Betting:

Las Vegas sports books benefiting from volatile college basketball season

Bettors spreading their money around before NCAA Tournament

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Indiana’s Kevin Ferrell during an NCAA college basketball game against Minnesota, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Minneapolis.

Odds to win the NCAA Championship

  • Indiana — 5-to-1
  • Florida — 6-to-1
  • Michigan — 8-to-1
  • Gonzaga — 10-to-1
  • Louisville — 10-to-1
  • Michigan State — 10-to-1
  • Duke — 11-to-1
  • Kansas — 12-to-1
  • Syracuse — 20-to-1
  • Arizona — 27-to-1
  • Georgetown — 28-to-1
  • Minnesota — 28-to-1
  • Ohio State — 30-to-1
  • Pittsburgh — 35-to-1
  • NC State — 50-to-1
  • Missouri — 50-to-1
  • UNLV — 50-to-1
  • Wisconsin — 55-to-1
  • Kansas State — 55-to-1
  • UCLA — 60-to-1
  • Kentucky — 65-to-1
  • San Diego State — 70-to-1
  • Memphis — 75-to-1
  • Notre Dame — 75-to-1
  • Villanova — 75-to-1
  • Butler — 75-to-1
  • Marquette — 75-to-1
  • California — 85-to-1
  • Field — 9-to-2
  • Note: Twenty additional teams posted at odds of 100-to-1 or higher are not listed above.
  • Source: William Hill sports books

Ask 10 different patrons sitting in a sports book which college basketball team they’d bet on to win this year’s NCAA Tournament and expect at least seven or eight different answers.

In a season where the top-ranked team has gotten knocked off on seven separate occasions and several other notable upsets seem to occur on a nightly basis, opinion among public bettors in Las Vegas is unusually scattered. Jimmy Vaccaro, William Hill sports books spokesman and longtime oddsmaker, doesn’t even know where to start with what teams are the most popular wagers to win the title.

“They’re taking everybody,” Vaccaro said. “When you get a season like this where it’s a total roller coaster, it’s good for the books. There are so many teams you can make a case for, and that’s what makes booking futures great.”

At this time last year, sports books were nearing eventual-champion Kentucky dangerously close to even money and still attracting action on the Wildcats. Even two years ago, Kansas and Ohio State were both below 5-to-1 to win the championship three weeks before the NCAA Tournament.

But at most sports books Thursday, including William Hill, no teams were lower than 5-to-1 to hoist the crystal trophy next month in Atlanta.

“Bettors aren’t really sure who they like,” said Todd Fuhrman, a sports betting market analyst for donbest.com. “You’re going to see some extra bets on Michigan every now and again, or an extra bet on a team like Indiana. You see fluctuations between a lot of those teams, especially in the 5-to-1 to 12-to-1 range.”

Nine teams are posted at 12-to-1 or lower at William Hill and most other sports books. Fuhrman said that wasn’t entirely uncommon and illustrated that the talk of parity could be overblown.

“I think, like every other year, we’re looking at eight to 10 teams that can win the tournament,” Fuhrman said. “The difference is, unlike last year, we don’t have that clear cut No. 1 like Kentucky. Indiana’s good, but they aren’t where Kentucky was.”

Fuhrman, however, believes Indiana is the best team and reports most sharp college basketball bettors feel the same. Part of the reason the Hoosiers are lower than any other team at 5-to-1 to win the title, according to Fuhrman, is because professional gamblers have gobbled them up at 6-to-1 and higher.

They’re not dissuaded by Indiana’s four losses, the latest of which came Tuesday in a 77-73 upset at Minnesota. Casual sports bettors tend to overreact to single games, especially in the futures this college basketball season.

“The general public sees a new team near the top and decides they’re going to take them,” Vaccaro said.

Vaccaro’s estimate for how many teams were true contenders to win the NCAA Tournament was a tad more liberal than Fuhrman’s. He said 15 different teams had a decent chance in this year’s tournament.

He went higher than usual because all of the upsets he’s witnessed with the elite class of teams this season. The aforementioned nine teams at the top of William Hill’s board have combined to get upset as double-digit favorites nine times this season, including when TCU memorably beat Kansas as a 17-point underdog three weeks ago and Wednesday when Michigan fell at Penn State as a 13-point favorite.

The only two elite teams that haven't been stunned in that manner all year are Michigan State, at 10-to-1, and Duke, at 11-to-1. The wild games have done more than balance the books.

It’s also stimulated betting interest with a higher handle than usual at this time of year.

“Usually, once you get past the Super Bowl, it’s an absolute dive off of a cliff for a few weeks and a rebuild toward the conference and NCAA Tournament games,” Vaccaro said. “But in this case, we didn’t take as much of a dive after the Super Bowl.”

Eyes are fixated on college basketball and the lines that accompany the games, even if the championship race may not be as wide-open as it appears.

“It’s a lot of perception,” Fuhrman said. “When you see the No. 1 team in the nation go down so often, people automatically assume it’s all parity.”

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

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  1. looks like the books will clean up during march madness when they flecce all the tourists that come in for the two weeks of betting

  2. Pro & college hoops are so hard to win at long term. Bet baseball, hockey and NASCAR for value.