- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008

It’s an early Saturday morning in March, a giddy time for a college sports fan. At the Wynn Las Vegas race and sports book, the possibilities are endless.

Up on the board are games of varying magnitude — Penn State-Ohio State, Notre Dame-North Carolina and Georgetown-Syracuse. Highly regarded Duke is listed at 9-5 to win the national title.

And these particular lines had nothing to do with basketball.

Instead, they were another hint of how lacrosse is blossoming. A presence in America’s gambling mecca is an offshoot of a regular television schedule and the attention that the game commands on Memorial Day weekend.

The weekly odds are a seemingly innocuous development, born from the imagination of a Johns Hopkins grad and sports book employee who takes satisfaction in bringing a slice of his East Coast schooling to his job in the desert.

Yet as this weekend’s final four of the NCAA lacrosse tournament approaches, not everyone views a glitzy (though not large) spot in Vegas as the best trend for the traditionally tight-knit game.

It’s one of many developments — from increased external expectations to a recruiting process that begins earlier each year — that combine to worry veteran coaches who can sense outside forces prying greater control of their sport away from them.

It is also a jolt for those who remember when lacrosse occupied a minuscule niche in the sporting landscape.

“Very surprised,” said ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich, who played at Johns Hopkins from 1987 to 1990. “There have always been people on Wall Street and in Baltimore who have side bets for lunch on games, especially when their schools are involved. This is a little more severe than a turkey club.”

Or, as Duke coach John Danowski joked: “Awesome. We’ve made the big time.”

On the big board

Lacrosse can thank two men for the sport’s arrival in Sin City: John Avello and Greg Gorla.

Mr. Avello is the Wynn’s director of race and sports operations and is responsible for setting the lines at one of Vegas’ most popular and creative sports books.

Mr. Gorla possesses a lacrosse background. A New Jersey native, he knew virtually nothing about the game until he attended Johns Hopkins. The 2000 graduate played football for the Blue Jays but saw enough lacrosse to become hooked.

Now an administrative operator at the Wynn, he persuaded Mr. Avello to post lines for last year’s final four. There was plenty of interest, prompting the book to issue lines for weekend games this season.

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