Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports
A story such as the one that the Vegas Golden Knights are currently penning has far-reaching consequences. Not only will it change the NHL and sports in general, but Cinderella is leaving her mark in the sportsbooks, as well.
“We met before we put up the number and looked at what the expectations would be for an expansion team,” said Jeff Sherman, of the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas. “The Knights turned our expectations upside down.”
This is nothing new to bookmakers. A 200-1 longshot winning the Stanley Cup is extremely rare, but miracles do happen. The most recent example is Leicester City of the Premier League. The Foxes were 5000-1 (the same odds that Elvis Presley was alive at that time) at some European sportsbooks when they won the 2015-16 Premier League title.
“We had Leicester City at 2500-1, but some European books had them as high as 5000-1,” Sherman said. “Even then, we only had one small ticket at 2000-1 and another at 1000-1, so our liability wasn’t really on those tickets but the 40-1 or less plays that added up. Still, that had a little bit of an effect on Premier League futures, and I don’t think you’ll see any team in that league longer than 2000-1 going forward.”
“At this point, it is what it is. I don’t think this will change how we do things,” said Bob Scucci, the Director of Race and Sports for Boyd Gaming’s Nevada Region. “We won’t throw out our model for futures just because of this instance. It’s the cost of doing business. Big losses have happened before, I can tell you we’ve been hurt big by some last-to-firsts, like the Rays in 2009 when they reached the pennant or when the Twins played the Braves in the 1991 World Series”
Of course, not all longshots are created equal. Even though Leicester City’s odds dwarfed the Knights’, the liability on Vegas is greater at some shops because this particular fluke just happens to play on the Strip, and in front of a fan base that had been starving for a team.
“This situation with the Knights was obviously unique with it being an expansion team playing in Las Vegas,” Sherman added. “A lot of people in our area walked up and wanted a souvenir ticket.”
The local love shown for the Knights, especially in a town that puts its money where its mouth is, has already had a cross-sport ripple effect.
“We’re starting to see that a little bit with the WNBA team, the Las Vegas Aces, as well. We opened them at 100-1 and now they’re at 20-1,” Sherman said. “And we’re also thinking about the 32nd NHL franchise in Seattle already. If they were playing next year, we’d probably put them up at 100-1.”
Even though the books will feel a Knights loss in the wallet, they’re not too worried about it. Focusing on the short term is a dangerous game to play when gambling, and bookmakers know better than to sweat something like this without accounting for the big picture.
“It’s become such a good story for the city,” Scucci added. “It will do wonders for the sport, the team and the future prospects of getting more teams here. The benefits outweigh the liabilities.”
So, if it comes down to a Game 7 between the Knights and the Capitals. Who will the boys in the backroom be backing?
“I’m rooting for the Knights,” Scucci said.
Should the Knights get the job done in the Stanley Cup Final, they will join some illustrious company. Our resident sports historian Evan Abrams compiled a list of some of the biggest longshots to ever win a championship.
Leicester City (English Premier League)
Journey: In March of 2015, bettors had the opportunity to wager on Leicester City to be relegated in the 2016 season at odds as short as 1-to-20, but it’s their 5,000-1 odds to win the Premier League title that garnered all the attention. The Foxes won their first Premier League title in their 132-year history when coincidentally the preseason favorite, Chelsea, held Tottenham to a draw, which clinched the league for Leicester. How rare are 5,000-to-1 odds in U.S. major sports? Even some teams who are close to being eliminated from playoff contention are listed at 999-to-1 (ex. 2011 Cardinals).
Greece (Euro Championship)
Journey: It had been 10 years since Greece qualified for a major soccer tournament and it wasn’t a happy memory for the Greeks. In the 1994 World Cup, Greece lost all three group stage matches, conceding 10 total goals and scoring none. A decade later, Greece was back in a major tournament and they had a new nickname, Piratiko, which translates to “The Pirate Ship.” That’s because Greece stole victories from France and two from Portugal, including the final — which was played in Lisbon.
St. Louis Rams (NFL)
Journey: Things looked incredibly bleak for the Rams after free-agent signee Trent Green went down with a season-ending knee injury before the ’99 season. Enter Kurt Warner, an Arena football veteran who had virtually no NFL experience. The Rams went from 300-to-1 in the preseason to 7-point favorites in the Super Bowl against the Titans, which came down to Tennessee WR Kevin Dyson’s reach of the ball toward the goal line as time expired.
U.S. Men’s Hockey (1980 Winter Olympics)
Journey: In 1980, a bettor truly would have had to believe in miracles to get down on the Americans. We all know about the USA’s 4-3 win over the USSR at Lake Placid, but we often overlook that they still had to beat Finland to win the gold medal. One model has since calculated that the Americans were a 1,000-1 shot to win gold.
Minnesota Twins (MLB)
Year: 1987 (honorable mention to the 1991 Twins)
Journey: In 1986, the Minnesota Twins finished 71-91, 21 games behind the division-winning California Angels. That year, the Twins allowed the most runs per game in the American League (5.18), so it’s no surprise that they were given 500-1 odds to win the World Series in 1987. That was manager Tom Kelly’s first full season, and the Twins won the American League West by two games over the Royals. Minnesota then beat Detroit in the ALCS and the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Four years after their odds-defying World Series win over the Cardinals, the Twins repeated history. Minnesota finished the 1990 season last in the AL West with a 74-88 record but beat low expectations to go 95-67 and win the division in ’91. The Twins took care of the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS before facing off against Atlanta in one of most unlikely World Series matchups ever. The Braves, coming off a 65-97 campaign, entered the season with 200-1 odds to win it all. It ended up being a memorable Fall Classic with four of the seven games being decided on the final pitch. Minnesota became the first team to win the World Series after finishing last in its division the previous year.
New York Mets (MLB)
Journey: From the time they first took the field in 1962, the expansion New York Mets were beloved by their fans but they were also the laughingstock of Major League Baseball. From the start, they seemed doomed to fail, losing their first nine games and finishing their first season with a 40-120 record, one of the worst in major-league history. Over the next six seasons, the Mets never finished higher than ninth in the 10-team National League. Former GM George Weiss had said in 1968, “Some days they’re terrible, others they’re bad.”
But, as the joke went, 1969 was guaranteed to be their best season ever — the Mets were guaranteed to finish no worse than sixth because the league had been split into two six-team divisions. Still, oddsmakers gave the Mets only a 100-1 chance of winning the World Series. But they did so much more, winning their first NL East title over the tough Chicago Cubs and winning 100 ballgames in the process. Then they defeated the Braves in the NLCS, and, defying odds yet again, beat the Orioles, four games to one, in the World Series. Amazin’.