09/15/2011 3:02PM

Post-game score change puts books in tough spot


Hold all tickets.

Horseplayers are used to that admonition, but some sports bettors learned that lesson last Saturday night when news broke that the USC-Utah final score was changed from 17-14 to 23-14, the significance of which was not lost on bettors as USC closed as an 8 1/2-point favorite. But let’s back up to set the scene.

USC was a 10-point favorite over Utah here in Vegas early last week. Money came in on Utah and drove it down to a consensus of 9 around town. We get plenty of California traffic here on football weekends, but even with that coming in on the Trojans, the line slowly was bet to USC –8.5 and even –8 at several books, so there was a lot more money on Utah in the game.

USC was leading 17-14 in the closing seconds, with Utah lining up to kick a tying field goal. Since the most you can win by in overtime is 8, the only prayer USC backers had was for a blocked field goal and runback for a touchdown. And they got it as Torin Harris (coincidentally, a Las Vegas product) scooped up the ball and took it all the way to make the score 23-14. But not so fast. The USC bench had run on the field to celebrate and the refs flagged them for unsportsmanlike conduct.

I watched the end of the game at the Cannery Hotel-Casino in North Las Vegas and saw the score on my phone update to “23-14 End 4th” at scoresandodds.com and then change back to 17-14 after the decision.

I then went to the “Weird Al” Yankovic concert, which was great, but nothing I saw was as weird as the Tweets and emails I was receiving as the show concluded two hours later as the Pac-12 announced that the touchdown should have counted and made the final 23-14.

As is customary, Utah bettors had been cashing tickets since the end of the game at all sports books as that was the score confirmed by all wire services and media outlets.

In cases like these, the books consult their “house rules,” which can be found somewhere on the wall but hardly anyone reads them except in crazy cases like this. All house rules have a line similar to this: “We will not recognize suspended games, canceled games, protests, or overturned decisions.” The rule was written mostly to address events that are appealed and changed at a later date (well after all bets are settled), such as when stewards change the order of finish of a horse race weeks later. The “overturned decisions” phrase has quickly become this year’s “tuck rule” because it still has led to conflicting interpretations, even though everyone is looking at the same thing.

The books that dominate the Strip (the MGM/Mirage family, the Harrah’s/Caesars network, and Wynn Las Vegas) all ruled that the 17-14 final stood as they don’t recognize the overturned decision. The off-Strip books (Las Vegas Hilton, South Point, and Cantor Gaming – headquartered at the M) went with the revised score, which meant they paid out on Utah until the change and then paid the other side after. Utah bettors who waited to cash were out of luck. Jay Kornegay, the Hilton’s vice president of race and sports, said it cost his book money to do that as more bets were on Utah, but he said they recognize a changed result as long as it takes place on the day of the game. If it hadn’t been changed until Sunday, they would have stuck with 17-14.

Station Casinos, the locals giant, announced Sunday that they were honoring all Utah tickets as well as paying off on USC –8.5 and giving refunds on USC –9.

At offshore books, most updated the score as 23-14 and regraded Utah winners as losers and taking back players’ balances and shifting winnings to those on USC –8.5 or better. Of course, that’s easier to do electronically as opposed to with brick-and-mortar casinos who can’t track down all the people they paid. And it’s interesting to note (or frustrating depending on your point of view) that this benefitted the offshore books as they also had more money on Utah.

As you can imagine, stooping (for tickets on the floor) and dumpster diving was back in vogue all over Vegas as people looked for discarded tickets on USC. As of deadline, the Gaming Control Board is still reviewing complaints from bettors who feel they got cheated, whether it’s those with USC at books that didn’t revise the score or bettors on Utah who didn’t cash their tickets in time. There also are a lot of lost-ticket claims being filed with sports books.

Back to the betting board

I went 0-2 with my posted plays in Week 1. The Colts were a clear loser, but I feel worse about giving out the Titans +1.5. That was a case where I bet it at +3 myself before David Garrard was released by Jacksonville but still liked it at +1.5 and went on record as recommending it. I usually won’t do that, but in a case like this, I didn’t think the line was adjusted enough and still felt it was worth a play. As if the gambling gods were punishing me for my hubris, the Jags won 16-14. Now for this week’s plays:

Chiefs +8 vs. Lions

The Chiefs, a playoff team last year, aren’t as bad as they looked in a 41-7 loss to the Bills last week. The Lions, who were an NFL-best 12-4 against the spread last year, were a popular preseason pick to be a Cinderella team this year and came through for their backers again with a 27-20 win over the Bucs, so this line is inflated.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Chargers +7 vs. Patriots

This is the marquee game of the week. The advance line was Patriots –5.5 last week, but after the Chargers let down their backers in a non-covering 24-17 win over the Vikings and the Patriots impressed everyone with a 38-24 win over the Dolphins on Monday night, this line was bet up to a full touchdown, offering value on the dog.

PLAY: Chargers for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-2 for a net loss of 2.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1).