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With controversy swirling around NFL, college football takes run at The King of sports betting

Dave Tuley
VSiN.com senior reporter

LAS VEGAS – “The NFL is king.”

That’s the longtime saying around these parts as pro football has been the No. 1 betting sport for decades in Nevada.

The NFL would have more money bet on its schedule of games even during a bye week with just 13 or 14 contests vs. college cards that routinely have more than 50 games.

But uneasy lies the head with the betting crown. 

College football has generated more betting dollars than the NFL at the South Point Hotel sports book for the third straight weekend, the Vegas Stats & Information Network has learned. It’s a trend that would have been unthinkable in the past, but other Las Vegas sports books directors are seeing it as well.

Jimmy Vacarro, who made his fame in the 1990s at the Mirage and is now with the South Point, has been saying the past few years that college football was gaining on the NFL in terms of betting handle and would soon surpass it. 

But even Vacarro was surprised to see three straight weeks with the bigger handle in college football’s favor. Vaccaro said the South Point handled $175,000 more on colleges than the pros last week. 

And while South Point sports book director Chris Andrews didn’t want to divulge specific figures, he confirmed the three-week streak just as the Steelers-Lions Sunday night game was about to kick off by saying: “By looking at the screen, there’s no way we’re going to write enough on the Monday night game [Broncos at Chiefs, which had lost a lot of lustre with the Broncos’ recent play] to top what we wrote on college football this weekend.”

Why is this happening?

Some might point to recent reports of a decline in the NFL’s popularity and declining TV ratings as being the result of controversies such as players’ off-field conduct, concussion coverups, inconsistent rule interpretations and, most recently, the national anthem protests, but Vaccaro and Andrews opted to not get involved with those discussions.

Wiseguys, indeed!

Instead, they stressed the increased popularity of college football across the board.

“First of all, there are way more games on TV now than we ever had before,” Vaccaro said. “People like to watch their bets, so the increase in TV games is off the charts and we have games from 9 a.m. [Pacific Time] until late at night. And it helps when we have a popular team like USC playing the late game like we did last night. It’s good for business.”

Andrews also pointed out that it’s easier to make up for “dead games” on the Saturday board with so many other attractive games. That’s not as easy in the NFL where teams such as the Browns and 49ers are rarely competitive so it’s hard to make up for those games, especially in bye weeks.

Other sports books directors in Las Vegas say they’re seeing similar numbers at their books.

“It’s been like this periodically throughout the last couple of season, especially during the bye weeks,” said Jay Kornegay, vice president of race & sports at the Westgate SuperBook. He also said the bigger college cards are also boosted with the recent advent of in-progress wagering.

John Avello at the Wynn Las Vegas also points to the spreading out of the NCAA schedule to include stand-alone games on Thursdays and Fridays in addition to the aforementioned factors. This week there are even two Tuesday NCAA games and a Wednesday game.

Vaccaro said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the trend continue.

“There’s a huge card on Saturday and has some great games like Oklahoma-Oklahoma State,” Vaccaro said. “The Alabama-LSU game, even though it’s a big spread [opened Alabama -21 at the Wynn on Sunday afternoon and already up to -21.5 after early wagering] is going to draw huge handle, and then we have some good late games including Arizona-USC.

“This week coming up might be the best yet.”

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