Vegas sports books starting to believe in Pirates' postseason chances

| Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 6:50 p.m.

The Pirates' surprising run has some Las Vegas sports books hoping for another second-half collapse.

The NL Central-leading Pirates were as high as 200-to-1 long shots to win the World Series in early futures bets, and some fingers-crossed gamblers are looking for a huge payday if the perennial losers can maintain their unlikely success.

Jay Kornegay, vice president of racing/sports book at Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, said the Pirates, who are currently 25-1 to win it all, are one of four teams that based on the distribution of the futures bets would cost the casino money if they won the World Series. The others are the Cubs (now 1,000-1), the Cardinals (12-1) and the Mets (30-1).

“We would prefer that those teams don't hoist the trophy,” he said. “For those four teams, the numbers don't add up for the sports book.”

A futures bet is the odds that the sports books offer during the year on a certain team to win the championship. A $5 bet on the Pirates to win the World Series before the season would bring a $1,000 payout.

Kornegay said the LVH sports book sold nine tickets at 200-1 on the Pirates, the second-longest shot on the board when the initial futures odds were offered in October. Many more tickets, he said, were sold at 150-1, and that's where the sports book stands to lose money.

“Most of them (at 200-1) are smaller bets,” Kornegay said. “I don't think we took any four-figure bets. A few of them are triple figures. I wish I had one.”

At Las Vegas Wynn, the Pirates opened at 100-to-1 to win in the series. That now stands at 30-1.

“I'm not saying if the Pirates win it, we won't lose money,” said John Avello, the director of race and sports book at Wynn. “But there's a long way to go.”

The Pirates, who lead the NL Central by 1 game and have their best record at the All-Star break since 1991, were dismissed in the futures books. But with the fourth-best record in baseball, the Pirates (48-37) have earned respect with the oddsmakers.

According to Vegas-based America's Line, their odds to win the World Series have plunged from 100-1 to 25-1, the NL pennant from 50-1 to 15-1 and the NL Central from 20-1 to 5-1.

Vegas has taken some hits on futures bets lately. The St. Louis Cardinals were 250-1 to win the World Series in late August last year and the New York Giants were 80-1 to win the Super Bowl after a four-game losing streak dropped them to 6-6, costing the casinos a bundle.

Maybe the Pirates can be the next team to break the bank.

“People have kind of lucked into them, especially Pittsburgh people, and we have a lot of them out here,” said Benjamin Eckstein, the president of America's Line. “For whatever reason, a lot of the sports book guys are from Pittsburgh.”

Most Vegas sports books still have the Pirates as the third-choice to win the division, behind the second-place Reds and the Cardinals, 2 12 games back. The Pirates had a winning record at the All-Star break last year but went 25-47 in the second half.

“They were playing well and everything fell apart,” Avello said. “That's what happens to teams like the Pirates. They don't have an A-plus team from top to bottom.”

Avello said there are “now teams” in the futures books, depending on trades or winning streaks. He said the Angels, Rays, White Sox, Dodgers and Mets have been popular futures bets at certain times this year. As for the Pirates?

“That's an interesting question,” he said. “I've seen some money but not the ‘now' money yet. They have to sustain this for a bit to get the ‘now' money.”

Note: The Pirates signed 16-year-old outfielder Michael DeLaCruz, a native of the Dominican Republic, for $700,000 on Wednesday. “We are very excited to sign Michael,” director of Latin American scouting Rene Gayo said. “He is an instinctive and aggressive performer with a very strong opportunity to be a five-tool player.”

John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7930.

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