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Kevin Smith

The Shot Heard 'Round the Betting World

8 April 2004

The Huskies from the University of Connecticut won their second NCAA national title Monday night, but it was the semi-final match that shook the wagering world.

UCONN was favored in the game, with the line shifting from 2 to 3 points (depending on the book).

The Defining Moment

The Huskies held a three-point lead with under 4 seconds left in the game when their star player, Emeka Okafor, made only one of two free throws. By making the second free-throw Okafor essentially sealed the win for his team, and allowed many punters who bet the Huskies to cover breathe a sigh of relief.

"We all jumped up in unison, and that doesn't normally happen in this business."
-Dan Johnson

On the ensuing inbound play though, Duke's Chris Duhon drove the floor and threw up a 40-foot desperation shot that banked off the backboard and went in as the final buzzer sounded. The shot was insignificant in the outcome, but it meant a lot to those punters and bookmakers who had a lot of action on the game.

It is not uncommon for players to make or miss meaningless shots, in terms of the final outcome of the game that have great implications in the sports betting world. But Duhon's shot was one of the most memorable ones for a high-profile game.

Such plays result in the "transferring" of money from punters who were on one side of the wager to the other. The transferring obviously also effects the sports books, which try to level their bets on each side but often find themselves with heavier action on one side or the other (usually the side they think the outcome will come in on).

Jeff Sherman, race and sports supervisor for The Palms in Las Vegas, told the Associated Press that Duhon's shot will live in sports betting lore for a long time to come.

"At the end of the game, the announcers made it seem like Duhon's shot didn't matter, but it did here," Sherman said. "There was more money riding on this game than the average NFL game, and this one shot represented a monumental swing for the bettors and the sports books."

John Avello, director of the race and sports book at Bally's and Paris in Las Vegas, said he believes that the amount of money transferred in Nevada on the shot was among the top 50 he had seen in his 16-year sports gaming career in terms of total dollars shifted.

The Duhon shot transferred anywhere from $30 million to $100 million, according to Avello and others, from those who bet on UCONN to cover the point spread to those who bet on Duke to cover.

"If you are a Duke or Connecticut fan who wasn't betting, the shot didn't mean much," Avello said. "But if you were a Duke or Connecticut fan with money on the game, it was a big deal."

The online betting world felt it as well.

The shot caused a $630,000 positive swing for Officials with the Costa Rican-based book (which holds no official affiliation with the CBS network that broadcasts the tournament) said they had more then 100,000 bets placed on the semi-final game.

That action translated to 8,000 punters placing an average wager of $50 on UCONN to cover the spread, which the site held steady at 2 to 2 1/2 points.

Had Duhon not nailed his desperation heave, the site would have lost $290,000 on the game. Dan Johnson, a spokesperson for, said the swing led to them instead winning $340,000 on the game.

"When Duhon made the shot, there was an overwhelming feeling of euphoria here," Johnson said. "We all jumped up in unison, and that doesn't normally happen in this business."

The Numbers

Aside from the hoopla of the semi final game, it was a huge year all around for sports books. While Connecticut made history with both the men's and women's basketball teams winning national championships, bookmakers likewise broke records during March Madness.

The length of the Men's NCAA basketball tournament--it's nearly a month long--and the amount of teams playing in it, 65, make it one of the biggest betting events for all sports books, both land-based and online.

Officials with the Nevada Gaming Control Board said over US$100 million was wagered on March Madness games, surpassing the record $81 million bet on the Super Bowl in January.

Meanwhile, New York-based Christiansen Capital Advisors speculates that online sports books turned over more than $200 million. The FBI's figures exceed that more than tenfold at $2.5 billion, although most analysts feel that's awfully high.

Regardless of where real the numbers fall, one thing is clear: Turnover for online sports books exceeded that of Nevada's sports betting industry, just as they did for the Super Bowl, just as they do for nearly all major sporting events.

The Shot Heard 'Round the Betting World is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith