A strange play to end the game, a head scratching decision by Pac 12 officials and the necessity of making a ‘judgement call’ in Nevada sports books combined to make the aftermath of Saturday’s Utah/USC college football game a fiasco of gargantuan proportions. Even in a city where the unusual is commonplace, the result was one of the weirdest sports betting controversies in Las Vegas history.

Utah trailed by three and lined up for the game tying field goal in the final seconds of the contest. The 41 yard attempt was blocked by USC’s Matt Kalil, picked up Torin Harris (ironically, a product of Las Vegas’ Palo Verde High School) and returned for an apparent touchdown. That initially changed when much of the Trojan’s bench rushed the field to congratulate him, drawing an ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ penalty. As a result, the referee on the field waved off the touchdown and the game ended with USC earning what looked like a 17-14 victory.

The real hijinks began a couple hours later when Pac 12 officials overruled the call on the field and counted the touchdown. The final score was officially changed to 23-14, and conference officiating consultant Mike Pereira explained the decision with this statement:

“All Unsportsmanlike Conduct fouls by substitutes (on the bench) are enforced as dead ball fouls. Since the game was over, the penalty could not be enforced, and the referee stated it was declined by rule. The officials did rule it a touchdown, making the final score 23-14.”

In terms of the game itself, the Pac 12 decision and score change was of little relevance. Either way, the Trojans won the game but it had a monumental impact in the sports betting milieu. USC had been favored by 8′ to 9′ points for much of the week, and Utah money pushed the closing line as low as -7′ at some books. In other words, for a majority of bettors the score change also changed the pointspread winner of the game from Utah to USC.

Sports books have comprehensive rules in place for contingencies like this, and depending on the exact wording of the rules and their interpretation at individual properties the response was markedly different. Some books honored the original 17-14 score and others the revised 23-14 result. At the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book, the house rules say that ‘all winning bets are determined on the day of the event’ but also stipulates that the property “will not recognize overturned scores”. That made it a judgement call for Super Book Director Jay Kornegay:

“So, basically, it says both. We decided to go with the corrected score.”

Across town, MGM Resorts Race and Sports Book Director Jay Rood came down on the other side after considering his property’s house rules:

“We stuck with the original score of 17-14. Our house rules are we don’t recognize overturned games. An overturn is an overturn. This game ended 17-14, the lights went out and everyone went home.”

Every sports book had to make their own decision after considering the house rules and obviously bettors’ view of the propriety of these ‘judgement calls’ had everything to do with the team name on the tickets they were holding. Offshore betting establishments had to make similar decisions, but had the advantage of being able to change the grading on the wager if necessary and make the resulting payment or subtractions to player accounts. In Nevada, bookmakers were left with a multifaceted nightmare since they’d been paying tickets based on the original 17-14 score for a couple of hours. Since there was no way to ‘reverse’ wagers they’d already paid, the result is that some books ended up paying on both sides of the same game. The Stations Casino chain made the decision to pay on both sides of the proposition.

The result was a lot of confusion for players and a big hassle for bookmakers, but the big question is why the Pac 12 decided to open this ‘can of worms’ in the first place? The game was over, the revised score didn’t change the outcome and aside from giving the USC defender a touchdown achieved no real purpose. At least one Nevada bookmaker has suggested that disgruntled USC boosters that had given the points with the Trojans made enough of a stink to get the conference to revisit their decision.

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