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Gaming Guru

Matt Youmans

Oddsmakers crunching numbers for March Madness

16 March 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A few minutes after the NCAA Tournament pairings were unveiled Sunday afternoon, Ken White started crunching numbers with his team of oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants.

White was armed with power ratings and a mental scouting report on each of the 65 college basketball teams in the field.

His job was to send the opening lines to most of Nevada's sports books.

White, LVSC's chief operating officer, discussed the games with four other odds-makers and made 32 point spreads in "maybe a little over an hour." The numbers were ready by about 5 p.m.

It can be a high-pressure drill, but White said, "I love it. This is a fun time of year."

It's also a busy time for oddsmakers and bettors. The NCAA Tournament is a source of big business for sports books, and it's a business that seems to be expanding.

"Every year, it gets more and more crazy," MGM Mirage sports book director Jay Rood said.

The tournament's four No. 1 seeds are Louisville, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Connecticut.

"I've got to believe North Carolina is the favorite," White said.

Indeed, the Tar Heels were posted as the 4-1 favorite to win the title by the Las Vegas Hilton. The MGM Mirage went a different direction by making Pittsburgh the 7-2 favorite.

Louisville, which won the Big East Conference, rebounded in a major way after losing to UNLV 56-55 on New Year's Eve at Freedom Hall. The Rebels, meanwhile, regressed after their biggest win of the season.

UNLV (21-10) was excluded from the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years. The Rebels will play a National Invitation Tournament first-round game against Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lexington, Ky.

But the big-time action begins later in the week. A total of 48 NCAA Tournament games will be played Thursday through Sunday, drawing crowds of fans for a Spring Break-like weekend in Las Vegas.

In terms of economic impact, the tournament usually ranks a close second to the Super Bowl in Nevada. An estimated $80 million to $90 million could be wagered in the state on the three-week tournament.

When The Mirage sports book opens at 5:30 a.m. Thursday, it already will be buzzing.

"We'll have people camping out at 3:30 trying to stake their claim to a seat," Rood said. "Everybody is in line doing their handicapping and talking to each other and debating. It's kind of an interesting dynamic.

"I'm optimistic that we're going to have some good crowds. It's always an unbelievable amount of people."