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Las Vegas sportsbooks estimate a $5M loss if Golden Knights win Stanley Cup

LAS VEGAS – If the Vegas Golden Knights win four more games this season and thereby hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, then sportsbooks in Nevada will suffer the biggest futures loss – not overall loss - in the history of the Silver State, according to Covers.com.

The futures book represents betting on teams to reach a certain milestone - like win a championship - rather than winning one specific game. Wagers are taken all season long and even in the months leading up to the beginning of the schedule, with odds adjusting throughout the year depending on betting handle and a team’s chances of reaching that milestone.

Many Stanley Cup futures tickets were written on the Golden Knights many months ago at very long odds. Now, after winning the Western Conference crown, Vegas is an 11/10 favorite awaiting its opponent from the East in the Stanley Cup final, which is scheduled to start Monday, May 28, and bookies in Nevada are staring down a lot of red ink.

“This will be the biggest collective loss, futures-wise,” said Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports at Wynn Las Vegas and a 33-year veteran of the sportsbook industry in Nevada. “It’s a good, solid six-figure loser at Wynn, and my best guess for the state of Nevada is $5 million. Remember, this team was anywhere from 200/1 to 500/1, and it’s a local team.

“Plus people wanted to get a souvenir ticket. They probably never thought they were gonna cash it.”

Across the Strip at The Mirage, Jeff Stoneback can draw on much of the same history in reaching the same conclusion. Stoneback, director of trading for MGM Resorts sportsbooks, hasn’t seen anything like this in his three decades behind the counter.

“Thirty years in the business, this will be the biggest futures book loss that I’ve ever seen. The whole town is gonna get hit pretty hard,” Stoneback said, before specifically addressing MGM’s liability. “We’re at high six figures. We opened them up at 300/1, we have a $200 ticket out there that pays $60,000, there’s a hundred-dollar ticket that pays another $30,000. We have a lot of tickets written at 300/1, small tickets (of) $10 to $50, so we’re looking at a lot of liability here.”

And that’s just at 300/1 on an expansion team having a nearly unprecedented inaugural season. Bettors continued to pile on Knights’ futures through a range of shorter odds that still provided high payouts – 200/1, 100/1, 75/1 and so on – so MGM books and virtually every other shop in town have sizable liabilities on all those tickets as well. William Hill U.S. is on the biggest hook, at nearly $2 million, according to director of trading Nick Bogdanovich.

At one point earlier this season, the odds adjustments on the first-year team flummoxed Stoneback.

“It was kind of funny when we were lowering these odds, taking all this money in, and I remember the first time I put it below 100/1,” he said. “I thought, ‘An expansion team less than 100/1 to win the Stanley Cup? That’s a little ridiculous.’”

And now, with 20/20 hindsight?

“I wish we’d moved a little faster,” Stoneback said with a laugh.

The folks at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook are probably thinking that, as well. The famed sportsbook had the Golden Knights priced as high as 500/1 during preseason and prior to the new team’s regular-season opener, and wrote 13 tickets at that price on very modest bets ranging from $10 to $60.

Still, that $60 ticket represents a $30,000 payout if Vegas wins the Cup, and the other dozen tickets are no small potatoes either. Yet those aren’t even the worst of it for the Superbook: one bettor dropped $400 on the Knights at 300/1 – a potential $120,000 winner.

“Right now, our liability on the Vegas Golden Knights is a little over $400,000, but that's down a lot from where it was at its worst,” Superbook manager John Murray said. “We have written a lot of money back against the Knights, but we are aware we need to continue to do so, as we fully expect more money to come in from the public on the Knights during the Stanley Cup final.”

The Superbook and other shops will have a chance to soften the blow based on the series price they set for the Stanley Cup Final, and on how they price each game. However, Murray said there’s only so much softening that can be done at this point.

“It will certainly be up near the worst futures results ever for both the town and the SuperBook,” he said.

But again, should the Golden Knights deliver, it only represents a futures book setback. It’s not an all-time loss, and a handful of sportsbook operators said it wouldn’t be Top 5 or even Top 10. Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology, said his shops are low-to-mid six-figure losers on Vegas, but that wouldn’t even account for the worst loss this year. That came in the Philadelphia Eagles’ upset of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Stoneback said MGM’s potential payout is dwarfed by countless NFL weekends he can recall over the years.

“We’ve had multiple bigger losses than this, especially on pro football,” he said. “Some individual games, or all the favorites hit on one weekend and roll into the Sunday night or the Monday night game, those parlays all add up to a lot there. Much larger losses than what we’ve got going here on this hockey.

“It’s the No. 1 loss in the futures. Believe it or not, the No. 2 loss is in soccer, a couple years ago when Leicester City won the championship” in the English Premier League. “We had them at 500/1, but obviously, it’s not as popular as hockey, so we have a larger overall loss on this.”

Avello could recall only two other large futures book losses, though neither rival what could happen within the next couple of weeks. One, as Stoneback noted, was on Leicester City in the 2015-16 season, when Wynn had the EPL squad priced as high as 2,000/1.

The other came from the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, two teams that had bad seasons a year earlier and therefore had long odds in 1991. The Twins, who were 74-88 in 1990, won the ’91 Series in seven games against a Braves squad that was a paltry 65-97 a year earlier.

At least one element working in oddsmakers’ favor this year is the time they’ve had to adjust, since Vegas has been at or near the top of the NHL all season.

“Books have adjusted and put up prop bets and taken money all along the way. So in reality, it won’t be as big a loss, because we made those adjustments. Plus, there will be adjustments in the Stanley Cup final,” Avello said.

However, as Avello found out Monday morning, bettors aren’t done with Vegas futures yet, even with the Golden Knights’ massively slimmed Cup odds.

“Some guy just now bet 10 dimes on the Golden Knights at 6/5,” Avello said. “It never stops. The money just keeps coming in.”

Editor's note: This article was first published on Covers.com, a site also owned by Tribune. Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.