LAS VEGAS (AP) — Bookmakers were feeling so good about things with Alabama up 14-0 midway through the second quarter of the College Football Championship that they offered 19 points to get bettors to wager on Clemson.
They weren't feeling so good later when Clemson's comeback win made big losers out of sports books up and down the Las Vegas Strip.
"It was a terrific college football season for the books," said Jay Kornegay, oddsmaker at the Westgate Las Vegas. "But it certainly ended on a sour note for us."
Bettors scored a rare victory in a big game, jumping on Clemson when betting opened a week earlier and staying with the Tigers until finally bookmakers stopped taking bets in the second half of Monday night's game.
It was one of the worst losses in a big game in recent years for bookies. And it came after bettors also triumphed over bookies on the first weekend of NFL playoffs, when all four favorites covered the spread.
"Sometimes in this business you take it on the chin," said Jimmy Vaccaro, oddsmaker at the South Point resort. "And sometimes you put it in your pocket."
Vaccaro said the betting volume was bigger than anything he's ever seen on a college football game, with the South Point book jammed from early afternoon on through game time. Unfortunately for the sports books, about 70 percent of the money was bet on Clemson.
One bettor with faith in Clemson even played it on the money line when it was down 14 points. The 10-1 payout scored a nice $2,000 win for the gambler at Buffalo Bill's resort when Clemson came back to not only cover the spread but win the game outright.
"The masses were on Clemson in every form," said Nick Bogdanovich, whose William Hill company runs the Buffalo Bill's book. "They bet them plus the point, on the money line and in the first half during play. And they were right."
Clemson was a touchdown underdog the week before the game, despite coming off a commanding 31-0 win over Ohio State. But bettors largely ignored Alabama's undefeated record and championship pedigree to bet the Tigers both as outright winners on the money line and with the points.
Before the game started, about 70 percent of the money was on Clemson at most books, and in-game betting added to the total.
"The big plays early came in on Alabama," Kornegay said. "But the last couple of days was all Clemson money."
Bogdanovich estimated $16 million to $18 million was bet legally on the game in Nevada sports books. That pales in comparison to a Super Bowl, where more than $100 million is wagered, but was bigger than any of the NFL playoff games over the weekend.
"All you can do is tip your hat to bettor and pay them," Bogdanovich said.
Don't feel too bad for the books taking a sizeable loss. All season long they have prospered on college football, and were profitable for the season even while losing the big game.
"It was a really solid college football season for us," Kornegay said. "The NFL has been a different story. We have really struggled with the NFL this year."
That should be good news for bettors, who still have two rounds of playoffs and the Super Bowl to look forward to.
"You never know when the run is coming, it's one of those spells," Bogdanovich said. "Sometimes they get us. But most of the time we get them."
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