Column: Las Vegas oddsmakers pick the Lakers as the NBA title favorite

Lakers forward LeBron James controls the ball in the second half against the Phoenix Suns on March 2 in Phoenix.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Jeff Sherman is laughing as he sits in front of four computer screens in an office behind the ticket takers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook on Saturday morning.

Sherman, the vice president of risk management at the popular sports book, was the first to post odds on next season’s NBA champion following this year’s NBA Finals, and he has made the Lakers 5-1 favorites, followed by the Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks at 6-1.

“When I tweeted the odds out, over three quarters of the responses I got were laughing faces about the Lakers’ odds,” Sherman said before the Lakers and New Orleans agreed to a deal that sent Anthony Davis to Los Angeles. “They don’t understand the risk side of it and how much people are willing to bet at these odds. They’re our largest liability and if they were to get someone like Anthony Davis, you’re going to have a lot of people who are going to want to bet on them no matter the odds. We have to mitigate that risk and spread it out.”


Sherman closely inspected his four computer monitors with market prices on an odds screen to the far left, a bet ticker showing counter and mobile wagers, a risk management system and another screen to peruse the web and refresh Twitter for breaking news on the far right. The Lakers had been in talks to acquire Davis and Sherman was planning for the possibility of them adding one of the game’s most dominant players to team with LeBron James.

“The Lakers are the favorites right now because of the potential of getting Anthony Davis and maybe having the ability to add someone else in free agency,” Sherman said. “With LeBron James being on the Lakers, it’s almost like the Tiger Woods effect, where you’re not going to get the true odds on his team. People are going to bet on LeBron and the Lakers no matter what. The liability adds up quicker for us and therefore the odds are lower. People still bet them anyway.”

The Lakers and James are so popular that when James signed with the Lakers last year Sherman posted odds on a prop bet if the Lakers would win a championship by the end of his contract, which runs through the 2021-22 season. He has taken 50 tickets on yes with the largest being $5,000 at +200 with one person placing a $5 wager on the no at -310.

When Sherman, 47, first posted odds on next season’s NBA champion on May 4, the Lakers opened at 20-1 odds with eight people placing a bet, the largest being $1,800. Only two bets were made on the Lakers at 5-1 with the largest being $200 as of Saturday around 2 p.m.

The Clippers opened at 16-1 with only three tickets taken at that those odds, the largest being $30 and no one had moved on them at 6-1. Sherman said the odds took into account the possibility of Davis joining the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard joining the Clippers.

“This is probably the toughest of the four major leagues to predict because one player’s movement means so much,” Sherman said. “At this time it’s all speculative until we get through free agency and then the numbers will settle to what they will be going into next season. Right now, it’s all based on speculation and where we anticipate people are looking to bet.”

At 3 p.m. on Saturday someone came to the counter at the Westgate and made a $10,000 bet on the Lakers at 5-1 odds. It was a surprising wager considering only two small bets had been made on them at those odds and nothing had officially happened with Davis at the time.

“We’ve already built up liability on the Lakers so I can move on a bet like that and raise other teams,” Sherman said at the time. “We’re building up good positions on other teams so I can raise other teams to try to attract some money on them and basically deter more Laker bets. We already thought it was a low number with nothing having happened yet. I’m a little surprised by it, but you have to respect the bet.”

Sherman, who grew up as a Lakers fan in Agoura Hills, quickly changed the Lakers’ odds to 9-2 and tweaked odds of other teams with Oklahoma City going from 16-1 to 18-1, Portland going from 25-1 to 30-1, San Antonio going from 50-1 to 60-1 and Memphis from 80-1 to 100-1.

At 3:27 p.m., less than 30 minutes after the $10,000 wager on the Lakers, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets, “The Pelicans have agreed to a deal to trade Anthony Davis to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks.” The tweet pops on Sherman’s far right computer and soon pops up on the television screens lining the wall above him.

“Crazy timing,” Sherman says. “We’ve had the odds low in the anticipation of something like this happening. It’s not out left field to us or anything like that. I’ll make a few adjustments here because now I’m expecting a lot of people will want to come here and bet the Lakers even more. I’m going to run through these numbers and bump up some other teams that are not very popular and basically clean up this pool again. I’m going to play around with the Lakers’ odds and probably drop them lower.”

A few minutes later Sherman lowers the Lakers’ odds to 3-1, followed by Milwaukee at 6-1 and the Clippers at 7-1. He also changes the odds on the Lakers winning a championship by the 2021-22 season to yes at +150 and no at -180. Sherman said the Lakers’ new odds not only take into account the addition of Davis and the Lakers’ ability to make the deal without giving up Kyle Kuzma but reports that they could add another All-Star such as Kemba Walker in free agency.

Moments after the new odds are posted a new bet pops up on Sherman’s far left computer.

Someone has just placed a $100 wager on the Lakers at their 3-1 odds.

“They love the Lakers,” Sherman said. “The Lakers are already number one in ticket count and money wagered. They’re leading both categories, and that’s only going to increase now.”