NCAA bettors may find profits in underdogs

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

One of the country's biggest betting events will tip off Sunday, when the 68 teams that will compete in the 2013 NCAA men's basketball tournament are formally announced.

March Madness ranks with the Super Bowl in terms of money wagered, legally and illegally, in everything from office pools and barroom bets to the lavish sports books of Las Vegas and online operations outside the United States.

Basketball bets in Vegas sports books jump by about $100 million in March, according to Nevada Gaming Control Board figures. The board documents how much the sports books win by sport but do not distinguish between bets on college and professional basketball. The board said betting on this year's Super Bowl was a record $98.9 million.

“The first weekend, Thursday to Sunday, is a great time for a guys' week in Vegas,” says Marco D'Angelo, a Leechburg native who parlayed his teenage skill at handicapping into a career that now has him as general manager of picks for in Las Vegas. “You party nonstop. You sit there and watch basketball games for four days, basically morning to night.” sells picks and has online forums for bettors and handicappers to chat but does not accept or place bets.

With 67 games, starting March 19 with the “First Four” in Dayton, Ohio, and culminating with the championship game April 8 in Atlanta, the NCAA tournament offers plenty of opportunities for bettors to get their money down. Many workplace pools will offer casual and serious fans the chance to fill out brackets that try to predict who will win each game.

D'Angelo admits to being awful at filling out brackets, saying he concentrates instead on point spreads of individual games. For those filling out brackets, he advises not to count on the top seeds in the regional tournaments advancing to the Final Four. At least one No. 1 seed stumbles each year “like clockwork,” he says.

“Also like clockwork, there is almost always a No. 5 seed upset by a No. 12 seed in the first round,” he adds. That has happened in 22 of the past 24 years.

For serious sports bettors, wagering on individual games provides the most excitement and possibility of profit. That's because the outcome of a bet can depend not just on the winning team but also on the margin of victory. For example, if a team is favored to win by 10 points but wins by only six, bettors who put their money on the underdog get paid.

“Sometimes, you get value betting against the big teams,” D'Angelo says. “Early-round games are mismatches. The favorite's going to win the game, but not necessarily cover (the point spread).” Because winning teams must play again with only one day off, coaches might rest their starters or make sure that everyone on the team gets a chance to play.

With bench players in the game, a 20-point lead might dwindle to 14 by game's end, meaning the winner did not cover the spread and giving a win to those who bet the underdog. “A lot of that type of thing happens,” he says.

D'Angelo advises bettors to look at the matchups of each game rather than get caught up in betting only on big-name schools. He cited Belmont University of Nashville, from the Ohio Valley Conference, as a tough opponent for anyone in the tournament.

“Don't run to bet the favorites,” he says. “Try to look at the underdogs first. If you're going to bet the favorite and lay the points, you need to have a good reason you think they're going to cover.”

For a sports bettor, a game has three possible outcomes: The favorite wins and covers the spread, the favorite wins but by less than the point spread or the favorite loses outright.

“When you bet an underdog, you've got two of those as a possibility for you,” D'Angelo says.

“These games do go down to the wire,” he says. “You should have the points working for you.”

Under current laws, Nevada sports books are the only places where people may bet legally on individual college games. That limitation is being challenged, notably by New Jersey, which enacted a state law allowing sports betting. The NCAA and four professional leagues – the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League — challenged the New Jersey law, saying it violated a federal statute known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. A judge sided with the leagues, but New Jersey filed notice this week that it would appeal, and Gov. Chris Christie has promised a fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or

Congress may try again on Internet rules

A push for federal regulation of online gambling might not be over.

Reuters reports that legislation could be introduced in the U.S. House this spring. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, are working on a measure.

“Whether you're for or against Internet gambling, you don't want 50 sets of state laws. You want uniformity,” Barton said. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have approved forms of online gambling within their state borders; similar measures have been discussed in other states, including Pennsylvania. So far, federal proposals have sought to regulate Internet poker and prohibit other forms of online gambling.

Money trail

Slot players lost $50.23 million at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos in the week ending March 10, down from $52.14 million in the comparable week last year, Gaming Control Board figures show.

The state gets 55 percent of gross slot revenue, or what's left of players' wagers after jackpots are paid.

Statewide, the slot payout rate is 89.93 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.93. Highest payout rate: 90.62 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest: 89.36 percent at Harrah's Philadelphia. Figures for Western Pennsylvania casinos:


Rivers; weekly slot revenue of $5.91 million, down from $6.06 million last year.


Meadows; weekly slot revenue of $4.83 million, down from $5.07 million last year.


Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of $3 million, down from $3.41 million last year.

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