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September 20, 2014

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Las Vegas sports books would happily trade bowl games for playoff

Bowl season kicks off Saturday afternoon with three games

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TCU running back Waymon James fights for yards in a 66-17 win against New Mexico. Despite going undefeated, TCU won’t have a shot at the national championship this season. If Las Vegas sports books had their way, TCU would be a part of a college football playoff.

Chatter about implementing a college football playoff system is about as constant as Christmas carols and holiday greetings this time of year.

Like most American sports fans, Las Vegas sports books are in favor of ditching the current BCS system for some sort of playoff. One sports director in town quantified the possible betting interest in a college football playoff as “unimaginable.”

“Even if it was just a playoff with eight teams, it would be a bigger event than Super Bowl Sunday,” Lucky’s sports books director Jimmy Vaccaro said. “It would be more than a one-day event and college football has grown enormously in the last 30 years.”

For now, things will stay the same. This year’s bowl season kicks off Saturday with three games — the New Mexico Bowl, the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl and the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl — and doesn’t stop until Monday Jan. 10 when Oregon challenges Auburn for the BCS National Championship.

For someone who has spent his life determining odds, Vaccaro said it wasn’t likely that a playoff would emerge anytime in the near future. A different sports book director in town slightly disagreed.

“Eventually one day, there will just be too much pressure to ignore,” said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Las Vegas Hilton Superbook. “I think it’s going to take an Alabama, Texas or someone like that getting left out. When someone like that from a powerful conference goes undefeated and misses out, they won’t have a choice but to change.”

The closest example for what a football playoff would mean for sports books comes in college basketball’s NCAA Tournament.

Although the betting public cares little about college basketball compared to college football during the regular season, the NCAA Tournament is annually sports books’ biggest event.

Vaccaro said the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament created a Thursday through Sunday excitement that only a college football playoff would be capable of matching. Kornegay predicted that the handle would skyrocket in a playoff even though it’s already high for bowl games.

“We’ve never really compiled the handle with all 35 bowl games because it’s so hard to do and it’s so spread out over a whole month,” Kornegay said. “I think it would already rank right up there with the NCAA Tournament, but I doubt it’d surpass it.”

It’s easy to see why some of the lower tier bowl games aren’t a major draw for sports books. This weekend’s slate of games, for example, features six teams with an unspectacular combined regular season record of 45-28.

The most notable matchup is in the Humanitarian Bowl where Mid-American Conference runner-up Northern Illinois faces off against Western Athletic Conference fourth-place finisher Fresno State in Boise, Idaho.

Northern Illinois is currently a 1-point favorite.

“If we cut off a week and missed some of these bowl games for a playoff, it wouldn’t hurt the books at all,” Vaccaro said.

But as long as there are games, Vaccaro knows there will be interest and action. Lucky’s is even opening its third Las Vegas location, at Fitzgeralds downtown, Friday afternoon to coincide with the kickoff of bowl season.

Sports books and bettors may have to keep dreaming about their wish for a playoff. In the meantime, Vaccaro suggests taking a look at UTEP as 11-point underdogs against BYU in the New Mexico Bowl.

“I think UTEP is getting a little too many points,” Vaccaro said. “You look at BYU and at the beginning of the season, their aspirations weren’t playing in this type of bowl game.”

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

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