Las Vegas Sun

February 25, 2024

Cavaliers exit prevents potential ‘dream matchup’ for sports books

Las Vegas weighs in on the LeBron James free agency saga

Most of the country seemed to be rooting for an NBA Finals showdown between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. That included Las Vegas sports books.

"That wasn't a good matchup," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Las Vegas Hilton Superbook. "It was a dream matchup."

With basketball's two biggest stars, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, in the spotlight, the showdown could have been a record-setting championship series for Las Vegas.

But, of course, those possibilities were dashed when the Boston Celtics toppled the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

It was fitting for this year's playoffs, where not much has happened to maximize betting interest. Out of the first 10 series in the playoffs, only one has gone to a seventh game. Three of the four conference semifinal series ended with four-game sweeps.

"The mainstream, or what I call the borderline, bettor isn't interested unless it's strung out," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of Lucky's sports books. "It does hurt when you get sweeps, and it does hurt when you have a non-celebrity driven finals."

Comparing the mythical Cavs vs. Lakers finals series with the now-possible Orlando Magic vs. Phoenix Suns matchup, Kornegay estimated as much as a 30 percent drop-off in betting handle.

"It's a pretty significant change," he said.

But Kornegay said he didn't expect the Suns to get past the Lakers in the Western Conference finals and that it didn't matter who won the East between the Magic and the Celtics.

"With Lakers nation surrounding us, we're going to be OK," Kornegay said. "I'm thinking the Lakers are going to beat the Suns and if one of these two teams in the East can look impressive, that would make for a good finals."

The Lakers are the favorite to win the championship in sports books around town at a price of 6-to-5. Despite losing the first game of the series to the Celtics on Sunday, the Magic carry the second-lowest odds at 2-to-1. The Celtics are listed at 3-to-1, while the Suns come in at 5-to-1.

But it's still hard to forget about one team that is off the board.

"It means something that we lost LeBron," Vaccaro said. "We lost some of the oomph."

Lucky's releases LeBron prop

Vaccaro has found a way to keep wagers coming in on James.

Lucky's, which operates the sports books at the Plaza and Terrible's, has posted a prop asking bettors which team James will score his first point for in the 2010-2011 regular season.

James' impending free agency is the biggest story heading into the NBA offseason. Lucky's lists the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls as the favorites to land James at a price of 9-to-5.

The Cavaliers are posted at 9-to-2, the Miami Heat at 2-to-1, the New Jersey Nets at 8-to-1 and the Los Angeles Clippers at 30-to-1. The field is offered at 5-to-1.

"It's just an opinion. We're not making a lot of money off of these," Vaccaro said. "What I set out to do with these things is get people calling, get exposure and get small bets on it."

The betting limit is $500. Vaccaro said Lucky's had printed 25 of the James tickets since it posted on Friday, with the highest being for $125.

"I know nothing more than anyone else, but with the landscape I think I'd have to go with Chicago," Vaccaro said.

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