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No Sure Bet for Wisconsin Faithful

Gambling: When lights went out on Saturday's game in Las Vegas, so did any hope of a winning wager for Badger followers.

September 04, 2002|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — There was a sea of red in this gambling mecca last weekend, but it wasn't necessarily the color of Wisconsin fans' apparel. It was the color of their faces.

Hundreds of Badger football fans were outraged that Saturday's Wisconsin-Nevada Las Vegas game was called with 7:41 left and the Badgers holding a 27-7 lead.

Wisconsin, a six-or seven-point favorite at most sports books at kickoff, was 2:41 from an apparent victory against the betting line when the lights went out at Sam Boyd Stadium because of an equipment failure at a power riser.

College and pro football games are not official in Nevada sports books unless 55 minutes of play is completed.

After Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez and UNLV Coach John Robinson agreed to call the game after the first 15 minutes of delay, Badger fans flocked to casinos to collect what they believed were winning wagers, only to find out differently.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 05, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 472 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball championship series--In Game 5 of the 1999 National League championship series, the New York Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves, not the Arizona Diamondbacks, as reported in a Sports story Wednesday.

All wagers were refunded.

"We had a bunch of Cheesehead fans that were outraged, saying the fix is in, that this could only happen in Vegas," said Ed Malinowski, race and sports supervisor at the Luxor hotel. "They didn't want to hear they didn't win their money."

Complaints continued Sunday as Wisconsin bettors showed up at casinos with wagering tickets in hand.

"It stinks of Vegas chicanery," said Craig Johnson, 40, who wore a red Wisconsin T-shirt as he received his $300 bet refund from the Las Vegas Hilton. "I figured it was an official game, but Vegas is going to rip off Wisconsin people from their winnings."

Wisconsin was a three-point favorite at most sports books when the line opened Aug. 26, but the spread moved dramatically because of heavy wagering on the Badgers.

Malinowski declined to specify how much money was bet on Wisconsin but said "there was a lot of it."

Malinowski said it takes about $2,000 to $4,000 to move a college football spread a half-point at the Luxor. Using that math, the Luxor had between $10,000 and $20,000 more money wagered on Wisconsin than UNLV.

The Luxor is one of about 140 sports books in Nevada.

Greg Arseneau, 23, figured he won his $20 bet when Wisconsin took a 27-7 lead on a field goal with 7:57 left.

"People were already celebrating their money," said Arseneau, who wore a white Wisconsin polo shirt as he collected his bet refund at the Luxor. "I was like, 'I won ... who wants a round [of drinks] on me?' Then they take the money out of our pockets."

Nevada casinos have been able to handle bets on UNLV and Nevada games since February 2001, when the Nevada Gaming Commission adopted a rule that ended a ban on such wagering.

A spokeswoman for the Nevada Gaming Control Board said there are no plans to review the rule based on Saturday's blackout.

"We don't have any reason to believe [foul play]," Joanie Jacka said. "It's just a power failure."

Wisconsin bettors were paid in full on some offshore Web sites that have different rules than Nevada casinos.

A 49-year-old lawyer who wagered $350 on the Badgers through the Internet and $550 at the Las Vegas Hilton said the Internet wager was paid but the Hilton wager was refunded.

"This is a 'Sopranos' episode," said the lawyer, a Wisconsin alum who requested anonymity. "All the money came in on Wisconsin and the casinos were going to take a hit. It's just a little too coincidental."

Initially, the power failure was blamed on a vehicle that crashed into a transformer near the stadium. But Tuesday, UNLV officials said the 9 p.m. outage was caused by a failing power riser about 1 1/2 miles away, a condition unrelated to the car accident.

"We giggle when we hear the conspiracy theory ... this [power riser] isn't something you can just go unplug," said Daren Libonati, director of UNLV's athletic facilities. "Nevada Power has made it clear that we had some serious issues there. We did not get power back until 4:02 a.m. [Sunday]."

Malinowski called the blackout "bizarre" and said the only comparable event for gamblers was Robin Ventura's 15th-inning grand slam for the New York Mets in Game 5 of the 1999 National League Championship Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The hit was later ruled a single after the on-field celebration prevented Ventura from advancing past third. The final score was reduced from 5-3 to 4-3. Most Las Vegas sports books had an over-under line--the total runs to be scored in a game--at 7 1/2 runs.

The announced crowd of 42,075 at Sam Boyd Stadium, about half of which was Wisconsin fans, was the largest to attend a team sport event in Nevada.

Not everyone left Las Vegas with a smile.

"What can I really do, take it up with the Nevada gaming commissioner?" Arseneau said. "We're happy to be here, but we would have been happier if we won money."

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