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Sports Saturday

Some odds and oddities for gamblers and sportsbooks in Las Vegas

The COVID-delayed Football Championship Subdivision and spring baseball with its peculiar rules are odd ducks on the wagering menu. 

South Point sportsbook
Chris Andrews is the sportsbook director at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
John Locher/AP

LAS VEGAS — Chris Andrews scans five computer faces. Turning to his right, he gazes at a dozen large TV screens — resembling “The Brady Bunch” intro — on the opposite wall.

The South Point sportsbook director zeroes in on a game of consequence for his shop that has nothing to do with the NBA, NHL or NCAA basketball.

Presbyterian leads 6.5-point underdog Morehead State 24-3 just before halftime late last Saturday morning. It’s spring football. Andrews said, “We’ve gotten steamed on Morehead.”

A statement no book director could have ever envisioned uttering. In industry lexicon, that means cash has flowed on Morehead, reducing its point spread and creating liability for the house.

That steam, though, was misdirected. Presbyterian would win 31-16. The book wins again, this time on the coronavirus-delayed oddity of the Football Championship Subdivision, whose 16-team playoff is slated for April 18 to May 15.

Baseball’s spring training has been another odd duck on the wagering menu. Games end whenever, with pitch limits and uncertain split-squad lineups.

With unusual candor, Andrews will explain how he and his oddsmakers line those two sports. On a spring Saturday, he’s grateful to be in this office, with a plethora of sports on these screens.

Not long ago, a doctor told him he had a 50-50 chance of surviving a medical procedure.

“Well,” Andrews said, “that’s better odds than the casino gives you.”

Record Figures

In January, a record was set for a sixth consecutive month when $4.6 billion in legal sports wagers were made in the United States. New Jersey topped the chart at $959 million. Nevada ($647 million) was second, and the nascent Illinois market ($581 million) was fourth.

“Many said growing legalization would hurt Las Vegas, but I thought it would just grow the market,” said Andrews, a 40-year Nevada bookmaker. “I think I was right. I’d be bullish on Illinois, too, because they’re well-educated on betting.

“People know they’re not going to win all the time, but they don’t want to get screwed, either. They won’t put up with that.”

He scans a sheet of last weekend’s 37 FCS games. As a four-point underdog, Southern Illinois upset Northern Iowa 17-16. As a 20.5-point underdog, Western Illinois covered in a 38-21 loss to North Dakota.

The lines of nine games, he said, moved by at least three points from their opening numbers. That’s significant because handicappers salivate over gaining a point or two in perceived value.

“We’re kinda kickin’ ass on it,” Andrews said. “Favorites are ahead, but by no more than 60-40%.”

Meaning bettors, such as well-regarded Brad Powers, are not doing so well. On March 8, he tweeted that he was 16-25 and down five grand, betting $500 limits. He recommended going against his picks to “make $$$.”

Andrews said he and his crew tap Jeff Sagarin’s ratings and spreads from other books — an uncommon admission in the business — to produce South Point lines.

“We kind of heist the line off everybody else,” Andrews said. “We have an idea of where we’re supposed to be. After that, the money goes where the money goes.”

The South Point, though, is about breaking even on the diamond.

“Tell you the truth, I don’t know what the hell is going on in baseball,” he said. “We’re completely heisting the line [from others] when it comes out in the morning, but we’re doing business.”

With such a vast sports menu, Andrews and his oddsmakers must allocate their time wisely.

Last Saturday, the Brewers were -135 (risk $135 to win $100) against the Rangers, at +115. The game ended 4-4 after seven innings. Bettors were refunded their money.

Some sharp clientele has wagered the $500 limit, but Andrews suspects arbitrage: playing numbers against those from other books to guarantee profit or limit loss.

“I’d rather be bettin’ hockey or NBA or college basketball than baseball, with these funky rules,” Andrews said. “That’s a tough handicap right now.”

A Big Anniversary

Andrews, who turns 65 in April, hails from the Pittsburgh area, a melting-pot region known as the Cradle of Bookies. He booked his first bet in the fifth grade. He likens the area to Chicago.

“With a lot of ethnicities, gambling is unifying, a common denominator,” he said. “I think it’s kind of built into the ethos of both places.”

A certain toughness, maybe from those roots, might have helped Andrews in 2017, when he was first diagnosed with a form of blood cancer — myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

A bone-marrow transplant was recommended, but the grueling process worried him for more than a year. His condition worsened. Wife Pamela and their five children convinced him to have the procedure at USC Medical Center.

“Those first couple of weeks were horrible,” Andrews said. “They knock out your entire immune system so it will take the transplant.”

Doctors, however, buoyed him. Little by little, he began feeling better.

In November, he contracted the coronavirus, the worst of it being a persistent cough that didn’t allow him to sleep for five or six days.

Today, Andrews looks good and feels good. A follow-up to his successful and entertaining “Then One Day . . .” 2017 autobiography is in the works, as is a novel involving his Greek heritage.

Then comes July.

“A big benchmark, my two-year [transplant] anniversary,” he said. “They say if you make it to two years, you’ve survived. I should have regular immunity like any other 65-year-old.” V