Updated on 09/17/2011 8:59PM

Opening lines attract little frenzy


LAS VEGAS - It was the mildness before the madness.

Around 6 p.m. Pacific on Sunday - slightly more than two hours after CBS announced the field of 65 for this year's - the Stardust was the first sports book in Las Vegas to post odds on the first-round matchups Thursday and Friday. The MGM Mirage properties quickly followed suit, as did the Aladdin, Imperial Palace, and Las Vegas Hilton throughout Sunday night.

If you expected bettors to line up to bet the much-anticipated games, however, you would be wrong. Wagering on the opening numbers was noticeably slower than in years past, said Bob Scucci, the Stardust's sports book director.

"Generally, the only people who bet this early are the big players, but they've been more tentative this year," Scucci said Sunday night. "Usually, we get a lot more action and a lot more movement."

After about a half-hour of wagering, only seven lines had moved, and all in the direction of the favorite. The biggest early move was on Louisville, which was bet from the opening number of -11 to -12 1/2 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette. The rest of the early moves were by exactly one point. Illinois, the No. 1 overall seed, was bet from -26 to -27 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson; Cincinnati went from -2 1/2 to -3 1/2 vs. Iowa; Gonzaga went from -12 to -13 vs. Winthrop; Florida went from -9 1/2 to -10 1/2 vs. Ohio; Kentucky went from -17 to -18 vs. Eastern Kentucky; and Kansas went from -15 to -16 vs. Bucknell.

By 7 p.m., some money started to show for the underdogs, including Alabama A&M, which opened as a 7-point dog to Oakland in Tuesday's play-in game but was bet to +6 1/2. Penn was bet from +8 to +7 1/2 vs. Boston College, Montana was bet from +21 to +20 vs. Washington, and New Mexico was bet from +5 1/2 to +5 vs. Villanova.

Overall, it was still slower than expected.

"The big bettors might be waiting for Monday morning, when a lot of the other books will put up their numbers," Scucci said, explaining that if the Stardust opens a game and it gets moved by a point or two, the other books in town will open at the adjusted price and the big bettors will miss out on an opportunity to get down more money.

That's what appears to have happened Monday morning, when the rest of Las Vegas's sports books posted their numbers. The numbers that appeared so solid Sunday night were suddenly a lot more fluid, as bettors fired away at the soft numbers and tried to snatch any middle opportunities. As much attention as the so-called "wise guys" receive in the early betting, however, Scucci said it is the tourist crowd that will determine the sports books' bottom line when the NCAA tournament is over.

"About 80 percent of the handle will be from recreational bettors," he said. "It'll be similar to a Super Bowl crowd when the tourists come into town for the weekend."

Other opening-round notes

The Fighting Illini's 26-point opening line vs. Fairleigh Dickenson wasn't the highest. That honor went to Duke, which was a 27-point favorite vs. Delaware St., though that could be challenged when the line goes up Tuesday night on North Carolina vs. the winner of Oakland vs. Alabama A&M.

Scucci said the line for the play-in game was the hardest to make.

"A lot of people haven't heard of Oakland or Alabama A&M," he said. "We had some oddsmakers that had Oakland -1 and others as high as -11, and Las Vegas Sports Consultants had it at -4. We kind of just put it in the middle at -7."

* For the most part, the No. 1 seeds have the biggest point spreads, followed by the No. 2 seeds, and so on, but the seedings don't always fall into line.

"We try to disregard the seedings," Scucci said. "We're looking at not only who is the stronger team, but who the money is going to come in on."

So, even though Charlotte is the No. 7 seed in the Syracuse Regional and North Carolina St. is No. 10, the Stardust opened NC St. -4 in Friday's matchup. In addition, Pacific is the No. 8 seed in the Albuquerque Region and Pittsburgh is the No. 9 seed, yet Pitt opened at -3 1/2 and was promptly adjusted to -4.

* Sometimes the oddsmakers will make a game pick-em and let the bettors determine the favorite. Stanford-Mississippi St. - the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in the Austin Regional - opened at pick-em and was bet to Mississippi St. -1 by noon Monday. The public was less decisive in the Minnesota-Iowa St. game - the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in the Syracuse Regional - which opened at pick-em at the Stardust and could be found Monday morning with either team favored by a point.

* The fourth No. 8 vs. No. 9 game proved to have the oddest line movement of the week. Texas opened as a 2-point favorite vs. Nevada and was bet to 2 1/2 at the Stardust on Sunday night. By noon Monday, the line had reversed, with Texas being favored by only 1 at most books in Nevada and with the game at pick-em at Station Casinos and the Leroy's outlets.

Many ways to bet the tournament

With the field of 65 set, the sports books here whittled down their future books and adjusted the prices, though the odds remained about the same on the top teams. North Carolina is the 2-1 favorite at the Stardust, though the MGM Mirage properties were offering 5-2 and the Las Vegas Hilton had a generous 3-1.

Illinois is a solid 5-2 or 3-1 at most books, while the odds on the other No. 1 seeds range from 4-1 to 7-1 on Duke and 6-1 to 12-1 on Washington.

Most analysts don't see much of a dropoff to the No. 2 seeds, and that's reflected in the odds, with Wake Forest being offered at around 6-1, Oklahoma St. and Kentucky each around 8-1, and UConn around 15-1.

The No. 3 seeds are also given a decent chance of winning it all and can be found between 20-1 and 30-1 at most books.