LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) _ Legal bookmakers in this basketball-mad city could be excused for rooting against No. 1-ranked Nevada-Las Vegas. A trip to the Final Four by the Runnin’ Rebels could cost sports books millions of dollars in unmade bets.
Sports book operators are faced with the unique dilemma of personally wanting to cheer the home team on, but knowing in a professional sense it could prove costly because gaming regulations forbid betting on amateur teams within the state.
″It’s like watching your 1987 Cadillac go over a cliff with your mother- in-law inside,″ quipped Sonny Reizner, who runs the Castaways sports book.
Most bookies say they plan to cheer for UNLV regardless of what it costs them in bets. A few aren’t quite so charitable.
″I hope they get beat right off the bat so that we don’t have to worry about this,″ Mary Stumbo of the Gold Coast sports book said. ″I’m taking my life in my own hands when I say that, but that’s what I hope happens.″
Already sports book operators have been forced to give back futures bets on teams to win the NCAA Tournament because state gaming regulators ruled that betting on other teams constitutes a bet against UNLV. But with UNLV poised to advance in the tournament, it could get far costlier.
″If they happen to get into the finals, we might just close up for the day,″ Las Vegas Club owner Mel Exber said. ″Maybe we can get the sports bettors interested in playing craps or blackjack or something.″
Betting on the college playoffs is normally big business for Nevada’s legal sports books. Action runs into the millions of dollars, trailing only the Super Bowl and the World Series in betting volume.
″It’s a thing that starts out slowly at the beginning of the tournament and really gets strong as people form opinions about their teams,″ Reizner said. ″People relate to the tournament and it has become a major betting event.″
Reizner said he plans to cheer for UNLV, despite the loss of revenue.
″You can’t have your cake and eat it too,″ Reizner said. ″I’m going to root for the Rebels.″
Exber said he was also willing to swallow additional losses in the hope UNLV advances to the Final Four.
″It would be the greatest thing in the world for Las Vegas if they go to the Final Four,″ said Exber, who plans to travel to see the team play in the tournament. ″There’s no two ways about it.″
Bally’s sports book manager Jimmy Vaccaro said bettors were lined up 15 deep Sunday afternoon when odds on the first-round games involving other teams went up. His book, like others, also offers odds on the winners of three of the four regional tournaments.
″If the Rebels go to the Final Four we would just book one less game,″ Vaccaro said. ″I would love to be able to close the book up for one day and let my employees go home and watch the Rebels in the finals.″
Vaccaro, like the other bookmakers, agrees with the prohibition of betting on UNLV and the other local school, Nevada-Reno. He said if betting were allowed, the public perception would always be that the bookies were trying to fix games.
″I don’t ever want to see them let us book the Rebels,″ he said. ″It would come down to one bad foul shot, or leaving the starters in too long. We couldn’t win; it would always be a negative perception.″
Exber said the lack of legal betting on UNLV won’t stop the illegal bookmakers, both within the state and elsewhere, from taking bets on the team.
″There will be a ton of business in the illegal books,″ Exber said. ″It will be a disaster here, though. All that interest and all those people wanting to bet the game and they won’t be able to do it legally.″
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