A text message from a buddy vacationing in Boca Raton, Florida, has a longtime superstitious Brooklyn bettor in position for the biggest score of his betting career.
Dave Menashe, a 46-year-old who works in real estate and is Brooklyn to the bone, bets nickels (gambling parlance for $500 per wager). He says he grew up with some "wise guys" who showed him the ropes. He sticks to straight bets; parlays are "garbage," he says, and he believes in a contrarian approach.
But he also trusts his buddy, who texted him from the Texas-San Antonio vs. Florida Atlantic basketball game on Feb. 27.
The text read: "I'm actually at this FAU game, and they're incredible. These guys are legit."
"Really?" Menashe responded. "I know them from football but I didn't know that their basketball program's good."
FAU beat UTSA 106-66 that night. Three weeks later, as the NCAA tournament was getting underway, Menashe scrolled through DraftKings' odds to win it all, looking to bet a top-tier contender and one long shot to win the tournament. He wound up with $500 on Gonzaga at 17-2 and, after recalling his text exchange, $500 on Florida Atlantic at 200-1. His bet is one of the very few on FAU and the largest that had been reported to start the week.
"It's only rare because bettors don't normally play that much on a dog of that size," Johnny Avello, sportsbook director at DraftKings, said.
But Menashe bets only nickels, and this time landed on a team that's authoring one of the greatest Cinderella runs in tournament history.
A few notes on Florida Atlantic's run:
• Florida Atlantic entered the tournament as long as 500-1 to win it all at some sportsbooks. The Owls were so far off the radar that some sportsbooks didn't include them in their national championship odds until January.
• According to ESPN Stats & Information, if the Owls pull it off, they'd be the biggest long shot to ever win the NCAA tournament since seeding began in 1979.
• Only 0.07% of the more than 20 million entries into ESPN's Tournament Challenge had FAU in the Final Four, the lowest percentage of any single-digit seed.
• Sportsbook WynnBet said it took just one bet on the Owls prior to the tournament, a $10 wager at 500-1. Sportsbook PointsBet said it took only four bets on the Owls before the tournament. At BetMGM, the Owls attracted only 0.1% of the money bet on odds to win the national championship entering March Madness.
• The Owls were listed as 2,500-1 long shots to win the championship in December at Caesars Sportsbook. Caesars reported taking three $100 bets on FAU at 2,500-1 from a bettor in Illinois and another $100 bet on the Owls after moving them to 500-1. The bets were placed in December. and combined would pay a net $800,000 if FAU shocks the world.
BetMGM sportsbook vice president Jason Scott told ESPN that the Owls are a best-case scenario for his shop.
Same for Menashe, whose $500 bet on the Owls with DraftKings would pay a net of $100,000, the largest score of his betting career.
Menashe elected not to hedge his bet on Florida Atlantic's game against Kansas State. His contrarian instincts convinced him that the underdog Owls were the right side. Instead, he went to Carmine & Sons, a pizzeria in Brooklyn, to watch the game Saturday night.
"I'm superstitious, and I'm 6-0 at Carmine's," Menashe said.
Over tequila and chicken fingers, he experienced an emotional roller coaster as FAU rallied from behind to beat Kansas State and earn a spot in the Final Four.
"I didn't keep it together at all," Menashe told ESPN with a laugh. "We were so loud that Carmine, the owner, came over and said, 'I hope you have some big money on this to be carrying on this much.' I told him how much and he was like, 'OK, go crazy.' It was awesome, and I'm not going to lie, I'm not a cool, collected guy that just sits backs and watches."
FAU will face San Diego State in the Final Four. The Aztecs opened as small favorites over the Owls. Menashe says this time he's hedging and plans to make the largest deposit he's ever made with his sportsbook accounts this week, enough money to place around a $25,000 money-line wager on San Diego State. If FAU wins, he'll be down the $25,000 from the money-line bet on San Diego State, but still have $75,000 of room to hedge and secure a big payday on the national championship game.
"It's definitely awesome," Menashe said. "I have a close group of friends, and we'll celebrate."
Final Four lines (via Caesars Sportsbook, as of Sunday)
Florida Atlantic Owls vs. San Diego State Aztecs (-1.5, 131)
Miami Hurricanes vs. UConn Huskies (-5, 149)