Betting public pounding Golden Knights in Stanley Cup futures market

Oct 4, 2017 |

In professional sports, expansion franchises have almost no chance of delivering a championship in their first year. Even a playoff appearance is highly unlikely. As former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora once said:

“Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs?”

According to those who set the odds, the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t expected to be an exception to the rule. But that’s not keeping bettors from plowing some of their hard-earned cash into backing the NHL’s newest franchise.

The regular season begins tonight with four games. Vegas and Dallas are the last teams to take the ice for a season opener, when the Golden Knights travel to face the Stars on Friday night. Jeff Stoneback, director of trading for MGM Resorts sportsbooks in Las Vegas, said future book wagers – bets on who will win the Stanley Cup this season – are piling up on the Knights.

“Surprisingly, we’ve got a lot of action on them,” Stoneback said. “We opened them up at 300/1, they’re all the way down to 75/1 right now. I mean, we have a ton of liability. There’s been a lot of local interest. There’s a lot of excitement with the team coming into the league this year.”

In fact, MGM books have more liability on the Golden Knights than any other team. Of course, most of that is a product of the team having such long odds, which allows liability to pile up quickly, even at the current rate of 75/1. So while the usual suspects are among the favorites to hoist the Cup this season – two-time defending champion Pittsburgh, perennial contender Chicago and Toronto are all at 8/1 – those teams aren’t creating nearly the liability of the neophyte Vegas outfit.

Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US, said his 100-plus sportsbooks around Nevada face a similar dilemma on the Golden Knights.

“We have more tickets on them than any other team, so obviously we’d lose a lot, because we’ve got a lot of liability,” Bogdanovich said, noting William Hill has Vegas at 150/1 to win the NHL championship – which gives him some comfort. “They’ve got no chance of winning.”

That being the case, what’s driving these folks to the betting windows at sportsbooks all around Las Vegas? Stoneback and his sportsbook industry peers believe the novelty of that ticket is attractive now, and perhaps even more so years from now.

“Someday, if they do win the Stanley Cup, you can have that souvenir, even though it’s a 99 percent chance it’s gonna be a loser. ‘Hey look, I had them to win the Stanley Cup in their very first year,’” Stoneback said. “A lot of people bet those future books as souvenirs, they keep them – the Cubs, the Red Sox, they’ve kept them over the years.”

In fact, such betting slips are so valuable that some customers don’t cash them in when they finally win. Case in point: the widely beloved Cubs and their breakthrough World Series victory last year.

“Oh God, yeah. We had tons of tickets that weren’t cashed, which is good for the house,” said Tony Miller, sportsbook director at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. “We went through something similar when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, but the Cubs were bigger. That’s probably the biggest, in terms of unclaimed tickets, that I’ve ever seen.”

Added Stoneback: “I was surprised how many tickets were not cashed last year. They hung on to the ticket and didn’t take the money.”

Keep in mind, though, that the Cubs were the favorite to win the 2016 World Series in the preseason and all throughout the regular season. Their odds were at 5/1 or shorter much of the year and less than 2/1 at several sportsbooks heading into the playoffs, so a winning ticket wouldn’t mean a massive payout unless one made a massive bet. Even someone who put, say, $100 on Chicago might feel as if hanging on to that ticket – perhaps framing it – is worth more than the few hundred dollars of cashing it in.

If somehow the Golden Knights did the virtually impossible this season, a bettor might have a harder time doing that at MGM’s opening 300/1 odds, at which even a very modest $10 bet would pay out $3,000. Jay Kornegay, who runs the famed Las Vegas Superbook as vice president of race and sports for the Westgate Las Vegas, said his shop hasn’t moved the Knights from their opening odds of 200/1. While he can’t fathom Vegas winning the Stanley Cup, neither can he fathom a bettor not cashing in on a winning wager.

“This is different. The Cubs were the favorite,” Kornegay said. “Do I want to keep the ticket or cash for $2,000? I think I’m just gonna make a copy and frame that. There’s just a little difference between 2/1 and 200/1.”
Stoneback said he’d expect likewise for all those who got in early on the Golden Knights at MGM books.

“If they did win the Stanley Cup, I’m sure those people would not hang on to those as souvenirs at 300/1,” Stoneback said. “At least I wouldn’t!”

As Kornegay summarized of the Knights, this city’s first top-tier professional sports franchise: “I’m sure there are not too many people saying, ‘Oh, they can win the Cup.’ But you might have some people say, ‘Just in case.’”

Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.                

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