Vegas books on pace for another big football year

Las Vegas sports books are having another strong football season. AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

Football bettors in Las Vegas are betting more but losing less this season compared to recent years. But the way November is going, the books seem destined for their fourth straight record-breaking year.

Football handle -- the overall amount wagered -- continues to grow this season and is up "between 8 to 12 percent" at this point at the MGM sportsbook. But the hold percentage -- the amount the book keeps from the amount wagered -- is down, according MGM vice president of race and sports Jay Rood.

"Our handle is up, but we just haven't been able to capitalize on it," Rood said Sunday afternoon. "Dollar for dollar, we're just a little behind last year. It seems worse than it's really been. If you look just at the [hold] percentage you'd think we were getting killed, but really we're not."

Nevada sportsbooks have set all-time records in handle and win the past three years. The books won $227.04 million on all sports betting in 2014, approximately $25 million more than the previous record set in 2013, according to Nevada Gaming Control.

Approximately $113.7 million was won on football alone in 2014, shattering the record of $91.1 million in 2006. Over the past 10 years, hold percentages on football -- both college and professional -- have averaged between 4 and 6 percent, with outliers in 2006 (8.02 percent) and 2008 (3.50 percent). Last year's hold percentage on football bets was 6.50, the second highest since at least 1992.

The books got off to an unusually tough start to this football season, losing on two of the first three NFL Sundays, but they've bounced back strong in October and November and just enjoyed their third straight winning Sunday in Week 11.

"It was a good, solid Sunday," said Ed Salmons, head football oddsmaker at the Westgate SuperBook. "We actually needed Denver and Green Bay, which is just so weird, needing those teams."

Nevada sportsbook operators William Hill and CG Technology also reported a winning Sunday.

"Our handle's been up as well," said Jason Simbal, vice president of race and sports. "Our hold year over year on the NFL has been pretty consistent, but our college is a little down."

Salmons said football season has been up and down at the SuperBook, but "it's definitely been a lot more up as of late."

"At the end of the day," Salmons added, "it's probably rounding into just an average season. Our handle from September and October was up over last season, and we're under construction."

Odds and ends

-- Heading into the final weeks of the regular season, more bets have been placed on Michigan State to win the national championship than any other team at the SuperBook. The Spartans improved from 40-1 to 12-1 after their upset of Ohio State. The Buckeyes fell to 20-1 and opened as underdogs against Michigan this week. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is 19-5 against the spread as an underdog in his career.

-- Top five teams to win the national title by money wagered at the Westgate SuperBook:
1. Ohio State
2. Alabama
3. LSU
4. Notre Dame
5. Baylor

Notable college football opening lines at Wynn Las Vegas:
-- Iowa -3 at Nebraska (Friday)
-- Baylor -1.5 at TCU (Friday)
-- Ohio State at Michigan -2.5
-- Oklahoma -4 at Oklahoma State
-- Florida State -1 at Florida
-- Alabama -13.5 at Auburn
-- Ole Miss -2 at Mississippi State
-- Notre Dame at Stanford -3
-- UCLA at USC -3

-- More money was wagered on Saturday's middleweight title fight between Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto than on any of the day's college football games at CG Technology. The Alvarez-Cotto fight also generated more betting interest than Floyd Mayweather's last fight against Andre Berto.

-- A bettor a CG Technology hit a $700, five-team parlay on Saturday that paid $70,000, according to Simbal. The bettor took Air Force on the money line, and Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Boston College and Purdue with the point spread.