LeBron James’ decision to join the Lakers caused a significant shift by Las Vegas oddsmakers who are taking into account not only the team’s dramatic roster upgrade, but also the expected onslaught of bettors from Southern California to Nevada who want to gamble on the “hometown” team.
News that James will join the Lakers led sportsbooks like the influential Westgate SuperBook to slash the team’s future odds of winning the NBA title from an opening 20-1 during June’s NBA Finals to 7-2 — making the Lakers and Boston Celtics the co-second choice behind the favored, two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors at 10-11.
“The odds, most of the time, don’t reflect our power rankings. It’s about betting patterns. And we know we’re going to take a boatload of money on the Lakers from now until the end of the season,” Westgate SuperBook director Jay Kornegay said. “The Las Vegas market is a Laker town. We’re pretty much a suburb of L.A.”
The odds haven’t encouraged the wisest bettors to swarm. Kornegay said he took one $4,500 wager on the pre-LeBron Lakers at 12-1 odds.
“After being nowhere near the playoffs this past season, they may be no better than the seventh or eighth-best team in the league … but we know they’re probably still going to make more moves,” he said, as they did later Monday by agreeing to a contract with guard Rajon Rondo.
“Still there’s the monster ahead of them in their own division who isn’t going anywhere.”
Waiting on James’ free-agent decision for a third time in his career was a turbulent ride for the bookmakers as they posted future odds for this coming season a month ago.
“The LeBron factor was built in. It’s been a wild couple of weeks with all kinds of rumors, including what school LeBron has enrolled his kids … ” said Kornegay, who trimmed the Lakers from 12-1 to 13-2 by Friday, when he took future-book NBA betting off the board for 48 hours after James declared he would not exercise his option to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“It’s a much more fine-tuned process today. Now, we have a strong way to monitor all this information,” Kornegay said. “The first time LeBron did this there were a lot of rumors he was going to the [Miami] Heat and we got the news before the general market from sources, reading between the lines, and adjusted the numbers” to soften the odds, Kornegay said. “ … Four years ago, the Cavaliers were still 40-1 to 50-1 before he announced her was coming home … and we took some big hits because we couldn’t verify the information and we deep down didn’t really think he was going to Cleveland … our mistake.”
Kornegay is skeptical the Lakers will land Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs before next year’s summer of free agency. But he’s enthusiastic about what the fevered interest in the Lakers will mean for his betting windows.
“LeBron being a Laker … if the team has success, it could be a significant, healthy, double-digit percentage increase [of betting volume] from what we had on them last year.
“And through the roof if they get Kawhi.”
Meanwhile, despite appearing in four consecutive NBA Finals, the Cavaliers are now 500-1 underdogs.