Back From Vegas 2016

by A.J. Coltrane

The gambling on basketball didn’t go quite as well this year — the total was a few more losses than wins. Not a disaster, but it could have gone better. The over/unders didn’t go well. There were a few missed late free throws (two teams I picked combined to go 1-7 from the line late, blowing two covers in the process.) And so on.

So let’s see if I can make up my losses in real money with fake picks:


Thursday (selections are in CAPS):

MARYLAND +7 vs Kansas

MIAMI +4 vs Villanova

OREGON -2.5 vs Duke

OKLAHOMA -2.5 vs Texas A&M



NORTH CAROLINA -6 vs Indiana

NOTRE DAME -1.5 vs Wisconsin

VIRGINIA -5 vs Iowa State

GONZAGA -4.5 vs Syracuse


Here goes nothing. Literally.



Vegas, Day 4.

by A.J. Coltrane

Vegas, Day 4. Sunday. The last day of sports gambling before we fly out on Monday.

By Sunday morning I should be done placing bets. What that means is that I don’t have to focus on the games as intently, since I’ve already invested what I’m going to invest. It’s a good day to wander around so long as there’s a television nearby — we’ve been glued to seats most of the last three days.

-After breakfast on Sunday we walked a short distance to a “new to us” bar/casino. (Well, newly remodeled, and we haven’t historically hung out there.) The bar featured about 40 feet of big-screen TVs, end to end to end. That seemed like a good place to start the day, so we took five seats in prime real estate, inserted a not insignificant amount of cash into the video poker machines, and ordered adult beverages.

To backtrack a little bit:  The casinos have “Player Cards”. When you’re playing a game you put your card into the machine. The casinos track what you play, how fast you play, how much you wager — basically they’re figuring out how fast you’re bleeding so that they can determine whether they want to keep you around as a customer. They’re also determining if you’re worth freebies, and what the form of those freebies should take.

What we hadn’t done was to insert our Player Cards. We didn’t have Cards for that casino and we weren’t going to sweat it.

I started with a high risk/reward game and won $110 on my 3rd spin. I was pretty pleased with that. My plan was then to switch over to a more “normal” game, and if played at all conservatively I could drink for free for the rest of the afternoon..

Within a few minutes a small, polite woman appeared behind us, asking if we wanted Players Cards. Now, normally we’d have to go stand in line for our Players Cards, but we’d triggered something that got us “special attention”. It could of been how and what we were playing, or how much cash we’d dumped into the machines to start with, or it could have been the fact that all we had left at that point in the trip was larger bills, and we’d been passing them back and forth like Monopoly money and the cameras had picked that up. (That’s one of the beauties of Vegas — it always feels like Monopoly money eventually.)

So we got our Players Cards and continued with what we were doing. Maybe an hour went by, then this happened for the traveling companion on my right:


That’s 1,000 bananas. He was dealt that hand. The odds against that are 1 in 650,000.

Then three hours later, I was dealt this:


That’s another 1,000 bananas. At the same odds. The two adjacent machines spit out a whole bunch of bananas in (relatively) rapid succession.

We’ve been going to Vegas for around 20 years and playing a ton of video poker, and neither of us had ever hit the big payout. When finally each won it was within three hours of each other. Wild.

At that point, everything else was gravy. We’d basically paid for the trip.


On the Sunday basketball gambling I went 6-2 (again), bringing my total for the trip to 25-22. That’s a winning percentage of 53.2%. Break even is at 52.4%. I beat the break even by not quite 1%. Squeak!

Basically it broke out to:

0-6 (Thursday morning)

7-2 (Thursday afternoon/evening)

6-10 (Friday)

12-4 (Saturday and Sunday)

I’m ok with that. Thursday was a historically good day for the sports books and a bad day for bettors. Taking out the disastrous 0-6 start I won 61%, which is pretty good. I’d like to think I learned a few things again, and that I’ll do better next year. And we had fun long weekend on the cheap!

