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For one Vegas sports book, it’s anyone but Kentucky

Mitchell Hartman Apr 3, 2015
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It’s March Madness, in early April. The Final Four play their semifinal games on Saturday: Michigan State against Duke, which is favored to win; and Wisconsin versus Kentucky, also favored to win. Then the winners face off on Monday.

If Kentucky wins its last two games and takes the championship, it will have achieved an undefeated season at 40-0. It would be the first undefeated season in men’s basketball since the Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0 and won the NCAA championship in 1976. And Kentucky’s victory would bring cheers, but not only from people who picked the school to win their bracket. It would also benefit some lucky bettors who wagered with Las Vegas sports book William Hill.

Spokesman Michael Grodsky says the firm was first approached last season for a “prop,” or proposition bet, that Kentucky would go undefeated. The bet was offered at 400-1.

“It would have been quite a feat, because no team had gone undefeated since the ‘76 Hoosiers,” Grodsky says.

This year, with Kentucky an even stronger prospect going into the season, Grodsky says the firm offered the prop again in July 2014, starting at 50-1 odds. By the time the betting closed on March 15, 2015, the odds were 9-2.

“It’s the biggest liability of a prop we’ve had,” Grodsky says. “It’s a mid-six-figure decision for us, so we kind of have a mantra around the office now: ‘Anyone but Kentucky.’”

Betting on sports and betting on stocks or other financial investments can seem similar. There is risk to financial bets — though less than with sports betting, if one invests in a diversified portfolio of well-established stocks or index funds. Companies may lose value, but their stock doesn’t often become worthless. A bet on the losing team (or one that doesn’t cover the spread) is a flat loss; no chance to make it back by holding on or doubling down.

Venture capital investment might be more like sports betting, says Vivek Wadhwa, a serial technology entrepreneur, academic researcher and fellow at Stanford Law School.

“We pick the winners based on our emotional liking of the people we’re investing in,” says Wadhwa. “It’s very similar to gambling on sports. You think you have all these formulas, all this data, and you take the risk. The difference here is, venture capital is played with someone else’s money. You’re more likely to risk it, than if it were your own personal money.”

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