Thu, May 21, 2020
LAS VEGAS — As a bookmaker for more than 40 years, Jimmy Vaccaro’s daily life revolved around the sports schedule. Wake up, check the late scores from the night before and prepare to book today’s action.
The routine that gamblers and oddsmakers followed for so long came to an abrupt end in mid-March when the games were canceled, the casinos closed and the world stopped turning.
“It’s insane,” Vaccaro said. “The last five or six weeks, there was absolutely nothing. No scores to check. I thought, what the [bleep] is going on here? I’ve been in this racket my whole life. I need the action at age 74.”
The bettors were back in action Saturday and Sunday with a UFC card, golf, NASCAR and Bundesliga soccer forming the first real multi-sport weekend in two months. Business was brisk, relatively speaking. It was nowhere near a return to normalcy, but it was something.
Vaccaro visited the South Point sportsbook, which is still closed to the public, and resumed his oddsmaker role for a couple of hours each day. All of the wagering is through the phone app until the casino’s tentative reopening date in June.
“It’s relieving some of the tension and giving people something to do,” Vaccaro said. “Not that I’m a genius, but I figure people are just dying to do something on the weekend.”
While the NBA and NHL attempt to map plans to restart and MLB officials debate ways to start the season, UFC president Dana White has blazed a coronavirus recovery trail for the major pro leagues to follow by staging three fight cards in an eight-day span in Jacksonville, Fla.
“The wagering handle overall was pretty good, and UFC dominated it again,” Westgate SuperBook oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said.
William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said around 10 bets in the $10,000 range showed up on the UFC Fight Night card Saturday. In a volatile heavyweight main event, Alistair Overeem rallied and stopped Walt Harris, a -160 favorite, three minutes into the second round.
“It looked like Harris knocked out Overeem in the first round and he ended up losing,” Bogdanovich said. “Overeem winning was probably our best result.”
There were three controversial judging decisions on the card, giving angry bettors something to complain about via Twitter.
“I’ve got to give Dana White credit. At least something is opening up,” Vaccaro said. “I can’t say I’m a UFC guy, but I watched it and it was compelling. I really enjoyed it.
“There were a lot of $20 and $50 bets flying around, and not that I can blame the people. We were writing a lot of [bets]. We can’t win a lot and we can’t lose a lot.”
Bogdanovich said the UFC handle at William Hill topped what was wagered on Russian table tennis, but not by a large margin.
“It’s the wildest stuff I’ve ever seen,” Bogdanovich said of the recent table-tennis betting surge. “Everything is crazy. It’s just the world we live in now.”
Kevin Harvick was the winner in NASCAR’s return in front of empty grandstands in Darlington, S.C. Multiple bookmakers said Sunday’s race handle was comparable to the Daytona 500.
The least-bet event of the weekend was a golf skins game in Florida pitting the favored Rory McIlroy-Dustin Johnson team against the Rickie Fowler-Matthew Wolff team. A majority of the betting action was on the underdog, and the result was a bad beat. McIlroy and Johnson did not win a hole after No. 6, yet they took the match when McIlroy won a gimmick closest-to-the-pin contest on a 120-yard tiebreaker hole. The NBC telecast ended without showing the measurements of the final shots, leaving viewers to sort out the mystery.
“I don’t know how they won it,” Bogdanovich said. “They did rock-paper-scissors to see who won it. That was a horrible ending.”
It’s also the beginning of a strange summer for bettors and bookmakers.
Another golf match — this one starring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — is set for Sunday. The NASCAR season continues. The next UFC card is scheduled for May 30 in either Arizona or Las Vegas. Overseas wagering options include soccer, table tennis and Korean baseball.
“When you get through a weekend like this,” Sherman said, “it’s going to put the wheels in motion and you’re going to start to see more sports each week.”
Meanwhile, Vaccaro will be seen strolling through the South Point’s empty casino more often.
“I walked around and talked to the security kids and maintenance people. The least I can do is say hello to everybody,” he said.
Vaccaro starts each day with a trip to McDonald’s, where he orders a Coke and tips the drive-thru workers. He sometimes wanders around Target for a while before returning home to watch “Columbo” reruns and Turner Classic Movies. It’s his new routine until the books reopen and there are lines to post and scores to check on a daily basis.