Of course, it’s not Vegas without an Elvis sighting:

No really! It's Elvis! I saw him with my own eyes!
No really! It’s Elvis! I saw him with my own eyes!

Vegas, Day 3.

by A.J. Coltrane

Day 3 was Saturday. For the afternoon, a member of our group decided to rent a cabana upstairs by the pool. No kids allowed anywhere near us. We had our own TV in the cabana and an iced bucket of beers. The party drifted in and out, with some of us taking advantage of the water on an 80-degree day.

Realistically, renting a cabana was loosely as expensive as gambling and tipping for comped drinks.

I went 6-2, bringing my total for the trip to 19-20. By and large things went as expected. Villanova lost to NC State, which surprised me. I also took Kentucky to cover -16.5 against Cincinnati, but they only won by 13. (In their previous game Kentucky had crushed West Virginia, winning 78 to 39. To think they’d have a similar result with Cincinnati seemed reasonable.)

It was good to finally come out way ahead.

One day to go…

Vegas, Day 2.

by A.J. Coltrane

Day 2 was Friday. On Friday I went 6-10, bringing my total for the trip to 13-18.

The Thursday losses were a bunch of weird early morning upsets. Friday felt like a decent enough day, with good wins mixed in with assorted narrow losses — a rebound here, a missed shot there, and many of the games could have gone either way… Probably 8 of the 10 losses were in doubt until the end.

It felt like I was getting close, and that order was being restored. I went 6-10, but that’s about as poorly as it could have gone, and it could have just as easily have been 8-8 or 10-6. Of course, that’s the same rationalization that the degenerates use…

As a bonus, Friday was easily the best food day of the trip:  We had a very nice Mexican lunch, and an excellent dinosaur-old-school steak-house dinner — the losing went down more easily with a perfectly cooked lamb shoulder and a nice Pinot Grigio.

That, and I didn’t have to sit through getting my head beat in all morning again, so that was nice.

Vegas, Day 1.

by A.J. Coltrane

Day 1 was Thursday..

…One sportsbook said Thursday was its biggest single-day win in memory.

“Epic day, absolutely,” Jay Rood, vice president of MGM race and sports, said of Thursday. “Tough day for the players coupled with the fact the books did well Wednesday, too.”

“Yesterday was amazing,” Dave Pemberton, director of specialty games for Caesars Entertainment, added Friday night.

Including the First Four games Tuesday and Wednesday, underdogs covered the spread in the first 10 games of the tournament. Favorites went 4-12 against the spread Thursday. No. 14 seed Georgia State and UAB pulled off upsets as double-digit underdogs, damaging brackets and destroying money-line parlays everywhere.

“We didn’t sweep the board [Thursday] but we were pretty close,” Jason Simbal of CG Technology’s sportsbook said.

I opened Thursday with zero wins against six losses. It got bad enough that I had to go to the ATM to continue.

Baylor by 9? Nope. Defeated. Iowa State as a 14-point favorite? Out of the tournament. Notre Dame didn’t cover, even though they had the #3 offense in the country going in. On and on it went.

Like most of the squares, I’d picked a bunch of favorites. Looking at my sheet prior to the first game it was obvious that it could potential trouble, but then even the picks I was extremely comfortable with failed.

About five hours into the massacre I got my first win — Arizona covered at the half. Fortunately I went 7-2 starting at that point to finish the day at 7-8. The three Over/Under bets and two halftime bets probably helped. I also won UCLA (+4 vs SMU) and Utah (-6.5 vs Stephen F. Austin). From the sound of it, I got off easy.


This is the one day that I skipped a game altogether. Kentucky was favored by 34 and I didn’t want to go anywhere near that one. (Kentucky wound up winning by 26.)


Vegas, Day 0.

by A.J. Coltrane

We arrived in the casino on Wednesday, early evening. The late, tournament “play-in” games hadn’t started yet.

