By Tim Dahlberg
Somewhere out there — the best guess would be in Alabama — there are 14 anxious gamblers with more than just school pride riding on Auburn winning the national championship.
They've got the Tigers at 1,000-1 odds to win the national title — and they're only one win in the BCS title game from collecting a windfall.
That has the bookmaker who sold the tickets a bit nervous, but maybe not as much as you might think. In the sports betting business it's not just the customers who take all the risks.
"Being in the gambling world every once in a while you're going to get in situations that might not be favorable for your property," said Jay Kornegay, who runs the sports book at the LVH hotel in this gambling city. "This is one of them."
Kornegay says all of the bets are relatively small, though they do add up when multiplied by 1,000. They were taken during the spring when Auburn had a new coach, was coming off a 3-9 record and the general consensus was that there were five or six teams in the SEC alone that were better than the Tigers.
It didn't take long for Auburn supporters to notice, and put a few bucks on their team just for the sport of it.
"We're a player friendly book and are very aggressive with our futures odds," Kornegay said. "I wish we had opened them at 100-1, but we didn't."
The LVH had the longest odds for the Tigers, but other sports books took what looked to be sure money on Auburn, too. One Auburn bettor posted a picture of his betting slip from the Paris hotel-casino on Twitter showing a wager of $100 on the Tigers at 500-1 odds.
That's a payout of $50,000, though it's not time to start counting the cash just yet. Florida State is favored by as much as 9 points in the Jan. 6 game that will decide the final BCS title.
Longtime oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro of the South Point hotel-casino said that bettor — and any others holding big tickets on Auburn — would be wise to hedge their bets by finding the best price on Florida State and betting that side. The payoff won't be nearly as big, but at least there will be a ticket to cash no matter who wins the game.
"It makes no sense to have a nice little score sitting in front of you if you don't collect anything," Vaccaro said.
Betting on so-called "futures" has become increasingly popular in recent years in this gambling city, even though the long odds almost always favor the house. The chance to win big money off a small bet is attractive to fans who root for their teams anyway and don't mind risking a few bucks on bets that seldom pay off.
Auburn could be the rare longshot that does, though the Tigers aren't the biggest potential payday for bettors in recent years. That honor would belong to Virginia Commonwealth — a team that many felt didn't even belong in the tournament — making it to the Final Four in 2011.
Vegas sports books had the Rams as high as 5,000-1 to win the national championship that year, and they came within two wins of doing just that for some lucky bettors.
Like then, though, there's no reason to feel sorry for the bookmakers at LVH. They can tinker enough with the lines on the title game to draw money on Florida State and avoid taking too much of a bath.
"It's not like we're going to have to raise price of our grilled cheese sandwiches," Kornegay said. "Certainly we're rooting for the Seminoles at this point but we have a month to adjust our money lines to make it a softer blow."
It could be worse. The LVH made Philadelphia 9,999-1 underdogs to win the NBA championship this season, only to see the 76ers beat defending champion Miami in their first game and open the season 3-0. Since then, Philadelphia has reverted to form, losing 15 of 19.
And for those looking for another future big payoff? The United States at 125-1 to win next year's World Cup will surely draw some interest, but how about Iran or Honduras at 2,000-1 to win it all in Brazil?
"There's definitely going to be tickets on both of those teams and not just a handful," Kornegay said. "There will be a bucket full of tickets on both those teams at those odds."