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November 26, 2014

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BCS championship, NFL playoffs: How busy stretch breaks down for Las Vegas sports books

Oddsmakers expecting to root for Alabama to win but not cover against Notre Dame

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The sports book at Wynn Las Vegas is shown Wednesday, May 4, 2011.

Odds to win the Super Bowl

  • Patriots — 5-to-2
  • Broncos — 5-to-2
  • 49ers — 9-to-2
  • Falcons — 6-to-1
  • Packers — 9-to-1
  • Seahawks — 9-to-1
  • Texans — 20-to-1
  • Ravens — 25-to-1
  • Redskins — 25-to-1
  • Bengals — 50-to-1
  • Vikings — 80-to-1
  • Colts — 100-to-1
  • Source: LVH Superbook

The four NFL wild-card games this weekend aren’t serving as opening acts for Monday’s BCS championship game in Las Vegas.

They’re more like co-headliners. Even college football’s biggest game of the year fails to unseat the NFL as the king of business in local sports books.

“The national championship game will be equivalent to the pro games for us,” Wynn Las Vegas Race and Sports Director John Avello said. “Normally, the pro games are bigger, but this year they’re all going to be big writes.”

The matchup between Notre Dame and Alabama on Monday night in Miami, where oddsmakers favor the Crimson Tide by 9.5 points, is widely expected to rank as the heaviest-bet college football game of all time. But a fair portion of the handle will come from parlays that also involve the NFL games on tap for Saturday and Sunday, according to William Hill U.S. spokesman and veteran oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro.

Vaccaro echoed Avello’s thoughts. It’s too close to call on what will drive more cash across the betting counter between the national championship and any of the four NFL games.

“Wild-card weekend has always been a bonanza,” Vaccaro said. “You hover right where you were when you were writing 15 games on a Sunday afternoon. The handle’s not reduced at all. You have more people coming out and more people betting more.”

William Hill already experienced that, as it was hit with a collection of big bets on the Cincinnati Bengals as 4.5-point underdogs against the Houston Texans in Saturday’s first playoff game. Other than Houston, Vaccaro expects William Hill to be rooting against all of the favorites on wild-card weekend.

They’ve already taken more money on the two biggest favorites: the Baltimore Ravens at -7 against the Indianapolis Colts and the Green Bay Packers at -7.5 versus the Minnesota Vikings. Vaccaro guessed the Colts would start to draw support before their Sunday afternoon kickoff but wasn’t as confident in the Vikings, who play at the Packers on Saturday night.

“I’d suggest that game will be the biggest turning point of the weekend,” Vaccaro said. “I’m almost sure we’ll need Minnesota, but not because of straight bets. The Packers will be tied into every parlay and teaser.”

Parlay bettors are known for siding with favorites, so bookmakers are bracing themselves for bets that combine Alabama and Green Bay. The trend could contribute to sports books seeing the national championship game much like several past Super Bowls: They’ll root for Alabama to win but not cover the spread.

“I think that’s a very good possibility,” Avello said. “It’s really hard to gauge it, but I could see that exactly happening.”

Allow Vaccaro to explain why that’s shaping up as sports books’ best-case scenario on the national championship.

“People who are betting Alabama are going to lay the 9.5 points,” Vaccaro said. “But there are a lot of people who would just rather root for Notre Dame to win. We’ve gotten a little attacked on the Notre Dame moneyline. That’s what we’re seeing so far, and I think that could be what we keep seeing.”

Most sports books currently list Notre Dame at +280 (risking $1 to win $2.80) to beat Alabama straight-up. The game will have a major impact on sports books’ bottom line, but not necessarily any more than any of the NFL games.

College football is just not quite on the level of the NFL when it comes to betting.

“We’re going to do landslide business either way,” Vaccaro said. “It’s hard to put my finger on what will be more, but I do know this: It’s an excellent weekend. I wish we could get through the Super Bowl and on Feb. 8 start over with wild-card weekend.”

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

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