When it comes to gamblers in Las Vegas, just call Hawaii football the ultimate Warriors

Despite having to pull an all-nighter, some college football bettors have won big thanks to late games involving Hawaii.

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Hawaii running back Calvin Turner

Hawaii running back Calvin Turner (7) runs through the San Jose State defense in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Honolulu.

Marco Garcia/AP

LAS VEGAS — Hawaii plays at home tonight, which means many college football bettors will cap a very long day by trying to get even or double their profits in one fell swoop.

In gambling circles, it’s The Late-Night Bailout Special or The Get-Out Game. Veteran punters call it dangerous, the desperate act of a rookie or glutton.

If the past is any barometer, the Golden Nugget will be rooting for the Rainbow Warriors to cover while the Westgate SuperBook will be pulling for UNLV. Hawaii was installed as a 21-point favorite Saturday.

And anyone watching from the Rust Belt, who could take a step outside and see their breath, will see a game that will be in the high 70s at kickoff inside Aloha Stadium.

Jim Leahey and Doug Vaioleti once enhanced college football’s most exotic telecast in Hawaiian shirts, leis and native tongues that required viewing with a mai-tai cocktail.

“There’s something to be said for sitting in a cold house, snow coming down outside and you’re bundled up,” said Long Island handicapper Tom Barton, “and you’re watching people in leis and players flinging a football all over the place.

“It’s pleasing to the eye. That almost makes you want to stay up and have a little action on the game.”

Viewers from Illinois to New York will be challenged to remain awake for a game that will end Sunday morning, but some in Vegas battle that, too.

“I’d often fall asleep,” SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “I won’t know the score until the morning, and I knew it was a big decision for us. I’d wake up and check the score, and it was usually with a sigh.”


Downtown at the Golden Nugget, sportsbook director Tony Miller reacts the same way on certain Sundays when he reviews the opening odds for the upcoming Saturday college football card, and there it is — Hawaii at home.

“I cringe every time,” he said. In Vegas, “it’s an eight o’clock kickoff, and I know I’m going to need the home Rainbows. I’ll be rooting for them. Sure as crap, it happens every time.”

As the day’s last game, it’s the final piece of many parlay (whose payoffs increase with the number of games selected) and teaser (in which spreads and totals can be manipulated with extra points) puzzles.

Hawaii had covered its last two home games before losing 35-24 to San Jose State on Saturday as a three-point underdog.

“It’s always, ‘Man, we need Hawaii!’ And they’ve come through,” said Miller, 64. “Parlays, teasers, even straight bets. Occasionally, I’ve moved the game so far out of whack I’d get hit by some really strong play by the sharps on Hawaii.”

Patrons often link games that begin at 7 and 7:30 to that 8 p.m. kickoff in Honolulu, on those parlays and teasers, so Miller knows exactly what’s at stake in the final minutes of the Hawaii game.

“I got a $60,000 or $70,000 decision swaying either way, and I’m sittin’ at home or in the bar, and I’ll either be very happy or really [mad],” he said with a laugh. “There are a lot of emails flying back and forth with the bosses from 11 to 11:30 those nights.”


Tonight, Kornegay and his staff will be pulling for the hometown Rebels — unless coronavirus-plagued UNLV had to bail and an 11th-hour replacement was found.

He mentions two dynamic Hawaii teams under June Jones, the Warriors coach from 1999-2007, that featured quarterbacks Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan.

In 2004, Chang threw for 4,258 yards and 38 touchdowns. Of those 12 games, there were fewer than 60 points scored in only one. In the final four, 326 points were tallied.

Two seasons later, Brennan accumulated 5,549 yards and 58 touchdowns through the air. In a six-game stretch, the Rainbows averaged 60.5 points.

“Those teams were a lot of fun to watch,” said Kornegay, 57. “They were always on our radar, and the majority of [tickets written] were on Hawaii to cover. We didn’t do well in those games.”

He laughs. “They were a thorn in our side.”

Las Vegas received a steady diet of those telecasts, with Leahey doing play-by-play and Vaioleti, a former Hawaii offensive lineman, providing color. Vaioleti left in 2006 to focus on his construction business. Leahey retired in 2018.

This season, only one Hawaii game has been televised, on CBS Sports Network. The Rainbow Warriors, though, can be found on any Smart TV, via a Team1Sports app.

“With the expansion of sports betting, it’s a wonder that [a major network] doesn’t pick up those games,” Kornegay said. “I don’t care what coast you live on, it’s a time slot with no competition. All eyes would be on it.”


Barton, 44, shifted into sports betting as his livelihood in the early 2000s. He noticed the football fireworks on the island, the circus-like games. In 2006, he went along for the ride.

“I just pounded Hawaii overs,” he said. “I believe they went over in 11 of their 12 games. Absolutely insane. I forced myself to stay awake to watch their games. I was just printing money.”

At his usual spot Sunday to watch the NFL, friends would inquire why he looked so tired before the early games had even started. He would explain the gift of Hawaii football.

“Who the hell is betting Hawaii,” they’d say, “you degenerate?”

He would laugh with them. “Guys, you don’t understand. I made thousands last night. Their games can’t go under!”

There were some explosive games under coach Nick Rolovich, but he went to Washington State in January.

“Hawaii is not Hawaii anymore,” Barton said. “It’s not as fun to watch.”

The memory of Brennan makes Barton wistful. He would like to take the former quarterback to dinner and inform him just how much money he helped Barton make. The New Yorker even attempted, to no avail, to find a Brennan No. 15 Hawaii jersey to purchase.

“Had I found one,” Barton said, “I’d still wear it today.”

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