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Matt Youmans

Bookmakers living a nightmare in Vegas

26 October 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A screen pass from Brett Favre turned ugly, the Pittsburgh Steelers got a fluke point-spread cover and more favorites continued to win in blowouts. The formula surely had more than a few sports book directors dropping F-bombs.

The bottom line from Week 7 in the NFL: It was the best Sunday to be a bettor, and the worst Sunday to be a bookmaker.

"I can't remember an NFL season with this many bad teams," said Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay, who has been in the business for 22 years. "No doubt, it was the worst day ever for the books.

'We can't attract money on these poor teams. We keep losing on the same teams. They are not even close to covering.'

On the other hand, in a rare game involving very good teams, the Steelers' 27-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings was about the closest cover imaginable.

Pittsburgh, which closed as a 6-point home favorite, was in danger of losing when Favre tried to connect with running back Chester Taylor. The pass bounced off Taylor's hands, and the Steelers' Keyaron Fox lumbered 82 yards on the interception return for a touchdown with one minute remaining.

A Favre fumble, which LaMarr Woodley returned 77 yards for a score, put Pittsburgh up 20-10 with 6:23 left.

It took 14 seconds for Percy Harvin to trim the Vikings' deficit to 20-17 with an 88-yard kickoff return. Minnesota was then on the verge of tying or winning when Favre's screen pass dissolved into bad-beat heartbreak if you bet on the Vikings.

If you bet on the Steelers, acknowledge the lucky break, cash the ticket and offer no apologies.

But it was a sorry Sunday morning for Las Vegas books with public favorites Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England and San Diego covering. Houston pushed as a 3-point favorite in a 24-21 win over San Francisco.

"I talked to a few other directors, and it was as bad as it could get in the morning, when you have the favorites going 5-0-1,' Kornegay said. 'From that point, it's very difficult for the books to dig out of that kind of hole. From there, it's damage control. The parlay liability snowballs.'

The Patriots were 15 1/2-point favorites in a 35-7 victory over Tampa Bay at London. The Colts were 14-point road favorites in a 42-6 victory over St. Louis. The Packers, 9-point road favorites, put a 31-3 beating on Cleveland.

The Buccaneers, Rams and Browns are a combined 1-20 straight up and 6-15 against the spread this season.

'We're all wracking our brains trying to figure out these games,' Vegas Insider handicapper Barry Holthaus said. 'I guess just bet against the Browns, Bucs and Rams every week.'

Not to mention the Chiefs and Raiders, a combined 3-11 straight up and 5-9 against the spread.

The Chiefs were 5-point home underdogs in a 37-7 loss to the Chargers. The Raiders were 6-point home underdogs in a 38-0 loss to the New York Jets.

'When you give a team 14 points at home or 15 points at a neutral site, you think you're doing the right thing,' Kornegay said. 'In the past, you would hardly ever see a team getting 14 points at home. But some of these teams are so terrible, you might see it on a weekly basis. It creates a bad situation for the sports books when the bad teams don't cover, because liability adds up real fast.

'These are things you don't hear in a sports book: What's that (betting) number on the Rams? Hey, I love the Buccaneers.'

Kornegay said more than 90 percent of the straight bets made at the Hilton on the Colts-Rams game were on the Colts.

He added that he's not asking for any sympathy tears: 'It's just trying to explain what's happening.'

The bookmakers and oddsmakers need to 'aggressively adjust' the numbers, Kornegay said, so we might soon be seeing 17- or 20-point favorites in the NFL.

Favorites are 8-3-1 against the spread this week. Only Arizona, Buffalo and Cincinnati delivered as underdogs. The Cardinals helped the books by upsetting the New York Giants.

But Dallas blew out Atlanta, and New Orleans, a 6-point road favorite, erased a 21-point deficit to defeat Miami, 46-34.

"I can guarantee every book on the planet needs the Dolphins to either win or cover against the Saints. But that's just preventing a nightmare,' Kornegay said, as the Saints stormed back and the books' nightmare worsened.