Not everyone is excited by the Wichita State University basketball team’s march into history.
Bookmakers in Las Vegas have been watching the 31-0 Shockers win game after game this season with mounting anxiety as the NCAA Tournament approaches. A Shocker win could be costly for them.
“Out of all the teams in college basketball, they are the one team that we really don’t want to win the tournament,” said Jeff Stoneback, race and sports book manager at the Mirage. “We would be a large loser if Wichita State won.”
Although the Shockers were coming off a Final Four appearance as a No. 9 seed last spring and returned many of its players, bookmakers gave them long odds to win the national championship this year. The Mirage opened them in May at 75-1 to go all the way, Stoneback said, so anybody who put $10 on the Shockers back then stands to win $750 if WSU takes the title.
As WSU steamed along undefeated, the odds began dropping, and the Mirage now gives the Shockers 6-1 odds to win it all.
“Once they started getting around that 20-win mark, that’s when betting heated up on them,” Stoneback said. “We have listed 100 teams, and they’re the fourth most popular.”
Florida and Kansas are the top two picks at the Mirage, while Wichita State is tied with Michigan State and Syracuse in the next spot, he said.
The Shockers start play in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis on Friday before they reach the NCAA Tournament.
The Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, formerly the Las Vegas Hilton, also faces some liability if WSU reaches the top.
“The book does not need Wichita State to win the national championship, at least not now,” said Jay Kornegay, vice president of the LVH Superbook.
LVH opened the Shockers at 60-1 odds in April, got no action, adjusted them to 75-1, still got no action, then raised them to 100-1 and sold 52 tickets, Kornegay said. Most were $10 and $20 bets, but there were a few $100 tickets, too.
Still, he said, “We don’t have that much liability. It’s been such an open season, any of the top 20 teams can win.”
LVH lists Florida as the favorite at 9-2 odds, Kansas second at 6-1, then Arizona at 7-1, Duke and Michigan State at 8-1 and Wichita State at 10-1, ahead of Syracuse, defending champ Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Kornegay said he is a fan of mid-major teams and likes the Shockers.
“I really hope they make a good run, and I might change my mind if they’re in the championship game. I’ll wait ’til then to decide if I want them to win the championship,” he said.
Some bookmakers at Vegas casinos declined to share their odds on the Shockers over the telephone.
“I can tell you they’ve dropped significantly from the beginning of the year,” said James Smith, assistant manager of the race and sports book at the Luxor.
Online books under-valued the Shockers, as well.
VegasInsider.com started WSU at 100-1, and now has the Shockers at 9-1, fourth behind Florida (11-2), Kansas (7-1), and Arizona (6-1).
Bovadasportsbook.com gave WSU 66-1 odds before the season started, and has dropped the Shockers to 9-1 to tie them for third with Arizona. Florida is the favorite at 5-1, KU is second at 15-2, while Duke and Syracuse are at 10-1.
At least one casino didn’t underestimate the Shockers.
Tony Nevill, director of the race and sports book at Treasure Island, said he knew the Shockers would be good from the beginning, an insight he had in part because the casino is owned by Wichita billionaire Phil Ruffin and draws a lot of guests from Kansas.
“I’ve had them pretty low,” Nevill said. “The first bet we had, they were 8 1/2 to win. Because they went so far last year and had most of the team back, there was really no reason to inflate their odds. I expect them to be in the Sweet 16 and probably the Great Eight.”
Treasure Island has the Shockers at 6-1 to win the title, fourth behind Louisville (4-1), Kansas (4 1/2-1), and Florida (5-1).
“Last year they proved they have the basketball intelligence, and that’s something that comes from your coaching and what you learned in high school,” Nevill said.