The Vegas Golden Knights celebrate their Western Conference final victory. Image by: Jason Halstead/Getty Images
The Golden Knights are four wins away from winning the Stanley Cup and costing Vegas sportsbooks mountains of money in the process. And this once-in-a-lifetime long shot might change NHL futures betting for the foreseeable future.
To say he sympathizes might be the wrong way to put it, but Todd Fuhrman is, at the very least, one of the select few who can understand how Vegas oddmakers have found themselves in this mess with the Golden Knights on the verge of going from expansion team to Stanley Cup champions.
That’s because Fuhrman, a former oddsmaker at Caesars Palace and current gaming analyst for CBS, saw all the same things everyone else saw following the expansion draft. “The general consensus among oddsmakers was that this was a roster, besides from Marc-Andre Fleury and a few other guys, that were journeymen and upstarts,” he said. “There wasn’t really a thought process that there were a lot of proven commodities.”
No doubt that was the case, as just about everyone from pundits to poolies projected nothing but disaster for the Golden Knights. Fuhrman readily admits, too, that he was all in on Vegas struggling this season, noting he was “one of those suckers” who bet the under on Vegas’ projected 68.5 point total, a number they surpassed by February.
But the Golden Knights banded together early, rattled off a few wins and started to turn some heads with their play. One win turned to two which turned to ten and eventually a berth in the post-season, a sweep of the Los Angeles Kings, a six-game defeat of the San Jose Sharks and a five-game victory over the Winnipeg Jets to send Vegas on to the Stanley Cup final to turn early season anxiety into full on flop sweats across North American sportsbooks. “I’ve spoken to some sportsbook operators,” Fuhrman said. “And they’ve said, ‘As a fan and living in this state, it’s been great, but as a businessman, it’s not exactly the ideal scenario whatsoever.’”
The Golden Knights’ story isn’t the first of its kind, however. In fact, Vegas’ run has drawn comparisons to other long shot championship chases, chief among them the stunning run in the English Premier League by Leicester City. A few parallels can be drawn between the Golden Knights and Leicester, too, in that they’re completely unexpected title contenders who are new to the top league.
While by no means an expansion franchise or upstart team — the Foxes were founded in 1884 — Leicester had fallen on hard times after appearing in the Premiership in 2003-04, falling out of the top flight and tumbling all the way to England’s third league. However, after earning their way back into the top tier and narrowly escaping relegation in 2014-15 thanks to a late run, Leicester found magic and shocked the sporting world with one of the most unthinkable title winning seasons in sports history. And for those unfamiliar with the story, the odds, as they do with the Golden Knights, paint a perfect picture of how great a long shot Leicester was: they opened the season at 5000-to-1 to win the Premiership.
However, Fuhrman said it’s not quite the same to compare the two. In a sporting world where oil magnates can spend to their wits’ end to produce a title-winning team, each team in the NHL has to abide by the certain financial parameters set by the salary cap. “Coming from someone who played hockey and someone who’s also a soccer fan, the economics of what Leicester was able to do is something we may never see again in our lifetime whereas the salary cap at least gave the Knights a puncher’s chance,” Fuhrman said.
There is, too, another notable difference between Leicester’s title win and the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup chase, one that specifically applies to those who’ve thrown down money and backed Vegas when they were a long shot.
Stories began to crop up during Leicester’s championship pursuit that sportsbooks were paying out ahead of the end of the season, in effect cutting their losses by paying out smaller sums to those who were in the all-or-nothing position should the Foxes fall short of the title. And while you can rest assured that a similar practice would be taking place right about now with the Golden Knights from a Stanley Cup, Fuhrman said we won’t be seeing similar payouts stateside. “It’s not a practice or policy that Vegas books implement the same way European operators do,” Fuhrman said. “It’s a much different dynamic in that particular regard, just given the gaming jurisdiction here versus the gaming jurisdiction in the UK.”
The inability to cut their losses could prove awfully costly in the coming weeks, too, as we’ve seen the tales already of the sportsbooks set to lose a ton of money on those who laid down a bet and backed the Golden Knights this season. One reason for that, Fuhrman explained, is that recreational bettors start to become enamored with the long shot. “They just want to be holding a piece of history in their hands if the Knights are able to do the unthinkable,” Fuhrman said. “And while it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, a lot of this is reminiscent of what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing with the Cubs every single year. That, if the Cubs were going to win the World Series, there were too many fans that didn’t want it to happen without them being able to hold a piece of history, and in this case it just happened to be a sportsbook ticket.”
And while no one is about to feel sorry for the sportsbooks, the Golden Knights victory is going to be exceptionally costly and a major liability for some of the biggest casinos. MGM’s Jay Rood told ESPN’s Doug Kezirian that it’s “probably the biggest liability” the sportsbook has faced in the past decade. Kezirian also made note of five potential five- or six-figure single payouts at five Vegas sportsbooks, including a potential $120,000 payout for Westgate.
As one would expect, though, it might not be all bad for the sportsbooks, who always seem to come out on top. Fuhrman acknowledged that there probably aren’t any who have the “glass-half-full mentality right now,” but a potential Stanley Cup victory could create what Fuhrman referred to as a “glut of dead money” going forward. That’s to say a Golden Knights victory could leaves sports bettors with the feeling that taking long odds on a projected bottom feeder isn’t a bad investment. “I’ve talked to a number of people saying hindsight’s 20-20. How do you not be a long shot every single season in the four major sports and think that if the Knights can do it, the Cleveland Browns can do it in the NFL, the Miami Marlins in Major League Baseball?” Fuhrman said. “But these are the kind of once in a life time opportunities that are there, and if you’re betting all the long shots, it’s not going to be a profitable scenario.”
If you’re going to bet on anything, however, the safest bet might be that we never see another story quite like the Golden Knights. Not necessarily because GMs will be more wary of their expansion draft procedures going forward, mind you, but because oddsmakers aren’t likely to make the same mistake twice. “What I do think will happen as a result,” Fuhrman said. “You’re not going to see such long shot odds available in the NHL anytime soon before the season starts.”
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