Mims speaks with Westgate Las Vegas's Jay Kornegay and Borgata's Tom Gable about betting NCAA March Madness

Thoughts and odds from two of the nation's top sportsbook operators.
If tournament favorite Houston can make it the Final Four, the Cougars will be playing a home game.
If tournament favorite Houston can make it the Final Four, the Cougars will be playing a home game..

The expansion of sports betting has spread to over 30 states. But the gaming meccas of the United States are still Las Vegas and Atlantic City. So with March Madness starting this week, I decided to get the perspectives of the top bookmakers in Nevada and New Jersey regarding the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. I was able to send several questions to Jay Kornegay, Vice President of Race and Sports at Westgate Las Vegas Casino, and Tom Gable, Director of Race and Sports at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa.

Kornegay is renowned in the world of sports betting. He has spoken at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and is highly respected among his peers. Gable has made appearances on the VSIN Network and is part of the BetMGM brand that provides competitive lines and exceptional service. Both have tremendous customer service skills that bodes them well in the operations of their sportsbooks.

Tell the audience your most popular prop bet for March Madness and why you think it resonates  with the betting public?

Kornegay: “Wins by conference” always receives a lot of attention from the betting public. This includes recreational and “sharp” bettors. It resonates with the college basketball fan because most of them have opinions on conferences across the country. They either love them or hate them and will support their opinions with their money.

Gable: The most popular prop bet every year is the “Race to 20."  We make prices on every game/every team and it is a very simple bet: Which team will be the first to get to 20 points in the game. Bettors love it because it is instant gratification. You don’t even have to wait for half of a game to be complete to already have a decision on your wager.  You always hear reactions in the sportsbook when a team is getting close to that 20 point mark.  If you weren’t familiar with the prop bet, you’d probably have no idea why people are going crazy that early in the game, but people love it. 

This year the demand for rooms in Atlantic City and Las Vegas rival the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve. Do you see a correlation between the increase interest in sports betting and the tournament?

Gable: Without a doubt, these bigger betting events are becoming more and more popular.  For years, you had groups of people travel to Las Vegas for March Madness and it became an annual ritual. But now with other jurisdictions opening, people are becoming more involved and maybe taking trips to properties outside of Las Vegas. But you can see just from the availability (or lack of availability) of hotel rooms in Las Vegas and Atlantic City this week, the cities will be jammed with people coming to bet and watch the games.  Each year that goes by, we see some of the same groups and seem to pick up new ones each year.  The great thing about Vegas and Atlantic City is the critical mass of hotel rooms and sportsbooks all in one spot.  We have the infrastructure to support these bigger events and handle the crowds.

Kornegay: I believe the introduction of sports wagering to a larger demographic will have a positive impact on destination cities like AC and LV. Sports wagering gives them another reason to visit our city. There are plenty of great venues popping up across the country but it’s a challenge emulating the Las Vegas show. Eventually, many of these new sports bettors will want to visit the sports entertainment capital of the world.  

Let’s project the Sweet Sixteen. What conference will have the most teams still competing?

Gable: The Big 12 has been the best conference in college basketball this season, so they would be the easy answer.  That being said, I would not be surprised in the least, to see four Big East teams in the Sweet 16 as they have a lot of strength at the top of that conference.  UConn, Marquette, Creighton and Xavier all have it in them to make deep runs.

Kornegay- I would have to think the best and deepest conference would have the most and that’s the Big 12. Obviously, this doesn’t hold true every year and we should expect surprises.

What promotions or contests are you running before the start of the tournament?

Kornegay: We offer a couple of promotions here at the Superbook Westgate Las Vegas. The first is “Bet $100, Get $100” and a FREE bucket of beer with any new wagering account. On top of that, Nevada players are not charged any deposit fees. The beer special is offered during the first weekend but the other two “Bet $100, Get $100" and no deposit fees are on-going at this time.

Gable: We will have a number of events on property themed around the tournament.  The most popular will probably be an invite only “bracket style” blackjack tournament that will start with over 100 contestants and then people will qualify to go into the bracket of play where they will compete heads up and advance to the next round until a champion is crowned.  It will be held right outside the sportsbook and I expect it to become an annual event, as this is the first time we are holding it. 

What 3 teams have the most tickets written on them? Single or Parlay

Kornegay: The top teams by ticket futures ticket count are (in order):; 1-Houston, 2-Kansas, 3-UCLA, 4-Arizona, 5-N Carolina.

Gable: In terms of the future book to win the NCAA championship, Houston has the most tickets written on them, followed by UCLA and Kansas. 

Number 1 seeds current odds to win the title?

Kornegay: Houston 5-1, Alabama 7-1, Kansas 10-1, Purdue 12-1

Gable: Houston +550, Alabama 8/1, Kansas 9/1, Purdue 12/1

Follow me on Twitter as I go to Las Vegas and do a Sweet Sixteen Preview. Good Luck with your brackets.

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