanged off the front of the rim before dropping through the hoop.

“That was a very costly basket. That was a six-figure swing,” Kunovic said. “That little putback was pointless for the game but not pointless for Las Vegas.”

About an hour later, South Carolina, a 7½-point underdog and plus-310 on the money line, stunned Duke in an 88-81 win that not only busted countless brackets but also knocked out a ton of futures tickets on the Blue Devils. A bettor at South Point lost $30,000 in futures wagers that Duke would win the national title.


Michigan pulled off the other outright upset of the day as 3-point ’dogs in a 73-69 comeback win over Louisville. The Wolverines erased a 36-28 halftime deficit and will join the Gamecocks, Xavier and Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.

“Cinderella is alive and well, and so are both of her stepsisters in this tournament,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said.

Favorites went 2-6 against the spread Sunday as UCLA and Kansas were the only ones to cover.

Most Wichita State bettors lost by the hook in Friday’s 6-point win over Dayton, but most won by the hook Sunday, covering as 3½-point ’dogs in a 65-62 loss to Kentucky when Landry Shamet’s shot was blocked at the buzzer by Bam Adebayo.

That triggered another loud round of cheers and jeers in the books.


“There are eruptions all day,” Esposito said. “After just about every basket, they’re going crazy in the room.”

Rest up. The madness starts again on Thursday.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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