College Football Playoff semifinals could set betting records

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Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) throws to wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (6) during practice Friday, Dec. 29, 2023, in Carson, Calif. Michigan is scheduled to play against Alabama on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl, a semifinal in the College Football Playoff. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

LAS VEGAS – Sportsbook director Jay Kornegay is anticipating massive crowds at Westgate's Las Vegas location this weekend and Monday to bet on the two College Football Playoff semifinal games.

Part of it is timing. Last season’s games were on New Year’s Eve; this season’s are on New Year’s Day.

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The other part is the field. Michigan, ranked first by the CFP committee, faces No. 4 Alabama in the Rose Bowl and No. 2 Washington plays No. 3 Texas in the Sugar Bowl.

“We expect the handle to double, possibly triple, what we did last year mainly because the games are being played on New Year’s Day rather than New Year's Eve," said Kornegay, Westgate's vice president of race and sports operations. “Certainly, the participants have huge fan bases.”

Kornegay said the betting increase not only will happen at the Las Vegas book, but at its locations throughout the country. Westgate has books in eight states besides Nevada.

“The volume level is going to be cranked up probably like we've never seen it before,” Kornegay said. “So we're certainly looking for possible records during this year's playoff games.”


Michigan opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, but the number was bet down to 1 1/2 as Alabama money rolled in. Caesars even moved the line to a pick 'em at one point with about 75% of the bets coming on the Tide.

But the book took a nearly $80,000 wager from a professional bettor on the Wolverines to push the line back to 1 1/2.

“So that tells me Michigan should be a slight favorite in this one,” said Joey Feazel, who heads college football betting for Caesars. “But the public is very heavy handed on the Crimson Tide.”

Westgate has had a similar experience. Michigan also opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite. It got bet down to a point after Tide action came in before the Wolverines moved to 2-point favorites.

“Just based off of history, we know that Alabama money is going to show up,” Kornegay said.

FanDuel Sportsbook, which lists Alabama as a 1 1/2-point underdog, has seen 81% of bets and the handle go on the Tide to win outright and 69% of bets and 75% of the money on them to cover the spread.


The betting line for the Texas-Washington game hasn't seen quite the swings. The Longhorns have typically been 4- or 4 1/2-point favorites.

But like the other semifinal, most of the action is on the underdog.

At FanDuel, 78% of bets and 64% of the handle are on Washington to win outright, and 69% of bets and 72% of money are on the Huskies — 4 1/2-point underdogs — to cover the spread.


Feazel is grateful that undefeated Florida State didn't make the playoff field. The Seminoles scraped by at the end of their season after quarterback Jordan Travis injured his leg Nov. 18.

“Without Jordan Travis, they were really a shell of what they once were,” Feazel said. “ I'd still say Georgia would be better than Texas or Washington if we were to put up a line in a hypothetical matchup. The same as Oregon would be favored over Texas and Washington as well, even though Washington beat them twice.”

That's not to say he disagreed with how the playoff field was assembled.

“There are games you have to win in order to compete for championships," Feazel said. "I wouldn't fault the committee for making the decision in how they do the seeding.”


Whichever team wins the Rose Bowl will be favored by FanDuel in the national championship Jan. 8 at Houston.

Michigan would be favored by seven points over Washington and by three over Texas. Alabama would be favored by 6 1/2 points over the Huskies and 2 1/2 over the Longhorns.


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