The Sports Book

I’m in Vegas on a Friday night.  Something normally I’d try to avoid like the plague, but I’m speaking at a conference in the morning so there was nothing I could do about it. Fortunately for me and those taking the “over” on my life expectancy table, I’m not a fan of Las Vegas.  Sort of falls in the “been there, done that” category, and I haven’t made a bet or seen a show here in years (anyone else craving for a legit Heavyweight Title Bout one day? Please? That would totally change my tune on Vegas!).

While I come here several times a year on business, I usually stay off the gambling strip and am in town most often early in the week for some unexplained reason (although I must say, nothing defines “desperation” more than the silence of a Vegas casino on a Monday morning — there’s an actual smell to it, and it’s not a good one).  I got in around 6:00 tonight after a couple of days in Los Angeles, hit the gym and went to my favorite (albeit somewhat off the beaten path) steakhouse, Charlie Parker’s at the Four Seasons (if you haven’t been, it’s worth a trip next time you are here). It was too soon to settle in for a binge session on Netflix, so I had what at this stage of my life qualifies as an awesome idea of what to do on a Friday night in Las Vegas. I went to the Sports Book.

I’m trying desperately to come up with the right series of analogies to describe a Sports Book properly for those that may have never been to one.  For a sports fan, it’s kind of a combination of Disney Land and the Race Track (actual horse races taking place much of the time on closed circuit TV’s, by the way), with a hint of the coolest sports-themed basement you’ve ever hung out in, or beyond that any imaginatively-conceived man cave you’ve only dreamed about, rolled into one. All the while offering the ability to bet on just about any sporting event — in real time or well into the future.  Oh yeah, there’s a bar and they’ll even bring you food (nasty Vegas casino food, but no one seems to mind once in the Sports Book, and based on what I saw tonight the selection of choice apparently is French fries, which really can’t be messed up too badly). ATM’s are literally positioned steps away in every direction.  When in the Sports Book you will also have the ability to take bathroom breaks without having to walk for miles, enjoy some blackjack or roulette on your way back from your bio break, and if you managed to lose some money while away, there will undoubtedly be multiple ways to try and make it back immediately upon your return. Yeah, it’s pretty darn cool.

Tonight the big screen featured the Washington-Tampa Bay Stanley Cup semifinal (and oh by the way — a hearty “you’re welcome” to all the Caps fans out there who I personally sent into this round of the playoffs by steadfastly predicting there was no chance they’d beat the Penguins in my post of a week or so ago), and there were several of the early, east-coast baseball games playing simultaneously on various smaller (but still big!) televisions spread out around the “theatre” area. In the heart of this theatre-like, multiple  TV viewing area sit what’s best described as a more comfortable and adult version of the old, wooden, grade-school desk/chairs that many of us awkwardly balanced the papers of annual standardized tests upon back in our youth (“please take out a sharpened number two pencil and be sure to completely shade in the circle corresponding to your answer”), and each of these little seat/desks in the Sports Book comes equipped with it’s own pencil! We make a lot of notes on trends while studying the games, us sports fans do, ya know.

I grabbed one of these seats in the front row (there were only about five of us in this section that could seat about 50 at capacity), squarely in front of all the NBA Finals betting lines lit up in neon green/red numbering on the Sports Book “brain — the odds board. On the outskirts of the theatre area were a bunch (10 or so I think) of more intimate “tables for two,” all of which stood empty except for one lone Capitals fan watching a game his boys led 4-0 in the 2nd period.  How did I know he was a Caps fan?  By his official Washington Capitals jersey he was wearing, of course.  Which begs for a digression here, as it did for me when I spotted him at the Sports Book.

Did this guy come to Vegas just for this game?  If so, it would explain his having a jersey handy as he took in the game, but that seemed a bit extreme to me, even for an avid fan.  Did he come to Vegas for something else, realize his favorite team was playing in the Stanley Cup semis and go buy a Caps jersey so he could wear it to the Sports Book just for this occasion? More plausible, perhaps, but still seems a bit out there.  Or is he a transplanted Washingtonian living in Vegas who decided to put on his jersey and head over to the Mandalay Bay Sports Book for Game 1 of the series?  I’m going with this one.  It would more likely explain why he was solo (all of his hockey fan buddies out here would be on the Golden Knight bandwagon and probably not want to watch this game with him), plus the local watering holes in his suburban neighborhood would probably not show the game, hence the travel downtown for private viewing.  Additionally, given the Caps storied history of cruelly crushing the hopes of their fans this time of year, he also probably sought both privacy and anonymity for the game.

Anyway, I decided to make a few bets, based on what caught my eye on the board, along with my annual “Mets to win the World Series” donation I make to a Vegas casino annually.  Here’s the rundown, going from high to low in wagered dollar amount (and presumably my conviction for the likelihood of the outcome):

*Dodgers to beat the Reds tonight.  This is simply a Matt Harvey bet.  He’s been so God-awful bad this year that I couldn’t help but think this was money in the bank.  Obviously the casinos agreed with me, as this was a -200 bet, meaning if I am correct and the Dodgers win, I will receive half of my wager back in addition to my initial investment (for example a $1 dollar bet would pay me back $1.50 with a Dodgers win).  Dodgers are  playing at home, and even with Kenta Maeda soft-tossing away, this seemed safe, plus a way of giving me something to care about in the sports world while I type away at tonight’s post (as of 8:32 pacific, though, Harvey is throwing a one-hitter at the Dodgers and the Reds are up 3-0 early  — shit).

