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RJ reporter details 4 agonizing close calls in betting contests

Every gambler dreams of one big score that could change their life.

I’ve chased big money at the World Series of Poker, twice playing in the Main Event … and twice busting short of the money.

I’m also a fixture in Las Vegas handicapping contests, playing everything from Station Casinos’ Last Man Standing ($100 for five entries) to the Westgate SuperContest ($1,000 for one entry).

I’ve never won anything in any of those, either.

But I have come painfully close a few times, and every week this season, I’m going to document my experience taking my shot at this fall’s contests.

First, let’s count down the four worst days of my sports betting life:

4. Nov. 10, 2018: There are 12 entries left in Station’s LMS college football contest (out of 2,776), and I’m one of them. The winner takes $56,550.

Iowa is -10½ at home against Northwestern. That’s way too many points in what should be a grinding defensive game.

But wait, I think: That’s what the bookmakers want you to believe. This suspiciously high line is an indicator that Iowa is going to roll. Let’s go, Hawkeyes.

Contrarian thinking gone awry. Northwestern wins outright 14-10.

3. March 30, 2021: A fresh one from a few months ago. There are 25 left in Station’s March Madness LMS contest out of 2,065 entries, with $42,800 to the winner. Last day of the Elite Eight, three picks away from payday.

Gonzaga is 29-0 and dominating the opposition. I get a bright idea: Let’s go against the Bulldogs with Southern California +8½.

Like Iowa in 2018, at least I don’t really have to sweat this one. Gonzaga leads 49-30 at halftime and cruises to an 85-66 victory and a trip to the Final Four.

2. Jan. 3, 2016: Last week of the Westgate SuperContest, and I’m sitting in 34th place with 50 spots to be paid.

I know going 3-2 in Week 17 will clinch a money spot; 2-3 makes it dicey. I split my first four plays and am left with the Green Bay Packers -3 at home against the Minnesota Vikings with the division title on the line on “Sunday Night Football.”

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater throws for only 99 yards, but Minnesota returns a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown to take a 20-3 lead in the third quarter. The Packers scramble back within 20-13, but Aaron Rodgers’ pass in the end zone is incomplete as time expires.

I go 50-32-3 on the season (60.9 percent) and finished tied for 52nd. No money. One extra push along the way would have been worth about $3,000, one extra win about $6,000.

1. April 6, 2019: I’ll never get over this one. We’ve reached the Final Four, two picks from glory. There are eight entries left out of 2,942, with $59,625 to the winner.

All week I agonize over taking either Virginia -5½ against Auburn or Texas Tech +2½ against Michigan State. Just before tipoff, I decide on Virginia.

The Cavaliers lead 57-47 with five minutes to go. I know that lead is far from safe, but an inexplicably overconfident thought pops into my head: You did it, man. Good job.

I didn’t do it, man. Auburn goes on a 14-0 run to take the lead. The Tigers are up two, and Virginia’s Kyle Guy is fouled on a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left. I need him to hit two out of three to force overtime and extend my hopes.

No shot. He calmly makes all three, and Virginia wins 63-62 but most definitely does not cover -5½. Texas Tech then cruises past Michigan State 61-51 to make sure I feel even worse.

But one day, I believe I will win, and that’s why I keep coming back.

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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