Posted on 12 September 2011.
It was not until two hours afterward that Southern California cornerback Torin Harris got credit for scooping up a blocked field goal and returning it 65 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the Trojans’ victory over Utah.
But, in doing so, Harris was not the only one who, officially, took it to the house. So did plenty of gamblers.
Because of a miscommunication between officials, fans nationwide moved on to other things believing Harris’ touchdown had been wiped out because of an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on USC’s bench for emptying onto the field — and that the final score was 17-14.
But, two hours later, the confusion was cleared up and the Trojans had won by a score of 23-14.
The difference meant little to USC or Utah, which was trying to force overtime when Coleman Peterson’s 41-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Matt Kalil.
The difference meant everything in Las Vegas, where oddsmakers had made USC an 8½-point favorite. For two hours, sports books had paid out winning tickets to bettors who had taken Utah and the points. When the final score changed, some books — but not all — began paying out tickets to bettors who had USC giving the points.
“We were in a bad spot no matter what,” said Jay Kornegay, the vice president of race and sports operations at the Las Vegas Hilton. “We already paid off the lion share of tickets. Now, a few hours later, we’re paying the other side. It’s a very confusing, uncomfortable spot for everyone.”
According to the Pac-12, the officials on the field interpreted the rule correctly, but the message — that Harris’ touchdown should count because the penalty was a dead-ball foul — was not conveyed from referee Jack Folliard and officials in the press box.
Folliard said the penalty was declined by rule, and the game was over.
“There was a miscommunication between the officials and the press box that led to the confusion about the final score,” Tony Corrente, the Pac-12 officiating coordinator, said Sunday in a statement. “We will make the appropriate adjustments to improve communication between on-field officials and press box personnel so that we avoid any scoring issues in the future.”
It is not uncommon for uncertainty to surround the final score of a basketball game, often if there is question about whether a last-second shot is a 2-pointer or 3-pointer.
And, in 2008, there was a rare instance of an NFL game’s final score being changed. Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu returned a fumble for a touchdown on the final play of an apparent 17-10 win over San Diego, which was a 4 ½-point underdog. In about 10 minutes, Polumalu’s score was wiped out for an illegal forward pass by San Diego and the final score held at 11-10. But because there was uncertainty, many sports books delayed paying out for about 15 minutes.
“What made it significantly less of a problem than USC-Utah is that nobody was paid,” said R.J. Bell, CEO of Pregame.com, a sports betting news site.
Whether you were paid had as much to do with where you placed your bet as on which team you bet. Hilton, LeRoys and Cantor — which runs books at the Cosmo, M and Venetian hotels — are posting the score as 23-14. MGM, the largest book in Las Vegas, Wynn and Caesars are posting it as 17-14. (For online or offshore bets, there were few problems: Since bettors work from accounts, it has been a matter of adjusting debits and credits.)
The Hilton is paying not so much because of altruism, or customer service, as it is the fine print of each house’s rules.
“You go to any place in Las Vegas and most of our house rules are pretty standard,” Kornegay said. “This is where you find out where the variations are.”
Kornegay said the Hilton’s house rules state that the score, for betting purposes, is determined the day of the event. So because the change occurred before midnight, Hilton was obliged to honor any USC winners. Others, including MGM and Wynn, have rules stating that no overturned outcomes will be recognized.
But Bell says those books who did not pay out on USC tickets are missing the point.
“You can go into the MGM with a USC ticket, look up at ESPN and see the score has USC winning by nine points and you wonder, ‘Why won’t you pay me?’ ” Bell said. “Yeah, the fine print covers MGM. But, to me, that kind of corporate, fine-print, minutia double talk that says we’re not going to pay is something that a customer-friendly company wants no part of.”
A message left with an MGM official was not returned.
If you happened to have bet on USC at the MGM or on Utah at the Hilton and didn’t cash your ticket immediately, you are out of luck. But so, too, is anyone who placed a bet on the Trojans and then tossed away their ticket when the game was over.
“I had a guy on Twitter who told me he found three USC tickets and cashed all three of them,” Bell said. “The lesson here is if you have a winner, cash your ticket as quick as you can, and if you have a loser, don’t throw your ticket out right away.”
Kornegay agreed. But he also noted it could have been worse. There was relatively little action on Utah and USC.
What if it had been a Super Bowl?
“Oh, my gosh,” Kornegay said. “Shoot me in the head.”