The Vegas Golden Knights are dominating more than just the Stanley Cup playoffs. They’ve become a focal point at Las Vegas sportsbooks, populating video boards in a way the NHL never has before.
“Whenever the Knights are playing, we have to put them on the main screen with audio,” Jay Kornegay, vice president of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, told ESPN. “This is the first time that we’ve featured hockey games over the NBA playoffs.”
Sportsbooks offer a smorgasbord of viewing options: Monitors scattered across the wall televising a litany of games. However, only one broadcast can be heard on the speaker system.
“Generally, we just use our judgment for the biggest game. It’s usually pretty easy and common sense, but the Knights changed all that,” CG Technology vice president Jason Simbal said, recalling the first time he noticed fans break protocol and choose hockey over the city’s and nation’s most popular sport.
“On New Year’s Eve against the Toronto Maple Leafs, people cared more about the Knights than the NFL,” Simbal said. “It was Week 17, but still that stood out and it first really kicked in.”
By that time, oddsmakers had already also noticed historic action. The expansion hometown team was drawing an average of 15 times more bets than their opponents. Simbal said the Knights solely accounted for 30 percent of CG Technology’s hockey handle, which is about three times more than any team in any sport. For comparison, the New England Patriots were the most bet-on team in the NFL, and they garnered just 8 percent of the total NFL handle.
“Every morning when I got the profit and loss sheet, basketball we did good, baseball we did good, we lost again in hockey,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said, referencing the Knights’ 8-1 start to its inaugural season. “That’s when you knew you had to deal with it differently than you normally would.”
Until this year’s record hockey handle, bookmakers rarely noticed the sport. In fact, in its monthly revenue reports, the Nevada Gaming Control Board groups hockey with tennis and golf in a category labeled “Other,” while football and basketball warrant separate distinctions.
“When I started in the ’70s, we didn’t even book hockey,” Vaccaro said, sharing that odds were first posted in the mid-1980s. “Hockey wasn’t even on our mind. Nobody even asked for it.”
In Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, the “Other” category’s handle was $214 million during the months of hockey’s regular season (October to March). That is a 36 percent increase from $157 million of the previous hockey calendar, which predated the Golden Knights.
“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that about 40 percent of the people betting hockey now never bet it before the Golden Knights came,” Vaccaro said.
The betting increase extends beyond the hometown Knights. For example, Vaccaro said the South Point book has a higher handle this year for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals than last year.
“There’s definitely some runoff from the Golden Knights,” Kornegay said. “More people are following hockey than before. Some are just getting familiar with teams they see in person or watch on television.”
Vaccaro, a four-decade Vegas veteran, saw a similar betting spike in the 1992-93 season, when Wayne Gretzky led the nearby Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup Final, but betting action subsided within two years.
It’s hard to imagine this fan base repeating that trend of immediate decline after the spike. Bars and hotels are holding official watch parties, and it is difficult to go anywhere without seeing fans wearing black and gold jerseys.
“You’d think it was V-J Day in 1945 with the sailor kissing the girl. Everywhere you go, you see flags and signs,” Vaccaro said.
Now just imagine a Stanley Cup parade down the Las Vegas Strip.