The game that interested me was Boise St. versus Dayton. I’d seen both teams recently and felt fairly confident that I knew what they were — that I had a good idea of their styles, strengths, weaknesses, and true talent levels.

To backtrack a bit: We’d been enjoying adult beverages starting in the mid-morning. (Especially me.) Free cocktails in the VIP lounge at the airport. Free cocktails on the plane. I was well lubricated. I was ready to make a “fun” bet to kick off the weekend, and Boise St. – Dayton seemed like an excellent place to start.

We made our way to the sports book and were presented with something like this:


But the game I wanted to place a bet on said “SUSP”. Which I took to mean “suspended”. I didn’t know why the betting might be “off” on that game so I asked the attendant:

Me:  “Is the betting off on the Boise St. game?”

Attendant:  “Let’s see… no, the line is +4.5 for Boise St.”

That means that if I were to take Boise St. at say, $50, and they were to either win outright or lose by 4 or less, then I’d win $45.45 and pocket a total of $95.45, counting my original $50 I’d get back. Not bad. But then I’m thinking that if Boise St. is that slim of an underdog maybe I can make more money by betting them to win outright….

Me:  “What’s the Money Line?” (Odds for Boise St. to win outright.)

Attendant:  “+175”

Now that’s interesting! If Boise St. wins outright then I’ll win $87.50 and pocket $137.50. That, to my mind, is a good value bet in this scenario. So, quickly, and with confidence…

Me:  “$50 on the Money Line please.”

Random Regular Leaning On The Counter To My Right:  “Me Likey! They’re my team!”

And by that, he doesn’t mean he’s rooting for Boise St., only that he has money on them too. I take it as an encouraging sign that one of the degenerates approves of my taste in Boise St.

The game begins. Our favorite bartender is feeding me more adult beverages, and I’m feeling pretty good about things:

Boise St. led 29-17 with 2:09 to go in the 1st half.

Boise St. led 29-20 at halftime.

Boise St. led 50-41 with 6:36 to go in the game.

At the 1:24 mark it was still 53-50, Boise St.


[Dayton’s] Jordan Sibert’s two free throws tied it at 53-53 with 1:02 left, and his long 3-pointer gave the Flyers a 56-55 lead with 34 seconds to go.

After [Boise St.’s] Montigo Alford missed a driving bank shot, [Dayton’s] Pollard got the rebound, was fouled and missed both free throws with 14 seconds left, giving the Broncos a final shot.

The final, contested 3-point attempt by Boise St. missed everything.


But it gets worse before it gets better…



The New ESPN “Odds And Info” Page

by A.J. Coltrane

ESPN has what I think is a new page — “Odds and Info”. It’s on their front page tab right above “Poker”. Clicking through takes you to a page called “Chalk”, which is about as neutral a name as they could have picked so as not to upset the squares.

The funny thing is that when I stumbled onto it yesterday the tab and page were both named “Betting.” Maybe ESPN instantly got complaints?

Two thoughts:

1.  It’s going to continue to get harder to gamble on sports as information becomes more widely available. That process has been going on since the 1980’s — it’s always been a matter knowing more than the general population. Back then a copy of the Sporting News was enough. Not anymore.

2.  On September 5th, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that legalized sports gambling was “inevitable” [ESPN]:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver believes expanded legalized sports betting in the United States is “inevitable,” and the league is open to participating in it.

Speaking at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit on Thursday in New York, Silver said that he understood that cash-strapped states will pursue legalized sports betting and that the NBA can benefit from it.

“It’s inevitable that, if all these states are broke, that there will be legalized sports betting in more states than Nevada,” Silver said, per “We will ultimately participate in that.”

