Of the eight oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, Sean Van Patten is an oddity. He actually follows the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“I’m the only guy who even watches it at all,” he said.
While the UFC continues to gain steam as a mainstream sport, it still has a long way to go to be considered important to Las Vegas sports books. Few oddsmakers have a firm handle on how the fighters match up, and for the most part only hardcore fight fans are lining up at the betting windows.
The biggest names on the UFC 100 card Saturday at Mandalay Bay are Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir and Georges St. Pierre.
The Green Bay Packers’ third wide receiver might be better known to most bettors.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board does not record specific wagering totals for UFC/mixed martial arts. It falls in the “Other Sports” category with golf, hockey, tennis, etc.
Van Patten estimates UFC/MMA accounts for “maybe 1 percent” of the state’s sports annual wagering handle. “But I do know that it has definitely gained a lot of interest just in the last year,” he said.
Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay called the 1 percent estimate mostly accurate but deceiving.
“It’s got to be less than 1 percent of our handle,” Kornegay said. “But that’s an unfair assessment. It’s not fair to rate it that way. There’s just not enough events to properly give UFC a fair rating.
“It’s definitely the fastest-growing betting sport that we have now, overtaking NASCAR. Each and every UFC event seems to get more and more action.”
Kornegay said the total bet on this weekend’s UFC card “would equal a good NFL game. It would surpass a Falcons-Browns game and equal a Giants-Bears game. It’s tough to say sometimes since you might get some large wagers on any given fight or very few large wagers.”
Boxing is still a big draw for books, but only when stars Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr. are the headliners.
A couple of the UFC’s top attractions, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, are starting to fade, leaving fighters such as Lesnar and Mir to take center stage. Lesnar is a minus-220 favorite over Mir in Saturday’s main event.
The Venetian sports book, where Rob Akers is a knowledgeable MMA oddsmaker, regularly offers the most extensive UFC betting menu.
Akers has posted lines on all 11 of Saturday’s fights as well as several proposition wagers. Many books are posting lines on about half of the fights.
About two years ago, LVSC began to make more MMA lines as the demand increased. Van Patten volunteered, mainly because no one else wanted to do it.
“We were getting requests to put up a match here or a match there, but just the marquee ones,” he said.
Van Patten said he often consults “outside sources” and studies the numbers posted by offshore books Pinnacle and BetCris.
“I know enough about some of the bigger fighters. I don’t follow it as much as some of these mixed martial arts junkies do,” Van Patten said. “In order to get a good feel for it, you have to watch all the fights. That makes it difficult.
“When we first started doing it, we were only putting up the main event. Now, every two or three weeks, we’re putting up five or six of the fights because the books are asking for more.”