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Jan 5, 2015 6:04 PM

In Las Vegas books, college football title game is a big hit

The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) College football fans and ESPN executives aren't the only ones applauding the new championship playoffs.

Bettors and bookies seem to like it a lot, too.

The semifinal games on New Year's Day drew smash box office business in Nevada's legal sports books. And the title game Monday night between Ohio State and Oregon will follow a weekend of NFL playoff games that could be one of the most heavily bet ever.

Like Ohio State as a 6 1/2-point underdog or think Oregon will cover as a big favorite once again? Get in line and bring plenty of cash.

"It's been a very, very good football season," said Jimmy Vaccaro of the South Point sports book. "The interest is through the roof."

That was true even before the four teams in the playoff were announced in a football season that has been beyond good in this gambling town. Sports books took in record amounts every month on football, including more than $400 million in November alone.

Much of that was bet on the NFL, but college football got its share of the action, too. And while Monday's title game probably won't match the action on a Dallas-Green Bay matchup the day before that has bookmakers salivating, it won't be too far behind.

"It will be a super busy weekend," said Nick Bogdanovich, oddsmaker for the chain of William Hill U.S. sports books. "And we just came off a six-day run of nonstop action that was huge on football."

Included in that run were the Jan. 1 semifinals that some bookmakers say were the most heavily bet bowl games ever. Bettors had their way by picking Oregon in the Rose Bowl, but bookies more than made up any losses by scoring big on Ohio State's upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

How the books make out on the title game remains to be played out. But in the only state where full sports betting is legal, football is on an unprecedented roll.

Figures compiled by the Nevada Gaming Control Board show records set in September, October and November for football betting. In the first three months of the football season, more than $1.1 billion was wagered on the games in Nevada's 186 sports books, with bookies keeping about $82 million of that in profits.

"This year the handle has simply been ridiculous," Bogdanovich said. "People want sports betting, that's pretty clear. And we want to give them as much as humanly possible to bet on."

For the national title game that includes the usual lines and totals plus some proposition bets for things like first team to score or even which team wins the coin toss. It's not exactly at Super Bowl levels, but should rival at least the action on one of Saturday's NFL playoff games.

The smorgasbord of options brings people clutching handfuls of 20 dollar bills to the betting windows, where it is cash only. But many in the industry believe it's also part of a change in attitude, as evidenced recently by NBA commissioner Adam Silver's embrace of the concept of sports betting.

"The walls are crumbling. It's a different era, a different time," said Vaccaro, who has been posting lines in Las Vegas since the 1970s. "People are starting to understand it's a huge entertainment value and it's not wrong to be on the Dallas Cowboys with 40 or 50 bucks. You just end up rooting twice as hard for the team you have money on."

And sometimes you even win. While this has been a profitable year for sports books, the margins in the business are fairly thin. In 2013, bookmakers won just 5.6 percent of the $3.6 billion wagered legally in Nevada, though 2014 figures to be more profitable when the figures are tallied up.

"The results have favored the bookmaker for sure, but these things go in cycles," Bogdanovich said. "There may be years when the players do better than the books. So when you get a year like this you count your blessings and hope things are even better next year."


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