Knight Watch: A Bookmaker's Headache

by Ric Brown, Top Market Sports

It’s only been a year-and-a-half since the Vegas Golden Knights were announced as a franchise and no one could have predicted that midway through January they would be at the top of the NHL — especially since most expansion teams come tripping out the gate, not ripping. Did you get that? After toppling the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 5-1, Vegas took the No. 1 spot from the Tampa Bay Lightning and here we are in mid-February and they're still on top with 39 wins and 82 points.

The Golden Knights got off to a remarkable start becoming the fastest NHL expansion team to hit the 20-win mark in mid-December. And every time you turn around they seem to be breaking another record. Are they the best 1st year expansion team in sports history? Most would say, “Absolutely.”

While seeing their team perched proudly atop the NHL standings has been an unexpected and pleasant surprise for Sin City residents, it’s been terrible for their neighboring casinos. Bookmakers have been getting hammered as a result of the team’s unprecedented start. Being that they are in a state where gambling is legal, locals can easily pop down to their local sports book and throw down a wad of cash. And thus far they’ve been winning big — especially on home games where the Golden Knights have a 19-2-2 record — the best in the NHL.

Hockey isn’t known as a popular sport for gambling, but that’s beginning to change. ESPN noted that a player who bet $100 on each Golden Knights home game this season already would’ve netted $1,395. And according to William Hill sports book, bettors have been rolling over their winnings. Normally, casino losses attributed to hockey have had about as much effect on their bottom line as a martini lunch, but that’s changing too. When the season opened, the books were offering 300-1 odds on the Vegas Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup. A lot of hometown folks took that bet if for nothing else than for fun or historical purposes and the books are now holding a huge liability that looks scarier by the day as the team keeps defying expectations. When the Golden Knights win, the house loses.

Hockey is a tough game to predict for one thing because of it’s blatant randomness. Also, the teams aren’t as transparent as the NFL when it comes to injuries and star players don’t have the effect on a game like they do in sports like the NBA. When Marc-Andre Fleury went down, a lot of people thought the Golden Knights' historic flight was about to have it's wings clipped. But that wasn’t the case. The star of the team and the face of the franchise was replaced in net first by Malcolm Subban and then by Oscar Dansk.

NHL betting is becoming one of the fastest growing markets, with the majority of bettors going for the moneyline odds (betting the straight-up winner). Bookmakers have kept on biting because surely this fledgling team can’t keep up the pace, especially their record at home — winning 80% of the time.

According to Wikipedia, the greater fool theory states that “the price of an object is determined not by its intrinsic value, but rather by irrational beliefs and expectations of market participants. A price can be justified by a rational buyer under the belief that another party is willing to pay an even higher price.” We often see this at play in the stock market, especially when the media starts hyping a certain company or asset. Just about the time the mob starts piling on, the sharps start looking to sell and eventually the final, greater fool jumps in just as the bubble bursts.

Up to this point, the Golden Knights’ bubble has not burst and the people still jumping in are still winning — and there are lots of reasons to believe it can continue into the playoffs and beyond. For one thing, they have a fantastic coach with a team that comes out flying with a lot of energy - scoring goals within five minutes of each other 22 different times this season. And even though they have loads of top draft picks coming up, they seem committed to staying the course and not shaking up their winning roster, so the chance of draft derailment seems unlikely.

Even Bob McKenzie of TSN’s Hockey Bobcast had this to say about the rest of their season: “They’re not just a good team, they are legit. They look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.”

So, will bettors taking Vegas at home keep playing the casinos like an ATM machine? Or will they join a mob of greater fools who jumped on the bubble just before it burst? I’ve been predicting good things for the Golden Knights in my articles on other websites before the season started. This team has been doing everything right. They’re one of the hardest working teams in the NHL, they’re well coached, motivated, they’re fast as hell and they have rabid fans at home making them very tough to beat at T-Mobile Arena.

But only you can decide if their historic ride will continue.