On Sunday night, I was talking to John Avello, the bookmaker at the Wynn in Las Vegas. He was driving home, shortly after the Seattle Seahawks had beaten the Washington Redskins to become the fourth favorite in four NFL playoff games to cover. I was on a speaker phone and he was driving through a tunnel, so every other word was interrupted with static. But there was no mistaking the message: With favorites beating the numbers at a rate that make a bookmaker's stomach bleed, the folks running the show in Vegas are anxious for the season to end.
"There is not much time left in the year," Avello told me. "Then we can get rid of football until next year."
No one's going to cry for Las Vegas bookmakers, but this weekend was truly a microcosm of a strange year. As the Los Angeles Times reported recently, during one particularly bad November weekend full of favorites covering, the 12 MGM-owned sports books took a seven-figure hit and had to summon emergency reserves of cash to pay off its losses.
"That first game this Saturday between the Bengals and Texans didn't kill us," Jeff Sherman, a sports book manager at the Las Vegas Hotel, told me Sunday night as he screamed above the din of customers cashing Seahawks tickets. "But it's the liability you see compounding over the weekend. By Sunday, we couldn't stop writing Ravens tickets. The money for them just poured in."
It has been nastier than a Trent Williams shove to Richard Sherman's face behind the counters, and there aren't any match-ups this weekend that will make them feel any less queasy come game day. Because, between the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos, three of the most public teams in the NFL will be in play.
"Some teams just have it, they will always get the money," Sherman said. "And those are the teams."