Roethlisberger still their bet

Gamblers in Nevada discount effects of assault case against QB

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LAKE TAHOE, Nev. -- The gamblers looking over the odds in the Nevada sports books are well aware of the legal battle facing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But few of them say it will affect how they bet once the pro football season begins.

Sports books are licensed locations where gamblers can wager on sporting events, from boxing and baseball to golf and football. Most of the estimated 150 sports books in America are in casinos in Nevada, the only state where they are legal.

Already, Nevada oddsmakers have posted the chances of winning the 2010 Super Bowl for each of the 32 NFL teams. The New England Patriots are the favorites at 3-to-1, meaning if they win the championship, every dollar wagered on them will return $3.

The defending champion Steelers are closest behind them at 13-to-2.

The Detroit Lions, who did not win a game last year, are the long shots for the coming season at 65-to-1.

The odds can fluctuate at any time with developments, such as player trades or injuries or even weather conditions. Gamblers are known to pay attention to the tiniest of variables, such as how teams play at night or in certain cities.

However, none of the gamblers interviewed Friday expressed concern that the sexual assault lawsuit facing Mr. Roethlisberger will distract him on the field. And they don't expect to give it much weight when they are considering which way to bet.

"I'm not a big bettor. I can't afford to lose," said Chuck Spangler, 62, of Reno, at the sports book in the Nugget in Sparks, Nev., just outside of Reno. "Obviously, if it means the player gets suspended, that would affect the way I'd bet."

Mr. Spangler, a former resident of Harrisburg, said he roots for the Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles. He said he knows that athletes can be easily distracted, and one player's problems can take down a whole team.

"Chemistry of the team is important," he said. "Look at what happened with Terrell Owens in Dallas. And now I might tend to bet against Buffalo because T.O. is there."

But Mr. Roethlisberger, he said, doesn't strike Mr. Spangler as a player whose performance will suffer, even with his off-the-field concerns.

"When he's concentrating on the game, I don't think it affects him a whole lot," he said. "The good ones can compartmentalize it. It probably affects [his teammates] more. You know, all the extra reporters that are asking questions of them."

Or it might work the other way around, he said.

"If the players think that [a teammate] is being wrongly accused or picked on, I think they might come together more as a team."

Richard Barnhart, 59, of Carson City, Nev., who was in the town's Nugget Casino, compared Mr. Roethlisberger's situation to that of Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star who was charged with sexual assault in 2003.

"He went through something like this and now they're the [NBA] champions," said Mr. Barnhart, who also expects Mr. Roethlisberger's teammates to rally around him.

Mr. Barnhart said he thought Mr. Roethlisberger was off his game in 2006, following the motorcycle accident that he had just before the start of the season.

"I've been in a car accident, and it takes a while to recover," Mr. Barnhart said. "But that's different from what he's going through now. That's what lawyers are for. That's what they get paid for. And he gets paid to play football."

Zack Jackson, 61, of Zephyr Cove, Nev., and Michael O'Dazier, 52, of Alabama, were in the sports book at Harvey's Casino in Lake Tahoe, across the street from the Harrah's Hotel and Casino where the assault is alleged to have occurred. Harrah's and Harvey's are owned by the same company.

Mr. Jackson is a regular there, betting on everything from horses to baseball. Despite wearing a New York Jets cap, he said he doesn't have a favorite team.

"When you're a bettor, you can't have a team," he said. "You have to bet with your head, not your heart. These guys who love their teams, they get taken to the cleaners."

He compared Mr. Roethlisberger's situation to that of Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants baseball player who has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs late in his career.

"And look at how he handled it," Mr. Jackson said. "He had reporters after him and fans heckling him, and it didn't matter. Certain people are able to have mind over matter. They don't let things affect them."

Mr. O'Dazier suggested that the matter might make Mr. Roethlisberger play even harder.

"I saw him at that press conference. He's furious," Mr. O'Dazier said. "He might play better. Once he puts on that uniform, I think he'll block it all out and play the game."

Mr. Jackson said he didn't think it would affect Mr. Roethlisberger one way or the other. And it won't affect how he wagers.

"I don't care about things like that. All I care about is the point spread," he said. "It's not like we're on a jury. We're sports fans, and that's what matters."


Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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