*Tiger Woods to win the 2018 U.S. Open.  I don’t follow golf closely these days, but the odds got me here.  He’s 20-1, which seems inordinately high given how everyone had him winning the Masters only a few weeks ago.  I see this as an overreaction betting line, driven too high by his poor showing at Augusta, plus like the “Harvey” bet it will cause me to pay a little more attention to The Open next month.  As an added bonus, it’s being played at Shinnecock Hills, out in my old Long Island stomping grounds, so hoping Tiger responds to the rabid fans who will be urging him on. It is a gorgeous track.

*Mets to win the 2018 World Series.  This one I’m still angry about.  All I could get was 8-1 here, which seems totally and ridiculously low! Hasn’t anyone associated with the Mandalay Bay seen how my Mets have been playing lately? I was thinking I’d get at least 15-1, and the weak betting odds forced me to wager more than I would have otherwise.  Oh well, shortly after making this bet I was overjoyed to see that there was a role reversal in New York baseball fortunes tonight.  The Mets actually using the long ball to rally for a victory in their final at bat, while the Bombers got pounded by an extremely average Oakland A’s squad.  A perfect baseball night, and I don’t even mind that Jon Matz gave up 10 baserunners in his 5 innings of work, because when we come back and beat the Phils on the road he will be Jon Matlack in my mind tonight!

*Nationals to win the 2018 World Series.  This one is simply a hedge. I’m feeling like I may have awakened the reverse-karma Gods with my anti-Washington Sports rant the other day. I’m uncomfortably sensing a bit of a changing of vibes, first with the Caps erasing the demons of seasons past with their ouster of the Penguins, and now it could be the Nats turn.  They certainly have the talent (plus two stud starting pitchers in Scherzer and Strasberg that will be murder in a playoff series if they ever get the bullpen together to support them), so if I have somehow turned the tables on the deeply ingrained franchise misfortune of the Expos/Nats why not put myself in a position to profit from it?  I got 10-1, again underscoring the total travesty of having the Mets at 8-1.  Doesn’t anyone check this stuff for quality control for God’s sake??

*New York Giants NFC Champions in 2018-2019 season.  I think Saquon Barkley paired with a healthy OBJ makes Big Blue a totally different (and scary) team going into the season.  Yeah, it seems super early to be wagering on football, but I got 10-1 on this one, too.  I don’t see anyone dominant in the NFC, so why not.  Who had the Eagles winning it all a year ago?  As an aside, perhaps the worst betting opportunity I saw on the entire board tonight — any sport or event —  was the 49ers at 5-1 to win the NFC.  Yes, they played out the string on a huge roll last year with Jimmy Garoppolo doing his best John Brodie imitation (Brodie never won anything either folks), but 5-1? That tells me my friends and neighbors in the Bay Area are taking all that hard-earned technology money and foolishly running down those odds off of the exuberance of winning a few meaningless games last December.  Too soon, Niners fans, too soon.

*New York Giants Super Bowl Winners 2019.  Really the same rationale as the wager above.  If I have some degree of confidence that the Gints can get to the Super Bowl, why not go with them to win it all?  Plus I got 22-1 on this one.  This is my sleeper pick.  As I strolled out of the Sports Book tonight, convinced I was a genius about to rake in huge stacks of cash on my incredible prognostication skills, this one had me totally pleased, patting myself on the back (please don’t let Barkley snap an achilles tendon in mini camp, please…).

*New York Jets Super Bowl Winners 2019. Yup.  Had to.  Sam I Am! In Sam we trust! J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS.  There’s an old saying in the financial world that if you say something long enough, eventually you are bound to be right.  So this is the year of the Green Airplanes! In keeping with a theme of tonight’s Sports Book, though, and reinforcing a completely unfair betting pattern against all of the Sports Bro’s favorite teams, this one only got me 30-1.  Once again, seems way low, but this (like my annual Mets wager) is another of my sentimental throw-aways. And who knows, right? Another old saying in the world of finance — you gotta be in it to win it.

And here’s a couple more I thought long and hard about but didn’t pull the trigger on:

*Taking the over on Game 1 of both the East and West NBA Conference Finals.  Cavs-Celts was 203.5 and Rockets-Warriors was 224.5. I feel like all four teams are going to come out smoking in Game 1, shot out of the proverbial cannon, pumped up off a few days of rest and tons of hype from Shaq, Sir Charles and the gang. I may have to take a walk back down to Mandalay Bay before I go on tomorrow. The overs seem like a lock the more I think about it.

*And a new one on me — first team to score 15 points in both of the NBA Conference Final  Game 1’s.  First to 15?  Why 15?  Why not 10? Or 20?  Don’t know — I tried posing this question to the lady patiently explaining things to me and taking my bets at the Sports Book window, but she was unhelpful (and truth be told seemed a bit tired of me and the entire Sports Book scene). The Rockets were listed as a -125, which means they were the heavy favorite to get to 15 first.  Despite not being clear on why this was even an option to wager on, I kind of agreed with the odds here, yet decided against betting anything.  Seemed too random, kind of like betting on the Super Bowl coin flip or over/under on duration of the Star Spangled Banner performance.

So there it is.  Feel free to take the above and go the other way.  Based on my failed predictions of the other day, it could prove to be a sound strategy.

(Harvey out after four shutout innings of one-hit ball.  Are you effin’ kidding me? Reds up 5-1 in the 5th. Good grief.  Congrats D.C. fans, I may have just set a bunch of you free.)

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