Vegas Sportsbooks Hoping for Alabama Win, Clemson Cover in National Championship

Vegas Sportsbooks Hoping for Alabama Win, Clemson Cover in National Championship article feature image

Matthew Emmons, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Trevor Lawrence

  • Bookmakers in Las Vegas are reporting two-way action on the spread in the National Championship Game between Alabama (-5.5) and Clemson.
  • The best outcome for the sportsbooks would be Alabama to win while Clemson covers the point spread.

LAS VEGAS — The College Football National Championship is here and, truth be told, bookmakers in Vegas were well prepared for a third championship (and fourth playoff meeting) between Clemson and Alabama.

While this bowl season may have lacked the craziness we usually associate with the last few weeks of the college football schedule, the books have done huge numbers since the first bowl kicked three weeks ago.

“We certainly expect to get good action on this game. Heck, every bowl game this season has been superb numbers. All the years I’ve been in the business I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it this good when it comes to the bowls,” Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill, said. “Of course you expect other key bowls to get action like the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl. But even smaller bowls have done better action than maybe I’ve ever seen it.”

Most sportsbooks opened the line for this game during Alabama’s win over Oklahoma, but it seems like betting activity really started to ramp up over the weekend.

Ugly weather over the weekend and concerns over the turf at the stadium caused the over/under to dip to 57 at some shops.

“The total is what’s interesting to me because I was going through this game and they’re not playing in a reliably nice weather venue or indoor stadium,” Matt Lindeman, senior oddsmaker at Caesars Palace, said. “I see the field conditions being a major issue, so I’m curious to see how the projected bad weather potentially tears that field up so I think the total could be high.”

When I spoke to Lindeman over the weekend, the total at Caesars was 58.5, it has since dropped to 57.5.

While the over/under market seems pretty volatile, most books think the spread has settled to the correct range. Most shops around Las Vegas are sitting between Alabama -5/5.5 and nobody I spoke with thinks that we’ll see any spikes in either direction before kick.

“I’ve said all along I thought these two teams were closer than most people perceive them to be,” John Murray, sportsbook director at the Westgate SuperBook explained. “I think the line should be more like Alabama -4 and we have been staying low on this game all week. There will be good two-way action on this game for sure, especially with people taking Alabama minus the points and Clemson on the moneyline. An Alabama win by a field goal or less will likely be a great result for books all over the state.”

William Hill was one of the sportsbooks that posted a line for this game before the semifinals had concluded. They posted Alabama -5.5 after the Tide went up, 28-0, against the Sooners. It turns out that Bogdanovich and his team nailed it.

“I tried to beat everyone to the punch. We hung up -5.5, someone else in town posted -7 as did the offshore books but it settled back at -5.5 early in the week so I was pleased we called it right,” Bogdanovich noted. “It’s floating around that number still and I believe it will stay around there but who knows? Most of our action has been going both ways. I think the only areas we have an edge is if the score stays low and if Alabama wins but doesn’t cover.”

The activity from big bettors around Vegas has mirrored the market, according to Derek Wilkinson of the Westgate.

“We’ve got several five-figure bets on both sides, but most of our liability is on Clemson,” Wilkinson added. “Earlier this season, it didn’t look like anyone had a chance against Alabama, but they haven’t been as dominant in recent weeks. The book will need Alabama, but my money is on Clemson.”

As far as sharp action, Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management at CG Technology, said that respected bettors made their move early in the week.

“Our number is -5.5 like just about everywhere else around town and it opened at -6 and it went to -5.5 right away. The sharp guys bet Clemson early,” Simbal explained. “I’ve personally maintained all year that Clemson is a lot closer to Bama than people realize and we’re seeing that with this game.”

As for the moneyline, Simbal and most of the other books are seeing most of the money come in on the ‘dog.

“The money line bets are on Clemson as well at +190. That’s not a ton of value since normally a 5.5 to 6 money line is usually higher than around 2 to 1,” Simbal explained. “I only see that continuing to go down. If you’re taking Alabama, you might want to look at the moneyline, not something most bettors would normally do at that price.

“It’s been like this for the past few years. When you get a game with bettors who aren’t that used to betting sports but just want to bet the game itself, they tend to think ‘I just want to bet the game and I want to bet the underdog because I want to get 2 to 1 on my money.’ So you end up having a situation where you don’t move the point spread but you move the money line. Normally you’d move both simultaneously, but not here. So what happens here is bettors who like Alabama might just take the moneyline as well because there’s more value than normal at this spread just to win,” Simbal said.

As for the best outcome for his outfit, Simbal echoed what Murray said.

“We’d certainly prefer the scenario where Alabama wins and doesn’t cover the spread. We’d scoop up a large majority of the pot if that happens.”