After a wild weekend spent wagering on fights and football, the betting public saw its consensus plays go up in smoke – sending sportsbooks to a significant win in the process.
The action began on Saturday with UFC 229, a mixed martial arts (MMA) extravaganza that fittingly took place in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip. The headline bout featured two-time former UFC champion Conor McGregor challenging undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov for the Lightweight title.
And on Sunday, a full slate of 13 games highlighted the National Football League (NFL) schedule.
When the dust finally settled, bookmakers in the Silver State – along with newly legalized sportsbooks in New Jersey, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Delaware – reported a winning weekend on par with the best in recent memory.
When the highly anticipated title bout between McGregor (21-4) and Nurmagomedov (27-0) was finally announced, the opening lines had the Irish irritant as a (+120) underdog to the Russian rock (-160).
Sharp action on Nurmagomedov inflated his favorite status in the early going, but McGregor’s star power drew the public in droves.
Nick Kalikas – an oddsmaker specializing in MMA lines who provides consultation services to bet shops worldwide – told betting industry outlet Covers that the vast majority of tickets written backed McGregor to reclaim his title:
“Some bigger bets are coming in on Khabib, sharp money driving that line back up.
But the public is still betting a lot of tickets on McGregor. There are way more tickets on McGregor.”
MGM sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback told ESPN Chalk that public enthusiasm even induced a handful of heavy wagers on the big dog:
“It was amazing how many five-figure bets we were getting on McGregor.
I would see a $30,000 [bet] come across, another $30,000, then $20,000; so not only was the public betting small amounts, there were some large public play on McGregor, too.”
When the betting closed, those public tickets were largely priced at (+165), while Nurmagomedov was a (-175) favorite.
McGregor talked a big game before the fight, but Nurmagomedov dominated the proceedings at UFC 229, battering his rival on the ground before forcing a submission via rear naked choke in the fourth round.
The following morning, public bettors lined up to back a slew of heavy road favorites.
The chalk included the Rams (-7.5) on the road against the Seahawks, the Titans (-6.5) heading up north to face the Buffalo Bills, and the Ravens (-3.5) visiting the Browns.
In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Boyd Gaming sportsbook director Bob Scucci explained why sharp bettors were happy to take the big home dogs and the points:
“We talked about it early this week. Cleveland and Buffalo are the two ‘dogs you just have to take.
Even if you don’t watch the game, bet it and watch the game with one eye open.
But when you’re getting 3.5 points at home or in the case of the Bills 6 at home, you’ve got to take those because the percentages are with you. Even Seattle getting 7.5 points (from the Rams) is pretty strong.”
Cleveland slugged it out with Baltimore to secure a 12-9 win in overtime, while Buffalo kicked a last-second field goal to tag Tennessee with a 13-12 defeat. And while the Seahawks didn’t win outright, they played hard until the end of a 33-31 loss to cover – crushing the public’s array of moneyline, parlay, and teaser bets.
Scucci later summed up the Sunday carnage for public bettors:
“The biggest one was Buffalo beating Tennessee outright. That line opened at 3 and closed at 6. Everybody was on the Titans.
(And) any time Cleveland wins, that’s usually good for us.”