The NCAA tournament is one of the most addictive sporting events of the year, and 2019 will be no different. The betting market for college basketball’s annual postseason event has been growing at an exponential rate in recent years, and there are plenty of reasons it will continue to increase in size as more people turn from traditional sportsbooks towards March Madness betting sites.
The dancing Peacocks from Saint Peter’s are the largest Cinderella tale remaining at the dance, and bettors are buying into it. The Peacocks, who compete in the MAAC, were granted a 15 seed and a first-round matchup versus Kentucky. Last Monday, Las Vegas bookmaker Circa Sports offered Saint Peter’s as long as 10,000-1 to win the championship. At that price, the Peacocks drew just one “very, very little” bet.
Before the tournament, the SuperBook, a multistate bookmaker, accepted a $10 bet in Colorado on the Peacocks to win the national title at 5,000-1 and a few more bets in Nevada on Saint Peter’s at 1,000-1. Prior to the tournament, Caesars Sportsbook reported it took a number of national championship bets on the Peacocks at 1,000-1, the highest of which was $15, while FanDuel said it took roughly 100 bets on Saint Peter’s at 500-1, including a $1,000 stake that would yield $500,000.
The greatest recorded betting on the Peacocks occurred on Saturday, when a gambler in Arizona put a $4,000 stake on Saint Peter’s to win the championship at 200-1 odds, according to BetMGM. If the Peacocks pull off the inconceivable, the wager will pay out a net $800,000 to the winner. Three days before, BetMGM acknowledged accepting a $100,000 bet on Kentucky to win the title at odds of 8-1, which would have paid out $800,000. That money, along with the $4,500 wager on Kentucky to defeat Saint Peter’s straight up at -5,000 odds for a chance at a $90 profit, will be kept in the sportsbook.
• The Peacocks beat the second-seeded Wildcats as 18.5-point underdogs on Thursday. Since 1985, it’s tied for the fourth-largest upset in the NCAA tournament. The Peacocks then upset Murray State to secure a berth in the Sweet 16 on Saturday. Caesars Sportsbook reported it put $100,000 on Saint Peter’s at +320 versus Murray State, resulting in one of the bookmaker’s worst opening-round performances. “We never learned our lesson about how much bettors enjoy the Cinderella narrative,” said Craig Mucklow, Caesar Sportsbook’s director of trading.
While bets on Saint Peter’s are showing up all around the country, the Peacocks’ home state of New Jersey is the only place where they aren’t available at sportsbooks. New Jersey’s regulated sportsbooks are not permitted to take bets on games featuring in-state colleges and institutions. Jersey City is home to Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Customers have often asked how they can wager on the Peacocks, according to Thomas Gable, sportsbook director at The Borgata in Atlantic City. “We’ve had quite a few dissatisfied clients these last several days with Saint Peter’s run and a lot of visitors in town who aren’t aware with the New Jersey sports betting restrictions,” Gable told ESPN on Sunday. “It’s a pity you can’t bet Cinderella in Jersey this year.”
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• The first four days of the tournament were dominated by the betting public, with many of the most important decisions falling against them. PointsBet, a sportsbook, claimed to have won three of the first four days of the tournament.
• Caesars Sportsbook’s largest victory of the first round came from Saint Peter’s upset of Kentucky. In a 79-72 defeat to Kansas on Saturday, the bookmaker recorded a large victory on Creighton covering the spread.
North Carolina’s upset of Baylor on Saturday, according to Mucklow, Caesars’ director of trading, was the book’s most expensive move. More than 90% of the money gambled against Baylor went to the Tar Heels. During the game, Mucklow claimed he could hear the roar from the crowd in the sportsbook as Baylor came back from a 25-point deficit to force OT before losing. Baylor was 60-1 to complete the comeback in the second half, according to the in-game odds. “It would have been hard for a hotel guest attempting to get any sleep during the game, with all the money on UNC,” Mucklow said. “There’s no better way to enjoy these sports than in a venue where everyone has the same ticket.”
• The board’s most popular wager On Thursday, fifth-seeded Iowa was on the moneyline to upset 12th-seeded Richmond straight up at PointsBet. On the first day of the round of 64, more bets were made and more money was wagered on the Hawkeyes than on any other team.
Iowa was a -560 favorite over Richmond at the time. The Spiders triumphed 67-63.
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Out of all the teams, the Hawkeyes received the most bets and the most money placed to win the national title at PointsBet’s sportsbook in Iowa. Kentucky, which fell straight-up against Saint Peter’s, was the second-largest liability PointsBet faced on Thursday.
• In the first four days of the tournament, underdogs went 26-21 against the spread, with one game (Loyola-Chicago vs. Ohio State) ending in a pick’em.
In the first two rounds, there were 25 overs and 23 unders.
• FanDuel likened NCAA tournament betting to “having a 1 p.m. NFL slate for four days straight.” The outcomes have been “extremely advantageous” for the house, according to the bookmaker, with the greatest gains coming from New Mexico State’s first-round shock of UConn and Miami’s triumph over No. 2-seed Auburn on Sunday night. Duke covering the spread with a late surge against Michigan State paid off handsomely for bettors.
• Sweet 16 odds (as of Monday, according to Caesars Sportsbook):
Michigan vs. Villanova (-8.5, 154) Arkansas vs. Gonzaga (-8.5, 154) (-5, 135.5) Duke vs. Texas Tech (-1, 137). Arizona vs. Houston (-3.5, 145)
Purdue vs. Saint Peter’s (-12.5, 135.5) Kansas vs. Providence (-7.5, 141.5) UCLA vs. North Carolina (-2. 142.5) Miami vs. Iowa State (-2.5, 133)
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