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Longshots make for a profitable March Madness in Las Vegas

With teams such as eighth-seeded Butler and 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth still alive in the NCAA tournament, Vegas stands to profit no matter what happens at the Final Four.

March 28, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • VCU Coach Shaka Smart celebrates with his team after winning the Southwest Regional final against Kansas on Sunday in San Antonio.
VCU Coach Shaka Smart celebrates with his team after winning the Southwest… (Scott K. Brown / Virginia…)

The president isn't the only one with a busted up NCAA bracket.

With none of the top-seeded teams in the men's basketball regionals advancing to the Final Four — only the second time that's happened since 1981 — even the experts have been entirely stumped.

"In the trash," is how both MGM Resorts Race and Sports Director Jay Rood and Las Vegas Hilton Sports Book Director Jay Kornegay answered Monday when asked how their personal choices were looking.

But what's bad for a couple of Las Vegas experts is great for the sports books that employ them. The wave of surprising outcomes, with longshots such as eighth-seeded Butler and 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth still alive, has assured Vegas a profitable March Madness no matter what happens at the Final Four.

The public typically loads up on favorites, and the sports books enjoyed a heady profit, Rood said, noting that in March 18 second-round games, 12 of the 16 underdogs covered the point spread.

It's helping, too, that the volume of betting is up. MGM Resorts reported that the total money bet is up nearly 4% compared with last year, and the Hilton says the number of bets it's taken is up about 15%.

When the tournament started, the odds on Butler winning the national championship were 150-1 at the MGM. At the Hilton, Butler was 200-1 and Kornegay lumped Virginia Commonwealth with 18 other teams in a "field bet" — also at 200-1.

Kornegay said he's still sweating out "two big wagers" on Virginia Commonwealth to win the tournament at odds of 100-1 (after the Rams beat Georgetown in the second round) and 60-1 (after a third-round win against Purdue).

"I'm not a big fan of the Rams right now, even though I love mid-majors and I went to Colorado State," Kornegay said. "When a longshot comes in, it's always a little scary around here. That money adds up fast."

Rood said of about 8,000 tournament-championship bets taken by the MGM, fewer than 1,000 have been made on any of the four remaining teams.

Kentucky is the current favorite to win at 6-5, followed by Connecticut at 9-5, Butler at 7-2 and VCU at 11-2.

Another indication of how much of a longshot tournament it's been: ESPN.com reported that of the 5.9 million brackets that were filled out on its site, only two correctly forecast the teams in the Final Four.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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