by Jeremy Martin
Much like the Super Bowl, the NCAA Tournament is a betting event in which the public determines what the point spread will be on many games. During the regular college basketball season - and even the conference tournaments -- the bookies must set the lines with the 'wise guys' or professional bettors in mind. With NCAA Tournament betting, however, public handle (referred to as 'square' money by those in the industry) far outweighs the money that will be bet by the professionals.
Therefore, many books 'shade' their lines, especially in early round games. The public loves to bet on favorites and they latch on to certain 'public teams.' Bookies who know what direction their action will land in certain games will add anywhere from ½ point to two points against the team that they know the public action will come in on.
"There (are) a lot of public teams that we know the public is going to be on," said Bob Scucci, Race & Sportsbook manager for the Stardust. "We
will make them as high as we can before the wise guys take the other side. As
high as we can before we are giving away too much value. (The professionals)
know certain live (underdogs) are out there and they will wait to see how high
those lines will go before getting involved in the game. That is typically what
you will see - some of the wise guys taking the 23 points or 24 points."
Sportsbooks are put in a precarious position during the NCAA Tournament because they are forced to book action that they may not be used to. During the regular college basketball season most books only offer exotic bets like totals, halftimes and first halves on the marquee games, if they even offer them at all. But for NCAA Tournament betting, even the smaller shops in Las Vegas offer these wagers on every game in the tournament.
In addition, there are always several teams in the tournament that have not been listed on the board at any sportsbooks for the entire year because they are small schools. The books are not familiar with a lot of these schools but the professional bettors have the time and motivation to study these teams in order to gain an edge over the bookies.
If the books do put out a bad number, however, it will quickly be 'pounded' by the wise guys and the bookies will immediately make an adjustment to their number. Once the big public handle comes in by game day, the initial bets from the professionals will seem inconsequential compared to the sum of the square money.
"When you have 32 games and you've got six or seven teams in those 32 games that have never had a number on them the entire year in Nevada; if you are a sharp bettor when it comes to college basketball, this is definitely a good time to bet," commented Doug Beil, Race and Sportsbook manager for Terrible's Hotel/Casino.
The sportsbook at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas is one of the most public shops in the city (and one of the best places for sharp bettors to play underdogs). Jamie Shea, Race and Sportsbook director, is expecting lots of action on the favorites for the first two rounds of the tournament.
"We get a lot of favorite action," she said. "Our clientele is young and they are here on Spring Break. They are either betting with their heart or they are betting the favorite. You are going to shade a little bit but not anything considerable."
Beil believes that shading is unnecessary because of the high volume of games involved in NCAA Tournament betting. The Super Bowl is the other annual public betting event and that game is normally heavily shaded. But there are so many games during the tournament that Beil knows that he will come out on top by the final buzzer.
"You put the numbers up and then if you get the action the public is going to bet then you just move the number," he said. "The last two years the first four days of the tournament have been great. If you just put a good number up, the public is going to bet the teams they are going to bet and they don't always cover because the number is strong.
"With the Super Bowl you just have one game. Everybody just keeps coming and betting and sometimes it is always the same kind of bet. That's why you have to shade the number. But when you have 32 games, you really want to, in my opinion, just put up a strong number on all the games and even if the public is going to bet what they are going to bet, over the course of 32 games you are going to win out."
Parlays are extremely popular with the public for NCAA Tournament betting. The books usually have a much higher hold percentage for parlays than they do with straight side wagers. However, a rush of favorites covering on any given day can be disastrous for the book's bottom line. "Once you get all those public teams in there and they all hit you are looking at a day that can really scare you," said Shea.
One of the reasons the NCAA Tournament is so exciting and popular is because each year there are a couple of underdogs that make it far into the tournament. These 'Cinderella stories' captivate the public and they become darlings of the media. These underdogs can either be a blessing or a curse for the sportsbooks.
There are certain Cinderella teams that the public tends to get behind. Gonzaga is one of those teams. The Bulldogs have made plenty of appearances in the 'Big Dance' and they have managed to get far intro the tournament on several occasions. This is an example of a team the public might bet behind.
On the other hand there are some teams that the public will go against every chance that they get. In the 2004 NCAA Tournament, Nevada had an unexpected run to the NCAA Regionals. In the first round, the Wolfpack, a No. 10 seed, faced off against No. 7 seed Michigan State. The Spartans came into the game as a two-point favorite and the Nevada win was a windfall for the sportsbooks. "Everybody said it was like stealing money," said Scucci. "(They) thought Michigan State should be a huge huge favorite. That helped us out a lot last year."
After defeating the Spartans, the Wolfpack faced public favorite Gonzaga. This time Nevada was a huge underdog and once again they won straight up.
"That was one of our biggest wins ever," said Beil. "Our number must have moved three or four points on that game. That game took care of so many parlays throughout the day."
Want free March Madness betting picks? Doc's Sports has you covered – get $60 worth of March Madness picks free from any of Doc's Sports expert handicappers. Get $60 worth of premium members' picks free.
Docsports is not affiliated, endorsed, nor licensed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)®