Las Vegas Sports Books Are Wary of VCU’s $50,000 NCAA Tournament Long Shot

Virginia Commonwealth University would make at least one Las Vegas bettor $50,000 richer if it ends its run in college basketball’s national tournament with a championship.

The Las Vegas Hilton’s Race and Sports Book three months ago took a $10 wager on VCU to win the title at 5,000 to 1 odds. Virginia Commonwealth is two victories away from becoming the national champion after winning five straight games to reach the Final Four in Houston.

VCU was a 200-1 long shot at the start of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, while Butler University, the Rams’ opponent in the national semifinals, had odds of about 150-1. With at least one of those teams guaranteed to play for the championship on April 4, the Hilton is among those sports books eyeing sizeable payouts.

“I can’t give you specific numbers, but it’s probably not good,” Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Hilton Race and Sports Book, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “We have some liability associated with VCU, so we’re definitely not rooting for the Rams this weekend.”

Kornegay wouldn’t disclose who placed the bet. Covers.com reported the 5,000-to-1 wager this week.

The April 2 semifinal between Virginia Commonwealth and Butler features the two lowest-seeded teams ever to meet in a Final Four. VCU is the third No. 11 seed to reach the national semifinals since the tournament began seeding teams in 1979, while Butler won the Southeast Regional final as a No. 8 seed.

The University of Connecticut, which was a No. 3 regional seed, plays the University of Kentucky, a No. 4 seed, in the other national semifinal. Without a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Final Four for the first time, Richard Gardner, manager of Antigua-based Internet sports book Bodog.com, said this has been the most unpredictable NCAA tournament in history.

Fairy Tales

“VCU and Butler will reward those who believe in Cinderella, but the book will be praying that fairy tales do not come true,” Gardner said in an e-mail.

Gardner said the pre-tournament odds of Connecticut, Kentucky, Butler and VCU making the Final Four was 250,000-1.

Virginia Commonwealth’s odds of winning its first five tournament games -- all as underdogs -- were 1,371-1, according to handicapping information website Pregame.com.

VCU is a 2 1/2-point underdog against Butler. If the Rams pull another upset, they’d also be an underdog in the championship game against either Connecticut or Kentucky.

Jimmy Vaccaro, director of sports operations at Lucky’s Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas, said while he took some bets on VCU at 200-1, a championship for the Richmond, Virginia, school would only be a minor loss for the book.

“VCU in some places will be a major hit,” Vaccaro said in a telephone interview. “We escaped. We didn’t get as much as maybe some of the other places, but we’d be a loser.”

5,000-to-1 Shot

At the Hilton’s sports book, Kornegay said VCU opened the season with 200-1 odds and was getting no support from bettors. At one point, the Rams’ championship odds were increased to 9,999-1 and one bettor laid $10 on them at 5,000-1 during the middle of the season in December, Kornegay said.

Since Virginia Commonwealth started its tournament run, the Rams have gotten more support from bettors.

While upsets are usually money-makers for sports books because the public generally likes to bet favorites, VCU became a popular pick, especially getting 11.5 points against top- seeded Kansas in the regional final.

Connecticut

Jay Rood, sports book director at the MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, said he took a “few tickets” on VCU and Butler at 175-1 and 150-1. He said more people bet on Virginia Commonwealth after the Rams were lowered to 45-1 after winning their first three games.

“Not any real serious money, but a bunch of people were betting $25, $50, $100 on them,” Rood said. “I’d love to see (a VCU win). It’d be fun. It’d shake up the whole hierarchy.”

Rood said his worst-case scenario is Connecticut winning the championship. The MGM opened the Huskies at 30-1 odds to start the tournament, slightly higher than at most other books in Las Vegas.

“Any Big East team is going to draw a lot of action. Players like to bet Big East teams, especially if they have some value on it,” Rood said. “Most of the year, they were in the neighborhood of 20-1. So we’re actually in a worse spot with Connecticut than we are with anyone else.”

To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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