At 5:41 p.m. on Monday, a patron strolled into the South Point Hotel and Casino sports book and placed $30,000 on the counter on Gonzaga’s basketball team, on the money line, on a hunch, a flier or a whim.
It might have involved a wing and a prayer, too, because only nine days earlier such a wager on the Bulldogs, a decided home favorite of more than 20 points in their regular-season finale against Brigham Young, meant March sadness as the Cougars pulled off the 79-71 upset triumph.
A pre-game bet on BYU would have paid handsome dividends, of about 23-to-1 odds. Taking the other side would have been akin to jeopardizing the price of a very nice automobile in hope of winning a few months’ mortgage.
Monday, the Zags were again favored by more than 20 points. When that customer patronized the South Point, Gonzaga was pegged at minus-6000 on the money line; in other words, a wager of $6,000 would win $100.
That figure was peanuts to the guy who put his money down at 5:41. He was looking to make an easy $500. That required a dangerous element of exposure for his $30,000. It could not have been comfortable to view. Santa Clara threatened, keeping within single digits of Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs secured the 77-68 victory.
Let the madness begin. “Trust me. Buckle your headgear,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, an icon of the business and a senior linemaker for VSiN who is intimate with the South Point operations. “We’re going to be in for a rough ride the next three weeks.”
The conference tournaments last through this weekend. The South Point sports book will be packed. SRO crowds will only be prepping the place for the true zaniness that begins next week, with the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday and Friday, and the second Saturday and Sunday.
On his side of the counter, Vaccaro, 72, has made a living on discerning public plays from wise-guy action, and proceeding accordingly. However, the differentiation between smart and dumb—sorry, public, but Vegas can be unsparing—money has been blurring, adding intrigue to the festivities.
“It’s not as important as it once was, for the big reason that the general public overtakes events like this. They aren’t just games now … Main Street America has gotten involved in it,” Vaccaro said Tuesday. “The smart guys; yeah, if they’re betting Canisius or North Carolina-Wilmington, they probably have a better feel on that game. I’ve always said this, over the past 42 years, the people who understand a game or conference, or anything better than me, I want those people in front of me. I want those people betting me. I can adjust quicker and make it, for the guys who are followers, to be a number that’s a little harder to win by.
“So, in other words, if a guy comes up and smacks you on a game, like, he may lay four [points], we might move a game an entire point. Then there might be a guy who bets eight thousand or ten thousand the other way, and we won’t move the line at all, because you want some value going for you, as a bookmaker.”
The environment has altered dramatically since Vaccaro started in the business decades ago in western Pennsylvania. He arrived in Las Vegas in January 1975.
“Sometimes we equate smart money, value players and all that a little differently than it was when I was a kid,” he said. “A smart guy, when I was a kid, was a person who, simply, that’s all that they did to derive their living; betting on sports. In today’s racket, for as many of these ‘smart’ guys that I know — and I consider them smart, because they are good at what they do — but they’re looking to hold 54, 55 percent, [and] lose the 45 other games, out of a hundred, to make a living or make ends meet, put it that way.”
Vaccaro guessed that for every single wager the South Point takes from a supposed smart guy, three will come in from the other side, or the public, someone employing his heart over his head.
He used Tuesday’s Gonzaga game as an example. The line altered between 5 and 5½ points, favoring the Bulldogs.
“It isn’t that much different on the straight bets,” Vaccaro said. “If you raise the game to five and a half, or six, the smart guys are going to jump in, because they feel the game should only be four or four and a half. But there are also about 18,000-odd parlays linked to Gonzaga. So, once again, this is mainstream. The regular guy who gets involved in these tournaments, he’s just betting on the team that he thinks will win. He has no idea what the pointspread should be. He bets a single game and wants a great return for his buck, so he’s going to be on Gonzaga, and the over, and he’ll utilize the Lakers game, or something else, [in parlays].”
Vaccaro said he takes a measure of pride being associated with a casino that will cater to such customers seeking money-line action on a college basketball game with such a huge spread. The South Point is the lone property in Las Vegas that consistently offers a money-line option in such disparate situations.
“People know they can get a bet on it,” he said. “Are we exposed that much? No. First of all, you’re taking that [favored] team to lose a game, and you’re going to write about $4,000, $5,000 in 50s, 100s and 200s on the underdog … once again, [they] are looking to get rich.”
You shake your head, Vaccaro said. For every customer that pegs an underdog like BYU to beat, outright, a foe like Gonzaga on its own court, there are many others padding the casino’s bottom line. “Why do they do it? There’s a new, different type of person.” He talked about a customer who wagered $210,000 a few years ago to win $3,000 on a money-line play in an NFL game. That has become commonplace, as every fall he sees more people playing six-, eight- and 10-team parlays, all on NFL favorites on the money line.
“They’re looking to pick up a quick turnaround on their investment in about three and a half hours,” Vaccaro said. “I would have never seen that in the ’70s and ’80s; the wiseguys would look at you in your eye and say, ‘Listen, I wouldn’t lay two to one on anything in a sporting event because anything can happen.’ But it’s a new way of doing business.”