Las Vegas sportsbooks face substantial hit if Golden Knights win Stanley Cup

The Las Vegas Golden Knights are already the most successful expansion franchise in the history of North American professional sports. (Getty)
The Las Vegas Golden Knights are already the most successful expansion franchise in the history of North American professional sports. (Getty)

Everyone in Las Vegas is delirious about the Golden Knights, and how great would it be for Sin City if the team went all the way and won the Stanley Cup?

“This would be a punch to the face,” says Jay Kornegay.

It would be a what?

Kornegay is vice president of race and sportsbook operations at the Westgate In Las Vegas. The hilarious irony about the success of the Vegas hockey team is the pain it might cause the Vegas houses. Quite a few homers bet on the home team going into its inaugural season, which looked to be a long shot … until it wasn’t.

“There is plenty of liability attached to the Golden Knights hoisting the Stanley Cup,” Kornegay says. “The amounts will vary from house to house. I’ve heard six to seven figures around town.”

Westgate would get hit with a “healthy six figures” and plans to hedge its losses as the team gets closer.

This hasn’t been a problem in the past, because there hasn’t been a hometown team that’s threatened to win a major championship. Back when UNLV basketball was a power, the books didn’t take bets on the Runnin’ Rebels. “We were basically closed down the night they beat Duke,” Kornegay says.

Now, though, there is a beloved hometown team and what better way to show some spirit than to grab that historic Cup-winning ticket? It’s great for the enthusiasm; it’s not as great for the house. Many fans have plunked down the price of a game ticket, then wagered the same amount on the team winning that night, and walked away with basically a free night of hockey. The team went 29-10-2 at home in the regular season.

The sportsbooks are in this position because, simply, expansion franchises don’t win in their inaugural seasons. Period. Of the four major North American leagues, not once has an expansion franchise had as much as a winning record, according to CBC. Couple the long odds of the Knights’ success with the fact that their hometown is the betting capital of the country, and the books end up with a recipe for a substantial hit.

“We just didn’t see this coming,” Kornegay says. “This is mania out there. This is Vegas’ team.”

It might be helping the crowd atmosphere as well, which has been notably bonkers all season. After all, it’s hard to beat winning money on your winning team. One sportsbook vice president told, “The betting activity on Golden Knights games is higher, as a percentage, than any team in any sport that I’ve ever seen.” So for the experts, it’s both euphoric and just slightly nerve-wracking.

How does this compare with other punches in the face? Kornegay says it’s a little bit like an 11-seed going to the Final Four. The house doesn’t really take a bath unless a Loyola or a George Mason wins it all. That hasn’t happened in March Madness in a long time, and that still hasn’t happened with the Golden Knights (yet). So he calls it a NCAA Cinderella team liability “on steroids.”

This kind of perfect storm will likely never happen again. The Raiders, when they move to Vegas, won’t be an expansion team and will likely have more expectations going into their first season in Nevada. And of course the Golden Knights will be expected to win a lot more next season than they were this past season.

As the team gets closer to the Cup – the Knights begin their quarterfinal series Thursday against the San Jose Sharks — the Westgate and other books will try to cut down the liability. The goal is “a really bad NFL Sunday,” Kornegay says. But the team was 150-1 to win the Cup last June (via Bovada), and whoever put down some coin on that will ride the wave of winnings along with the players themselves.

“We’re gonna be open the next day,” Kornegay quips. “The lights might be a little dimmer. There might be a few less tater tots at the buffet. But we’ll be open.”

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