2:49 PM ET
- David PurdumESPN Staff Writer Close
- Joined ESPN in 2014
- Journalist covering gambling industry since 2008
Late Sunday afternoon, Chris Andrews, sportsbook director at the South Point hotel casino in Las Vegas, was reviewing the results from the first four days of the NCAA tournament. He had very few complaints.
The amount bet on the tournament set records at the South Point, Thursday and Friday alone equaling the amount that was bet on the Super Bowl, and the book was keeping its fair share of it.
A last-second 3-pointer that meant nothing to the ultimate outcome of the first-round game between Oklahoma State and Michigan produced around a six-figure swing in favor of the house. The $50,000 money-line parlay on No. 1 seeds Villanova and Gonzaga that Andrews had accepted was toast after Wisconsin upset the defending-national champion Wildcats, highlighting a monster Saturday for the South Point and sportsbooks across town.
By 5 p.m. Sunday, an hour or so before the last games of the day between South Carolina and Duke and UCLA and Cincinnati tipped off, Andrews seemingly had only one remaining concern.
"You know, we still are out pretty big on Duke to win (the tournament)," the veteran bookmaker said. "We've gotten our fair share of bets on them, some big ones. Whoever this is, they've betting been betting it around town. It's not just us. We need to knock them out at some point, but I don't know if South Carolina can do it tonight."
The Gamecocks did just that, eliminating the mighty Blue Devils 88-81 and capping a tough stretch for the betting public and a lucrative one for Las Vegas. More money was bet on Duke to win the NCAA tournament than any other team at sportsbook operator CG Technology, which took a flurry of four-figure wagers on the Blue Devils after the bracket was released last Sunday. William Hill's Nevada book took national championship bets of $12,000 and $10,000 on Duke. Several other sportsbooks also reported taking big futures bets on the Blue Devils, and CG Technology took a $9,500 money-line bet on Duke -300 to beat South Carolina straight-up. The books will be keeping all of that money.
The betting public got off to good start to the tournament after cashing in on a string of favorites and overs in the late Thursday slate. They woke up Friday with money in their pockets and sided heavily with Michigan against Oklahoma State in the first tip of the day. The Wolverines closed as consensus 2.5-point favorites and were leading 92-88 with four seconds to play. With Michigan backing off on defense, Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans knocked down a 3-pointer as time expired to cover the spread and crush the betting majority at the MGM sportsbook at the Mirage.
"That was a massive win," MGM vice president of race and sports Jay Rood said. "That crushed the crowd. Everyone had to reset at that point." The late 3-pointer that impacted the point spread caused a mid-six-figure swing in favor of the house at Caesars Palace.
"We lost Thursday then made up for it on Friday, plus some extra cheddar," Frank Kunovic, director of specialty games for Caesars Palace, said in an email. "Then, Saturday, we basically became Caesars Palace federal reserve and were printing money. I don't think I saw more than a two-team parlay cash."
The biggest decision of the weekend for William Hill was the second-round game between Saint Mary's and Arizona. William Hill took more game-day bets on that game than any other tournament game in the past two years — 144 more than what was placed on last year's national championship game between Villanova and North Carolina — according to vice president of marketing Michael Grodsky.
The bulk of the action Saturday — 86 percent of the bets and 83 percent of the money — was on Arizona. The Wildcats won and covered the spread in a 69-60 victory over the Gaels, delivering a mid-six-figure loss to William Hill.
Saturday was the most lucrative day for CG Technology. "If Arizona would have lost (to Saint Mary's), I think we would have won seven figures (Saturday)," vice president of risk Jason Simbal said.
Overall, sportsbooks across Las Vegas reported record betting on the tournament. William Hill said its handle on the tournament was up 30 percent for the first four days year over year.
"(The) tournament continues to grow like crazy," Ed Salmons, assistant manager at the Westgate SuperBook, said.
Odds and ends
On March 14 at the Golden Nugget, the charismatic casino owner and sports bettor Derek Stevens placed a $12,500 bet on the Michigan Wolverines to win the national championship at 80-1 odds. The ticket would net $1 million. A week later, the seventh-seeded Wolverines are in the Sweet 16 and are small favorites over 3-seed Oregon, having already upset 2-seed Louisville.
It's not the only big bet Stevens made on the NCAA tournament. The owner of The D Las Vegas and Golden Gate casinos and hotels also bet $11,000 on 32 games during the first round. He placed the bets with the South Point and went 10-19-3 on his picks, losing $109,000.
• A bettor at CG Technology placed a $417,000 money-line bet on North Carolina to beat Arkansas straight-up to win $42,000. The underdog Razorbacks led 65-60 with 3:31 to play, but did not score the rest of the game and lost 72-65.
• Wisconsin's upset over top-seed Villanova produced the biggest win of the weekend for Station Casinos' sportsbooks, while Arizona produced the book's two largest losses with the Wildcats covering the spread against North Dakota and Saint Mary's.
• A bettor at CG Technology hit an $80,000 two-team money-line parlay on Purdue (-550) vs. Vermont and West Virginia (-1,500) vs. Bucknell. The bet netted $21,000.