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June 18, 2018

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Sports bettors warming up to NBA Summer League

Books draw a record amount of handle on annual event through first four days


John Locher / AP

Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball shoots over Los Angeles Clippers’ Brice Johnson (10) during overtime of an NBA summer league basketball game, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Las Vegas.

The NBA Summer League has seen record turnout through its first four days, including a sold-out session for the first time ever on Saturday.

Thousands of basketball fans have packed the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion to catch a glimpse of the NBA’s future stars, and the excitement has also translated into Las Vegas sports books.

Bookmakers are on pace to break their record for most money bet on the summer league after only a few days.

“It just keeps growing and now that the games are being picked up by more recognizable stations like ESPN, it’s helped even more,” said Jeff Sherman, the chief NBA oddsmaker at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

It didn’t hurt that the top five picks in the NBA draft are all here this year. No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum has wowed Celtics fans, scoring 19 points per game, while the Sacramento Kings’ De’Aaron Fox, the No. 5 overall pick, has put up 17.5 points per game.

But no player has garnered more attention than No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball, who made his debut in purple and gold for the fan favorite Los Angeles Lakers.

“Lakers games have been our best sellers,” Sherman said. “They always are.”

Ball and the Lakers took on Tatum and the Celtics Saturday night on ESPN, drawing the historic sold-out crowd. When second-year prospect Brandon Ingram was scratched from the Lakers’ lineup shortly before the game, Sherman and other oddsmakers scrambled to adjust the line.

“There was a lot of interest in that game and that was the biggest adjustment we’ve had to make, moving it a few points toward Boston,” Sherman said.

Tracking the daily changes to lineups is the biggest challenge for oddsmakers.

“We just take the same approach as during most preseason games,” Sherman said. “We start out looking at the rosters, then just pay attention to Twitter to see if guys are playing or not.”

The lineup fluidity is part of the reason why the Superbook’s summer league betting limits are tighter than on regular season NBA games. The book accepts $10,000 bets on sides, and $5,000 on moneylines and totals, the same limits as NBA preseason games and WNBA contests.

Despite a record number of bets on the summer league, games still typically handle only a fifth of what an average baseball game commands, according to Sherman.

Still, it provides a nice fill for an otherwise slow part of the year in sports books. If it wouldn’t have been for the summer league’s eight-game slate Monday night, the home run derby would have been the only betting option on the board.

“It’s definitely a staple on the betting board,” Sherman said. “It’s given us many more betting opportunities during baseball’s all-star break. It just keeps growing every year.”

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