Gambling pays on wild cards and Wild Cats

It was both crass and amusing - not a unique combination by any stretch when it comes to Las Vegas and all that makes the infamous Strip tick.

Gambling pays on wild cards and Wild Cats

The video, highlighted by the US website Deadspin among others, was shot using a phone by a punter somewhere in that Nevada magnet for debauchery.

Displaying an uncanny presence of mind, the amateur documentarian had trained his camera on the crowd, all men and all raucous and all glued to the big screens.

The basketball game that had their attention was well and truly won by Duke so it was a little jarring to think that this little sliver of the viewing public was on tenterhooks for a conclusion that was foregone.

Duke were on their way to this weekend’s Final Four where they will face their fellow established powerhouses of College Basketball, Michigan State, in the NCAA Tournament, the annual money-spinner which ends careers and dreams and is more often referred to as March Madness.

Utah had put it up to Duke, a top-seeded team with one of the most successful coaches of all time, a prestigious and private North Carolina university with a proud legacy of causing all opposition fans to recoil in hate-fuelled envy.

Both teams were coasting home in the dying seconds, one vanquished and the other looking ahead to Sunday’s regional final - essentially the quarter-final of the whole thing and more commonly known as the “Elite Eight”.

Yeah the win was secured but the gamblers had their own priorities, a world apart from the amateur students whose exploits and athleticism seem to benefit almost everybody else immeasurably more than the players themselves.

If the underdogs from Utah managed to breach the predicted spread of points and lose by less than had been expected by the Vegas bookies, the house would lose in a big way and the punters would be swimming in varying amounts of cash.

The game was dead but a half-hearted foul sent Utah to the free throw line with 0.7 seconds left. An utterly harmless basket was sunk and the scoreboard ticked in favour of the gamblers. And just like that, millions fell out of the bookies’ coffers.

No US sporting occasion or series of occasions is more suited to the allure of heavy betting than March Madness. The all-or-nothing atmosphere generated by the win-or-go-home structure is almost completely unique. The sheer volume of games - 65 of them rattled out over the course of three long weekends - blows everything else out of the water.

Play-off teams in the NFL operate under a similar pressure - one slip-up means the season is over in a flash - but more many more minutes are squeezed out of the students during a much more truncated period of time.

Of course their welfare is not exactly a primary concern of bookies and gamblers alike. Nor are the footballers able to benefit from any such sentiment. It makes the whole thing fairly garish when you take a step back and think about it.

But of course I am one of millions who takes a step back, tuts a little then gets hopelessly caught up in the drama. I’m just as bad as the rest of them except that I don’t manage to make a profit out of my enjoyment.

This year has been especially fruitful for the underdogs. It has been close to anarchy at times.

But still, for one guy to reportedly place $20,000 on Michigan State at 50/1 in November to win the whole thing takes special nerve.

Even now, when they have done the hard bit and made it to the Final Four, they must still overcome another major obstacle beyond Duke: the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky are aiming to be the first men’s basketball outfit to achieve a flawless 40-win season.

If the Wildcats beat Wisconsin on Saturday and become National Champions on Monday, they’ll be the first college team since Indiana did it in 1976 to go all the way without losing in the regular season.

UCLA routinely did it in the 1960s but this was during a time when there were at least eight less games.

What the University of Kentucky Wildcats are about to achieve - unless there’s a massive surprise - is absolutely unprecedented and is ironically the result once again of a coaching approach that prioritises the future riches of a talented player.

Their coach John Calipari makes no bones about it when he recruits players - they will ideally play one season and head off to the NBA.

Not a tactic favoured by the purists but when the alternative is everybody else pocketing from the students’ exploits, it’s no surprise that a team like Kentucky has discovered the winning formula in a world gone mad.

Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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