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Golden Nugget College Football Games of the Year

Golden Nugget College Football Games of the Year

Golden Nugget College Football Games of the Year
By Teddy Covers

As spring turns into summer here in Las Vegas and the NBA Playoffs wind down, the upcoming football season begins to attract more and more betting attention.  Last month we saw NFL season win totals hit the betting boards around town, drawing a significant initial flurry of heavy wiseguy money.   And this past Friday, we saw another clear sign that football is just around the corner, as the Golden Nugget released their lines on 250 College Football Games of the Year.

The Nugget has earned a reputation as the top place to bet on sports in downtown Las Vegas, but it’s not generally a hotbed of wiseguy betting activity.  That changes dramatically when they release their College Football GOY lines, as they’ve done for each of the last seven years.  The Golden Nugget sportsbook takes center stage as a destination location; the first place in Vegas to post college football game pointspreads. 

The Nugget made some changes this year in an effort to please and appease the wiseguys.  First and foremost, they ‘leaked’ their opening numbers.  While they weren’t bettable until Friday, June 7th at 1 pm, bettors had access to the pointspreads (and the ten totals posted this year, the first time the Golden Nugget has posted totals to go along with their GOY lines) ahead of time, allowing them to prepare in advance.

The Nugget also allowed bettors to wager on five games with one trip to the betting window.  With four windows open for the peak betting period, the lines were very reasonable; never more than a five or ten minute wait (at the most) to place a wager.  Every single wiseguy bettor that I talked too was impressed with the Nugget’s efficiency – they’ve done this before and they’ve learned from their mistakes.

Wiseguy feeding frenzies are fun to watch. There’s a uniform the wiseguys all seem to wear – a polo shirt (no ties or button downs) and cargo shorts (lots of pockets to hold bills and betting tickets on a 105 degree day in Vegas).  Most bettors had a newly printed copy of Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, hot off the presses at the Gambler’s Book Club the previous day, along with all kinds of papers and notes containing their own pointspreads.  You certainly didn’t see many guys conforming to the sports bettors caricature: not many thick east coast accents, with an urgency to bet every penny in their pocket.  And there’s always the one clueless tourist, stepping into chaos amidst the excitement to get his $50 bet down on his local hometown team (in this case, Oklahoma State).

But this wasn’t an ugly frenzy, with those 250 games to choose from.  At the LVH, when the Super Bowl Props open, you’ll see wiseguys battling each other for spots in line to fire away at the openers.  The attitude here was hectic and intense, but there wasn’t bad blood between bettors, without the same sense of urgency to find the few mistake numbers and pound them into shape with immediacy.  In fact, in the first three hours of betting, only three of the 250 games got “triple hit” on the same side.  I’ll talk about those three games at the conclusion of this article.

The Nugget wrote more than 100k in college football bets within the first 90 minutes.  Even that number didn’t impress sportsbook supervisor Aaron Kessler, who said it was “A little higher than last year, but not quite what we expected.”  The slightly smaller than expected handle may have had something to do with the fact that Steele’s College Football Preview magazine – a major influence on the betting markets – wasn’t available until the day before the lines came out.

Kessler was quite upfront about the Golden Nugget’s intentions when posting first.  They’re looking to differentiate themselves from the pack, and draw handle during the quiet summer months.  “We're more than happy to make a small profit and get people into the book.”

Kessler was surprised at how much two way action the book got on both individual games, and individual teams.  It’s not unusual for bettors to have a very strong opinion on certain games, driving the pointspread three, four or five points off the opener.  Nor is it unusual for bettors to support or fade one or two teams over and over again.  But there wasn’t much of that this year.  In fact, in the first few hours of the feeding frenzy, only four teams were significantly bet in multiple games.

Those four teams included one bet against squad – Northwestern – and three teams that were bet on in multiple contests – Iowa, Arkansas and TCU.  The anti- Northwestern money was no surprise to the Nugget staff.  After going 12-1 ATS last year and returning nearly every key skill position player on both sides of the ball, the Nugget is very high on the Wildcats.  Bettors didn’t agree, leading to this classic quote from notable wiseguy Steve Fezzik: “The only sport that Northwestern can be favored by 12 at Iowa is in chess.”

The money coming in support of Iowa, Arkansas and TCU is perfectly understandable as well.  All three programs have been excellent money makers in recent years, but all three suffered majorly disappointing seasons in 2012.  The early money shows that wiseguy bettors expect the Hawkeyes, Hogs and Horned Frogs all to bounce back strong vs. the pointspread in 2013 after last year’s combined 10-26 ATS debacle.

Fezzik in many ways was typical of the wiseguys I spoke with on Friday; more interested in what he considered off-market numbers than in breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of the teams themselves.  “I’ve got what I think is a good set of initial power ratings.  I factored in 3.5 points for home field, and bet every game that was off my number by three points or more, as long as I wasn’t betting against a team coming off a bye.”

Wiseguy bettors know that the ONLY reason to lock up your money in June for a game that won’t be played until October or November is because you’re getting the best of the number, in a big way.  There’s some schedule analysis involved in the process – looking for potential flat spots ahead of time, or looking for games where a team has the potential to be gassed.  But there was surprisingly little team analysis – which squads are going to be good or bad – involved in the thought process for most bettors that I talked to.  The emphasis was on betting good numbers, not betting good teams.

So what were the three games that got triple popped (taking three wagers on a single side) in the first few hours of betting action? That Northwestern – Iowa game on October 26th that I referenced above was one.  The Wildcats opened as 12 point road favorites, bet down to -8.5 by mid-afternoon. Arizona State took three bets in their September 14th matchup at home against Wisconsin, driving the line up from pick ‘em to -3.  And the October 19th matchup between Ole Miss and LSU saw the favorite switch following a handful of bets on the Tigers, moving LSU from +2 underdogs to -1.5 point road favorites.

Now that we’ve seen these initial numbers posted, the next set here in Vegas (at the LVH or Cantor) isn’t far behind.  We’ll see another flurry of activity once another book in Vegas posts.  After that, it’ll be College Football Season Win totals and Week 1 pointspreads that will attract bettor’s attention, although those numbers are still more than a month away.

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