Gambling recap: New England saves Vegas sportsbooks

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As the first Sunday of the NFL season wound down, the financial fate for several Las Vegas sportsbooks sat squarely in the hands of a longtime nemesis: the New England Patriots.

To avoid a losing day, the books needed the underdog, Tom Brady-less Patriots to cover the spread on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. An outright win would be an added bonus.

Over the course of the week, as New England ruled out tight end Rob Gronkowski and other key players, the point spread grew from Arizona -5.5 to as high as -9.5 as kickoff approached Sunday night.

The action was lopsided, and on the Cardinals. At MGM's sportsbooks, four times as much money was bet on Arizona as on New England. For every parlay card that included the Patriots, there were seven that had the Cardinals.

At William Hill, nearly 80 percent of the money wagered on the game was on Arizona, and sportsbook operator CG Technology was staring at six figures' worth of parlay and teaser liability on the Cardinals.

New England, of course, won 23-21 on a go-ahead field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 3:44 to play.

Rooting for the Patriots was an odd feeling for some longtime bookmakers, who have become accustomed to seeing the betting public flock to New England.

"I can't remember needing the Patriots on a night game," Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay told ESPN. "This might be the last time we need New England the rest of the year."

Since upsetting the St. Louis Rams as 14-point underdogs in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots have covered the spread in 57.4 percent of their games, the best record against the number in the NFL during that time span.

The Patriots were one of six underdogs to cover the spread Sunday, including the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, who produced two of the books' largest wins of the afternoon games.

The Dolphins covered as 10.5-point underdogs in a 12-10 loss at Seattle, and the Jaguars covered the majority of bets as consensus 3.5-point home underdogs in a 27-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The Jaguars were targeted by respected bettors at several sportsbooks, causing the line to drop from Green Bay -5 to -3.5 on game day, even though the public had overwhelmingly sided with the Packers.

"We were taking big late money on the Jaguars, mid-five-figure bets," said Jay Rood, vice president of MGM race and sports. "Fortunately, a lot of big money pushed at four."

Rood also reported taking early sharp action on the underdog Detroit Lions, who knocked off the Indianapolis Colts 39-35 on the road, and on the Washington Redskins in the Monday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"The sharps made a big move on the Redskins, early before [Sunday's] kickoffs," Rood said Sunday night. "We took a few limit plays [on Washington] from the sharps. They were driving that number down."

The Steelers were bet down from 3- to 2.5-point favorites over Washington at most books by Monday morning.

The Houston Texans were responsible for the biggest loss for Caesars Palace and MGM's books, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' upending the Atlanta Falcons was the biggest loss for Station Casinos' sportsbooks.

Overall, thanks to the Patriots, the opening Sunday of the NFL season went to the books.

"We'll make enough money to pay for the lights, the comp drinks and a little bit of salary," Rood joked.

The wild Central Michigan-Oklahoma State ending

The largest money-line bet William Hill took on Oklahoma State to beat Central Michigan straight-up was $6,000 at -1,200 odds. If Central Michigan wouldn't have erroneously been granted an untimed down and if the underdog Chippewas hadn't successfully used that play to throw a Hail Mary, hook-and-lateral for the winning touchdown with no time remaining, the bettor would have won $500.

Instead, he lost $6,000 on an improbable ending that had customers calling the sportsbooks asking what happens now. "We had so many people calling the book asking if it was the right decision; were they going to overturn it," Westgate SuperBook assistant manager Ed Salmons said. "We had a lot of money-line parlays that started the day with Oklahoma State."

Central Michigan was granted the untimed down after Oklahoma State was called for intentional grounding while attempting to kill the final four seconds on the clock by lobbing a deep, high pass on fourth down. Because there was not a receiver in the area of the pass, officials made the intentional grounding call and mistakenly awarded the Chippewas an untimed down. Games are not allowed to be extended "if the foul is by the team in possession and the statement of the penalty includes loss of down."

The Big 12 has a rule prohibiting a result being overturned, and most sportsbook house rules also do not recognize overturned results.

Some bettors did benefit from the ruling. CG Technology sportsbook operator Jason Simbal said his shop took two $500 money-line bets on Central Michigan at +850, each producing $4,250 net wins. William Hill had six money-line tickets on the Chippewas, the largest a $100 at +750.

Heisman update

A 100-1 long shot to start the season, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is now 8-1 to win the Heisman Trophy at the Westgate SuperBook.

The sophomore has vaulted up the board to become a top-five Heisman favorite after accounting for 13 touchdowns in his first two games. He set an ACC record with 610 yards of offense in the Cardinals' 62-28 blowout win over Syracuse on Friday.

The Westgate SuperBook took more than dozen bets on Jackson, ranging from $5 to $200, at 100-1. "If they win this week, he'll probably be the favorite, unless [Stanford running back Christian] McCaffrey has some monster game," Salmons said.

Odds & ends

• The Washington Huskies moved from 30-1 to 12-1 to win the national championship at the SuperBook, after a bettor backed the Huskies to win it all with a significant bet that would pay more than six figures, Salmons said.

• Georgia, a 55-point favorite, was trailing Nicholls State in the third quarter Saturday. The Bulldogs were listed at -600,000 on the money line to win straight-up at offshore sportsbook 5Dimes. Georgia prevailed 26-24.

• La Liga newcomers and massive underdogs Alaves stunned Barcelona 2-1 Saturday. Alaves could be found as high as 40-1 to win the match. The biggest bet on Alaves that William Hill's U.K. book took was £14 at 28-1. William Hill also took a £1,616 bet on Barcelona at -1,600 odds, according to book spokesperson Joe Crilly.

• Arkansas' overtime win over TCU completed a seven-team, $50 parlay that paid $8,600 at CG Technology. The bettor also had Michigan -35.5, Nebraska -26, Wake Forest +6.5, Texas -31, Ohio State -28.5 and Wisconsin -23.