The early money in Las Vegas was on the underdogs in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
But it was all square.
That was the story coming out of sportsbooks heading into Thursday. The majority of the money that had been wagered on the semifinals was on Florida State and Ohio State, but it was all small public bets. The big money, according to the books, hadn't arrived yet.
That could change, as book managers estimate that 80-90 percent of the action on the New Year's Day Bowls will be placed Thursday.
The Seminoles began the day as shrinking 7.5-point underdogs to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The line opened on Dec. 7, with the Ducks as high as 9.5-point favorites. Coast Casinos' sportsbooks made the key move to Oregon minus-7 early Thursday.
"We were quick to move the line after getting some decent sized bets on Florida State," Coasts sports book director Bob Scucci said in an email. "We will take up to $10,000 on the game."
It is the first time Florida State has been an underdog since September 2011 against Clemson, a span of 50 games.
The action on the Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Ohio State mirrored that of the Rose Bowl, with public bettors siding with the underdog Buckeyes heading into game day. Alabama was an 8.5-point favorite over the Buckeyes almost everywhere in Las Vegas as of Thursday morning. It's the 68th consecutive game the Crimson Tide have been favored, a streak that dates back to the 2009 SEC championship game against Florida.
Multiple shops reported about a 2-to-1 split in money bet in favor of Ohio State, with very few bets from professional players.
"That's the difference between the professionals and the public," said Hugh Citron, sportsbook supervisor at the Stratosphere. "The public has to have a bet; the pros only bet when there's value, and right now, they don't see any value on the numbers. Those games [semifinals] are just another bowl for them. But that could change."
Late Wednesday afternoon, the MGM, CG Technology and Stratosphere sportsbooks reported twice as much money had been bet on Florida State than Oregon. The Golden Nugget and Westgate SuperBook, two off-Strip properties, were more lopsided on the Seminoles. Marc Nelson, sportsbook director at the Aliante, another off-Strip shop, took a limit bet on Oregon minus-8 early in December, but said he was still heavy Florida State.
Bowl limits vary from book to book and bettor to bettor but generally range from $1,000 on the low end to $50,000 at the bigger shops like the MGM, Wynn and CG Technology. Very few limit bets had been placed on either semifinal game as of Wednesday.
Extended limits are offered to high-roller casino guests as a courtesy, and there have been inquiries from bettors wanting to get down for significantly larger sums.
"We usually get some calls leading up to big games, especially the Super Bowl, from people inquiring about making big bets," MGM VP of Race and Sports Jay Rood said. "We had a guy this week call about putting six figures on Ohio State, mid-six figures. Sometimes they show up; sometimes they don't."
John Avello, executive director at the Wynn sportsbook, said he had taken a few five-figure wagers on semifinals but had not seen much action from the players he considers professionals. CG Technology, known to cater to some of the most prominent sports bettors in town, also said it had not received any action from its sophisticated players.
Even though the big players had been sitting on the sideline, the books reported good handle on the games. At the MGM, Alabama-Ohio State had attracted 10 times more betting handle than the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl between Missouri and Minnesota, for example. Plus, it wouldn't be surprising to find some hungover high-rollers waiting in line on New Year's morning.
While working at the Mandalay sportsbook years ago, Citron arrived at 5:45 a.m. to open up on New Year's Day. The first thing he saw as he made his way into the book was one of his regular big bettors, asleep in one of the chairs with two racks of brown chips worth $1 million.
"There were two security guys standing beside him. He was out, hunched over and sound asleep," Citron recalled with a chuckle. "He woke up when I opened and bet all of it on the bowls, then left. He was probably asleep in his room by 6:30."