Golden Knights fans try to cash in on success with historic preseason bets

Support for the Golden Knights has once again driven unprecedented levels of betting for Las Vegas sportsbooks. Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

It is going to take a lot more than four months off to deter the betting fan base of the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Knights season point total represents a nearly six-figure liability for the Westgate SuperBook -- the largest the casino has ever faced for a season proposition or win total bet for any team in the four major professional sports leagues.

"They're back with a vengeance," Westgate SuperBook oddsmaker and manager Jeff Sherman said of the unprecedented fan support, in an interview with ESPN, ahead of Thursday's season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The book opened the Golden Knights' over/under point total for the season at 95.5 points, and received so much action to the "over" that it gradually raised the number all the way up to 101.5, before settling at its current tally of 100.5.

"The early handle has exceeded what we thought we'd see," Sherman said, sharing that the total handle on this wager is twice as much as every other NHL season bet combined. "It's just been locals and general public getting behind the Knights like they did last year."

Last year produced one of the betting industry's most remarkable stories. In the team's inaugural season, the Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final to accomplish possibly the greatest season ever by an expansion franchise. Nearly every Las Vegas sportsbook faced six-figure liability on long-shot odds, representing collective exposure in the neighborhood of $5 million.

Entering the season, sportsbooks had offered between 300-1 and 500-1 odds for the Knights to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup. While they avoided paying out the full odds for a championship, casinos did have to pay out on 200-1 odds for the Pacific Division and similar odds when the Golden Knights won the Western Conference.

"I figured the tickets were just souvenirs," MGM vice president of race and sports Jay Rood told ESPN in January, citing the popular novelty of saving the evidence of a preposterous wager to share with friends. "It's probably the most liability of any team [of any sport] during my 10 years here."

Throughout the season, the historic vulnerability forced oddsmakers into some uncomfortable exchanges with their own senior management, who are unfamiliar with financial predicaments of standing to gain a little with the chance of losing a lot. "I had to slowly explain to them that the Knights look good and, by the way, if they raise the Cup, then we'll lose six figures," Golden Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller told ESPN in January. "They moan and groan."

Adding to the mounting threat were actual losses nearly every time the Knights took the ice. The team capitalized on what many affectionately nicknamed "The Vegas Flu" to post one of the NHL's best home records at 29-10-2. For each of those 41 home games, Las Vegas casinos booked bets in the neighborhood of a 10-to-1 ratio in favor of the Knights -- who were often underdogs early in the season.

"The betting public found a new ATM," Westgate SuperBook director and oddsmaker John Murray told ESPN in January. "It's called the Golden Knights."

Bookmakers refuse to make the same mistake this year. Not only do they now recognize the team's talent but they also know what to expect with their enthusiastic clientele, vowing to shade the money lines to offer slightly less value than the global market.

"You have people that have experience of cashing all the time in their home games. There are people that made a lot in their home games and they're going to keep going with something that's been good to them before," Sherman said.

This Pavlovian enthusiasm is consistent with typical betting patterns -- but bookies are in the business of absorbing risk and trusting their line-making abilities. "There's going to come a point where if they lose one out of four games, we'll make money over that stretch. We don't want to sell all that off so we'll have decisions, but it's just whatever you're comfortable with," Sherman said.

"Last year was almost an introductory sale," South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro told ESPN. "The head count will be there but the jeopardy will be 60 to 70 percent less than it was last year on each individual game."

The house was also prepared for the rush on the futures market this time around. Unsurprisingly, the Knights represent the highest ticket count at most local sportsbooks -- but unlike last year, the Knights are among the betting favorites between 10-1 and 12-1 odds, which is in line with betting markets outside of Las Vegas.

That didn't stop bettors from jumping in on the action on the Golden Knights again this year. Even if the potential payouts aren't quite as eye-popping as they were a year ago, hope for Vegas hockey has never been higher.

"It's obviously a little different than it was last year, but the honeymoon's not over yet," Vaccaro said.