Updated on 09/15/2011 1:21PM

Breeders' Cup action down like everything else


Bookmakers do a good job of estimating figures all the time. They can judge the odds of probability on just about any event and tell you what the house's hold percentage will be, without consulting a computer.

So I went to some of the race book directors around town to get a consensus for how Breeders' Cup Day went from their point of view. Casino revenues are slowly rebounding since Sept. 11, and I was curious to see if the Breeders' Cup bucked the trend. The race-book directors said handle was down about 10 percent.

Vincent Magliulo of the Las Vegas Dissemination Company confirmed their accurate estimate. Last year, Magliulo said, Las Vegas handle on the eight Breeders' Cup races was $5.075 million; this year it was $4.503 million - a decrease of 11 percent. The day's overall handle dropped from $7.68 million to $6.676 million, a 13 percent drop.

Magliulo pointed out that these were just parimutuel wagers. They do not include future wagers, proposition bets, head-to-head matchups, and house quinellas.

John Avello, director of race and sports at Bally's and Paris, said the Park Place properties made out all right on the future book wagering. He said Squirtle Squirt was the biggest loss for the house, and Tiznow was the biggest win, mostly since the defending Classic champ opened at low odds of 8-1. Avello also caught a break when Sakhee, who had taken a lot of action in the Turf, was entered in the Classic instead.

The results were similar on proposition wagers and head-to-head matchups, which have their takeout built into the odds, as well as house quinellas, which the casinos book themselves if a host track doesn't offer a quinella.

Local contest player makes mark

Saturday was like any other day for Las Vegas resident Michael Markham, a sports book supervisor at the Suncoast Hotel & Casino. He was approving bets, making sure his ticket writers' drawers balanced, and answering customer questions.

But it was not a typical week for Markham. He won $39,170 in the Pick the Ponies handicapping tournament at the Las Vegas Hilton on Wednesday through Friday.

It was a rollercoaster ride for Markham, a San Diego native who has lived in Las Vegas the last eight years.

The Pick the Ponies format calls for each player to make 10 $100 win-place-show wagers per day. Track odds are paid on the first $50, with the remaining $50 capped at $42 to win, $18 to place, and $10 to show.

Markham's winning entry ended the first day with only 580 points - 163rd in the 193-player field. He turned it around Thursday, cashing on a 3-year-old maiden filly named Wildcat Quick in Laurel's third race.

"I thought she had a chance at 15-1, which were her odds when I turned in my contest selection," Markham said. "It was a bonus that she went off at 50-1."

That was worth 6,295 points and Markham used short-priced winners to clinch the daily prize of $2,500, though he was kicking himself when he had a 35-1 winner on another of his entries. He was in third place going into Friday's final day with 9,275 points and said he figured 15,000 points would win the championship. He played conservatively, but got only second- and third-place finishes and was losing ground.

Then he hit 18-1 claimer Marshman in the ninth race at Keeneland to get back in the running.

"I don't know what caught my eye about that horse," Markham said. "As I looked closer I thought this horse really had a shot."

Markham saved his last selection for Mysterious Love, a maiden claimer in the final race at Santa Anita. The 8-1 winner put him over the top with 15,440 points. The title earned him $36,670 plus his $2,500 daily prize winnings from Thursday.

Markham, who qualified for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA Handicapping Championship last year, credits Las Vegas contests with helping him prepare for the bigger buy-in events. Markham always plays the weekly contests at Binion's Horseshoe and Sunset Station on Fridays and other contests if he's not working.

Ed Werner of Bloomington, Ill., was second with 14,440 points and won $18,335 (he had another entry that finished ninth for an additional $1,930). Contest veteran Mike Labriola of Richmond, Calif., was third with 1,324 points and won $8,685 (and also finished 17th for an additional $965). Fred Peterman of Park Forest, Ill., who had the highest score on the final day, and Robert Bertolucci of San Mateo, Calif. were fourth and fifth, and each earned $4,342.50.

Baseball a blip on betting screen

The World Series is almost an afterthought to Las Vegas bettors. Joe Lupo, race and sports book director at the Stardust, said a World Series game pales in comparison to any NFL game and even gets outhandled by top college games such as last Saturday's Oklahoma-Nebraska clash.

During the Tuesday through Thursday games at Yankee Stadium, baseball will be a higher percentage of sports books' handle, competing with the NBA and NHL instead of football, and sports books are putting up more proposition bets to increase action.

In the most popular pre-Series prop bet, Arizona's Craig Counsell homered in the bottom of the first inning Saturday to end the drama of who would hit the first Series homer. Counsell was 25-1 at most books.

For some reason, there wasn't as much line movement Sunday night at the Stardust "lottery" - in which some of the city's heavy hitters take a first crack at the opening football lines (see chart). A contributing factor might be because it was the third straight losing weekend for bettors.

In college games for next week, 12 of the 15 line moves were toward the underdog (the New Mexico-San Diego St. game that opened pick-'em). A notable exception was Michigan, which opened as a 5-point favorite vs. Michigan St. and was bet up to 6 1/2.

In the NFL, all four line moves were toward the favorite - the Bears, Dolphins, Seahawks and Raiders drawing action.

Last week, college line moves were 14-14 and are now 93-75 (55 percent) for the season. NFL line moves went 3-6 and are barely profitable for the season at 19-17 (52.8 percent).