It’s a change in tune for the NBA, which in 2012 joined the NCAA, NFL, MLB and NHL in suing New Jersey over its efforts to bring legalized sports betting to its casinos and race tracks…


“If you have a gentleman’s bet or a small wager on any kind of sports contest, it makes you that much more engaged in it,” Silver said. “That’s where we’re going to see it pay dividends. If people are watching a game and clicking to bet on their smartphones, which is what people are doing in the United Kingdom right now, then it’s much more likely you’re going to stay tuned for a long time.”

More than $3.6 billion was wagered on sports at Nevada sports books in 2013. The American Gaming Association, citing the National Gambling Impact Study, estimates that as much as $380 billion is wagered illegally in the U.S. annually.

Silver seems to think that legally allowing gambling will be good for the NBA, attracting more eyeballs to the telecasts. Given what fantasy football has done for the popularity of the NFL, he may be right. It certainly won’t lead to *fewer* people watching the NBA.

My guess is that ESPN is very quietly trying to get ahead of the curve, or at least not get left behind. Between Silver’s statement, the New Jersey lawsuit, and this new ESPN page, it seems like we’re near a tipping point for legalized sports gambling in the USA.

Something else to help keep me entertained in my retirement!

Vegas Thoughts, 2014

by A.J. Coltrane

I had pretty much the same year that I had last year — 22-14 (61.1%) on straight bets. I lost the one money line that I chose to play:  Providence were 4 point underdogs against UNC and +170 on the money line, meaning that if Providence won outright then the money line paid loosely twice what the “cover” bet would have paid. Providence lost by two, and covered, but I’d bet on them to win, so…   [insert raspberry sound here]

I also tried to get the +150 money line bet on La Tech against Georgia in the NIT, (and I would have won), but the slowpoke working the sportsbook decided he needed to restock pens instead of taking bets, and we missed the cutoff to place a bet on the game.  [insert another raspberry sound here]

This year’s VCU (misunderstood by the public) team was Colorado. Colorado were mild underdogs against Pitt. They trailed 46-18 at the half and went on to lose by 33. There are a few like that every year that are real head-scratchers, but they’re a big part of the success I’ve been seeing the last few years, so I’m not complaining.

Also, people had no idea that Tennessee is really pretty good.

Final note:  I *could* have gone 22-12 (64.7%) this year, but I ignored the beautiful fairy in my ear telling me to lay off of Ohio State vs Dayton. Twice. Once before my defensible-but-not-awesome-Ohio-State 1st half bet, and again at halftime before an even more ill-advised 2nd half bet.  “Ohio State is playing as badly as they can play. They can’t play worse than this!”

Nope. But they can play equally badly in the second half.


For Fun. Here’s what I think I like Thursday and Friday:


Dayton vs Stanford, Over 133.

Baylor +3.5 vs Wisconsin. This is the game that I’m the least “sold on” for Thursday.

Florida -5 vs UCLA. (Though UCLA is better than people think, still.)

Arizona -7 vs San Diego State


Michigan -2.5 vs Tennessee. (Sorry Tennessee, we had a good run!)

Iowa State vs UConn Under 146. The game that I’m the least “sold on” for Friday.

Louisville -5 vs Kentucky

Virginia +2 vs Michigan State. (The Virginia +115 money line looks like a good play too. Either/or would be fine.)


For the purposes of the “For Fun  Bets”, I unpacked and unfolded my NCAA notes. The compacted smell of Vegas cigarettes wafted out. Now the notes are sitting on the couch, stinking it up. Yay Vegas.

The Idiot Auburn Fan

by A.J. Coltrane

There was an Auburn fan who stood to make $50,000 last night had they won the national championship.

Rather than hedge his bet he chose to ride it out, even though Auburn was about a 10 point (or 3-1) underdog.

He got zero dollars.

What he could have done would have been to place a $16,500 on Florida State at -330.

Had Florida State won he would end up with $21,500.

Had Auburn won he still would have had $33,500.

Hedging his bet still would have left him with his home-team rooting interest. He didn’t want to “jinx it”. What an idiot.