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Upset-rich March Madness causes mixed results at sportsbooks

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A bettor in December placed $500 on Florida Atlantic at 400-1 odds to make the Final Four, costing Westgate Las Vegas $200,000.

That was a clear win for one bettor, but who actually has come out between the sportsbooks and those on the other side of the counter during this most unusual NCAA Tournament is much more murky.

While Westgate absorbed a tough loss, Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas came out in decent shape even as upsets ruled the first two weeks of March Madness and set up a Final Four that begins Saturday with UConn at No. 4 as the highest seed.

“We’re still in really good shape on, especially, San Diego State and Florida Atlantic,” said Chuck Esposito, Red Rock race and sportsbook director. “I’ve heard that there there are some places that have some liability with Florida Atlantic, but we don’t. We do still do well on UConn and Miami. Both those schools seem to be the the kind of two schools that are getting some future play. But, overall, we’re pretty good shape with all four teams.”

A UConn victory likely would be the best outcome for sportsbooks, and the Huskies have rolled through the NCAA Tournament, winning by an average of 22.5 points.

Their odds before the tournament at Westgate were 20-1 to win the championship. As for the rest of the field, Miami was at 50-1, San Diego State at 60-1 and FAU at 100-1.

“It doesn’t look like a Final Four,” said Jay Kornegay, Westgate vice president of race and sports operations. “It looks like an NIT final.”

Kornegay said he could see the FAU run to the Final Four coming, but there was little Westgate could to do mitigate the damage.

As for future NCAA Tournaments, Kornegay said discussions already are under way about lowering the odds for the long shots and increasing them for the favorites. It will be among many tweaks as more parity hits college basketball, in part because of the transfer portal.

“Believe me, we’re keeping an eye on it,” Kornegay said. “We’re not going to make a knee-jerk, dramatic change. … I do believe there are going to be more Cinderella stories than we’ve seen in the past.”

Esposito said even more work will go into breaking down rosters in the future, making special note of schools with veteran players.

“I think you’re going to continue to see the trend of numbers a lot tighter, a lot smaller,” Esposito said. “I do think David has more of a chance against Goliath than he ever has before.”

Esposito and Kornegay said the women’s NCAA Tournament and Final Four, which begins Friday, have drawn more betting interest than in past years, though still nowhere close to the level for the men. But both sportsbooks are offering more betting options for the women’s Final Four to reflect the increased interest.

While the men’s Final Four is a major surprise, the women’s side includes undefeated South Carolina and Iowa star and AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark.

“It’s not leaps and bounds more,” Kornegay said. “We’ve seen increases that are noticeable on the women’s side.”

The men have a near monopoly on betting during the regular season, though more women’s games have been made available. Louisville coach Jeff Walz said he would like to see all women’s games on the betting boards.

“I just think for women’s basketball there’s more interest now for the casual fan,” Walz said. “Obviously, we can’t bet on it or anything like that … but if you’re asking what can enhance our game, that little thing right there I think has already.”

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AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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