John Locher / AP
Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Bookmakers were caught like an over-aggressive defender who allows an odd man rush when it came to the Vegas Golden Knights last season—exploited after making one wrong move.
Local sports books infamously posted the Golden Knights as the biggest long shot in the league to win the Stanley Cup and Western Conference, and were bombarded by bets from fans. Bettors stood to collectively take casinos for millions before Vegas fell to Washington in the Stanley Cup Final.
Bookmakers aren’t going to find themselves out of position again a year later. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, which took a handful of bets at 500-to-1 on the Golden Knights to win last year’s Stanley Cup, opened the team at 10-to-1 this season and has already seen it bet down to 8-to-1.
The action has been so overwhelming at the locals-dominated Station Casinos sports books that the Golden Knights are now 9-to-2 to win the title. They’ve drawn more than double the amount of money of any other team in the futures, but still pose far less of a risk than last season.
“There’s no comparison at all,” says Red Rock Resort sports book director Jason McCormick. “We’re able to start fresh and put the Knights in an appropriate range after the team exceeded expectations in all areas last year.”
Still, the more the Golden Knights win, the more sports books lose. Station shifted the Golden Knights to the favorite to win the Western Conference at plus-220 (risking $1 to win $2.20) after they drew eight times more tickets than any other team.
Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management at the Superbook, posted the Golden Knights’ over/under point total at 96.5. It has moved more than any other team, with a flood of money forcing the total as high as 101.5. It currently sits at 100.5.
“It’s the largest decision we’ve ever had on a season win total, or point total, in any of the four major sports,” Sherman says. That’s significant considering the NHL traditionally draws a fraction of the betting attention compared with its counterparts in the NFL, NBA and MLB. Even Sherman, who knew the Golden Knights would again be a popular bet, has been surprised.
He thought professional bettors would attack the under on the Golden Knights’ win total given the likelihood of regression. They eventually did, but it took the number getting to 101.5 to draw the biggest under bets, and there haven’t been enough to offset the majority of gamblers going with the over. “It’s just amazing the way the momentum has sustained itself,” Sherman said.
Sports books’ objective is always to maximize their profit, but they’re more accepting of losing money on the Golden Knights because of the team’s stronghold in the community and the way it drives traffic at the betting window.
The bookmakers are fans too. Sherman and fellow Superbook supervisors Jay Kornegay and Ed Salmons are all Golden Knights season-ticket holders. McCormick is a regular at T-Mobile Arena, and sounds more excited breaking down whether Erik Haula or Alex Tuch should play on the second line than speaking about how he’ll handle attracting money against the Golden Knights on a nightly basis.
“We’re all cheering for them and willing to swallow the pill of whatever we’re going to lose if they’re successful,” McCormick said. “We’re not backing down from them at all.”
There was a well-circulated joke last year that bookmakers wouldn’t be able to enjoy a potential championship parade down the Strip, because they’d be too busy looking for new jobs. That’s not the case for the 2018-19 season.
Sure, casinos will take a hit if the Golden Knights prevail, but they’ll pay out with a smile. “At the shorter odds, even when we’re taking larger-sized bets, the liability just doesn’t add up to what we had last year with 500-, 200- and 100-to-1,” Sherman says.
Sports books have installed these NHL teams as this year's favorites
• Tampa Bay Lightning (7-to-1) The Lightning had the best goal differential in the NHL last season at plus-60 and remains the consensus top team in the league.
• Vegas Golden Knights (8-to-1) Bookmakers peg the Golden Knights as the sixth- to eighth-best team in the NHL, but they’re at the top of betting boards because of the sheer betting volume they attract.
• Toronto Maple Leafs (8-to-1) Toronto made the biggest offseason acquisition in luring Ontario native John Tavares away from the New York Islanders in free agency to pair with budding superstar Auston Matthews.
• Nashville Predators (10-to-1) The Predators won the President’s Cup by posting an NHL-high 117 points in the regular season last year, and are once again the favorite in the Western Conference’s Central Division.
• Boston Bruins (10-to-1) Aside from Vegas, Boston was the biggest breakout team of the 2017-18 season behind one of hockey’s most efficient first lines: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
• Pittsburgh Penguins (12-to-1) The Penguins have drawn the second-most tickets of any team to win the Stanley Cup at the Westgate as they look for their fourth title of the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era.
• Winnipeg Jets (12-to-1) Winnipeg caught such fire in the second half of the regular season and playoffs last year that it was briefly favored to win the Stanley Cup heading into the conference finals before falling to Vegas 4-1.
• San Jose Sharks (12-to-1) Local bettors aren’t smitten with the rival Sharks, but they come into the season edging the Golden Knights as the top power-rated team in the Pacific Division, boosted by the acquisition of Erik Karlsson.