LAS VEGAS -- An email from Cousin Sal (not my cousin Sal, but the one from "Jimmy Kimmel Live!") came across the Tuesdays With Tuley desk the other day.
Cousin Sal -- who has long discussed sports betting on Bill Simmons' B.S Report podcast in columns at Grantland.com, and this season with weekly picks on "SportsCenter" -- wanted to "shoot a remote at a Vegas casino that takes weird Super Bowl prop bets (coin toss, anthem length, Gatorade color, etc.)." However, he had heard that Nevada casinos are unable to take bets on such things, and he was asking if I could confirm that.
Unfortunately, I had to tell him, that's true, at least for now. There is movement to loosen the gambling regulations, but certainly not in time for this Sunday's game. I suggested that Kimmel should fly him to Costa Rica, Curacao or Antigua, but there's probably the same chance of that as those places having a snowstorm, so we'll see what they do later this week.
Nevada sports books are restricted to offering props that take place on the playing field and can be verified in the box score. So, no, there won't be any wagers accepted here on over/under regarding the pounds per square inch of New England's footballs.
For years, there were no bets on "Will the coin toss be heads or tails?" or "Who will win the coin toss?" Instead, the books here had to list it as "Who will receive the opening kickoff?" At least the state has changed that, and bettors can make a literal coin-flip bet (in addition to all the other theoretical coin-flip bets). Ed Salmons of The Westgate says his book always needs tails, as significantly more money is bet on heads, so I wasn't too surprised when I saw the Boyd Gaming properties run by Bob Scucci (who has his own ESPN.com Scoochcast with host Chad Millman) have heads at minus-106 and tails at minus-104.
The books here would love to be able to offer all those crazy props, as they generate a lot of conversation (which is free advertising for the books), and they're also very popular. However, there are times when they're happy to not have to deal with the headaches that some of these props bring. For example, the national anthem often finishes around the over/under, and with a full stadium cheering and/or military aircraft flying overhead it's not always easy to figure out when the singer finishes the final word "brave." And Gatorade color can be open to debate.
We'll have a lot more on prop bets that are taken here in Vegas (as well as at online offshore books) in ESPN Insider's Super Bowl Betting Guide later this week.
Sports (and race) book news and notes
• John O'Neil, 74, of Huntington Station, New York, won $800,000 and the title of Handicapper of the Year (horse racing division) over the weekend at the 16th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship at the Treasure Island Resort-Casino here in Vegas. The NHC was contested by 602 finalists who had to earn their seats through qualifying tournaments held at racetracks, OTBs, casinos and online sites over the past year. O'Neil is the oldest NHC champion, topping the record of John Conte, who was 68 when he won NHC 10 in 2009. O'Neil, who fell in love with horse racing as a teenager when first attending Jamaica Race Course in Queens during the 1950s, cited Conte in his post-win interviews and even revived an old joke of Conte's when he said, "Now I'm even for life."
The finalists played a mythical $2 win and place on 30 races Friday and Saturday, with the top 50 advancing to Sunday. Midway through the day, the top 10 advanced to the final table (yes, they're trying to make it more TV-friendly like poker) with those players guaranteed at least $50,000 and shooting for the big money by playing the same seven mandatory races. (Sidebar: Jonathon Kinchen of Euless, Texas, actually had two entries in the top 10, but contest rules only allow one entry at the final table so he collected $25,000 for 11th and continued on with his top entry, which finished seventh for another $54,000 in winnings.) Ken Jordan of Farmingdale, New Jersey, entered the final table as the leader with his accumulated bankroll of 283.30 points and O'Neil stalking him at 277.60, but O'Neil passed him in the first race, the 10th at Tampa Bay Downs, as he had the 2-1 winner Huntstown.
O'Neil extended his lead with Main Man Mike at 6-1 in Gulfstream's 11th race and Aperfectdaytofly at 5-2 in Santa Anita's seventh. O'Neil actually clinched the title before the last race was run, as Jordan picked a horse that wouldn't have paid enough. Jordan had to "settle" for the second-place prize of $250,000. It's interesting to note that O'Neil's $800,000 win topped the $736,575 won by the CH Ballers team in the Westgate SuperContest's de facto Handicapper of the Year title (pro football division).
• All-Star Games are exhibitions that many people think are wagered on only by degenerates, but plenty of bettors try to find value. I watched very little of Sunday's NHL and NFL offerings, as this whole "Team Athlete Name" ruins it for me, but it's still my duty to report that Team Toews beat Team Foligno 17-12 in the NHL All-Star Game as a plus-105 underdog, and the game flew over the already ridiculously inflated total of 21.5. In the NFL Pro Bowl, Team Irvin rallied to beat Team Carter 32-28 as a 2.5-point underdog but it stayed under the total of 70 to ruin the plans of those who automatically bet these games over.
• We mentioned in last week's column that the new NBA future-book favorite is the Atlanta Hawks, who were on a 13-game winning streak that is now at 16, but the market has reacted, and this week the Golden State Warriors, with their league-best 36-6 record, are the 7-2 favorite at the Westgate. (Note: I think Golden State's line against Chicago is a little high tonight, so I'll be on the Bulls plus-9.5 or higher.) The Hawks are now the co-second choice with the Cavaliers at 5-1, followed by the Spurs at 7-1 and the Bulls at 8-1.
Until next time, happy handicapping!