By PATRICK EVERSON, Courtesy of Covers
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On a 60-degree evening outside T-Mobile Arena, still a couple of hours before faceoff, thousands of hockey fans are already congregating for the NHL game between the visiting Edmonton Oilers and host Vegas Golden Knights.
Many fans are hanging out at The Park, an adjacent stretch of trendy restaurants, at which they fill up on food and beverage. And some fans also make a point of popping into one of the nearby sportsbooks to get a wager down before the puck drops.
Tim Ryan, sporting a Golden Knights jersey, is one such fan.
“Oh absolutely,” Ryan says, noting his modest $10 money-line wager on the home team. “A lot of these people here are putting money down. I think locals coming through the casino are throwing down 10 bucks. If they came from Edmonton, they’re putting money down on the Oilers, though that’s not the brightest thing to do.”
Ryan isn’t saying that just because he’s here from Calgary (a fierce Edmonton rival), nor because the Montreal Canadiens – whom he’ll see visit the Knights two nights later – are his first hockey love. He’s saying it because Vegas, a first-year expansion team, has the best home record in the NHL and is in first place in the Western Conference.
In fact, in true Sin City serendipity, Vegas is the best bet in hockey with a 39-16-2-2 record producing +21.34 units of profit for NHL bettors ($2,134 if you wagered $100 on Vegas in each of those games) and currently sits as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup at +500 after opening as big as +2,000 before the start of the 2017-18 season.
A few yards away from Ryan, hundreds of Oilers fans have pretty much taken over the indoor/outdoor Beerhaus for pregame festivities, and indeed, some are getting down on the visiting team tonight.
“It’s already gonna be exciting, but this is gonna make me cheer even louder,” Edmonton resident Taylor Chambers says of his bet on the Oilers. “Every shot, every goal is gonna matter.”
As Ryan adds, “It’s a great atmosphere.”
Exactly. Just two-thirds of the way through Vegas’ inaugural season, T-Mobile Arena is the talk of the town – and of the entire NHL – for its incredible energy, from faceoff to final horn. And sports betting is part of the reason why.
Ken Boehlke was on to the Vegas Golden Knights well before they were the Vegas Golden Knights. In August 2015, more than nine months before the NHL approved this city for an expansion team, Boehlke founded the website/blog SinBin.Vegas, which would ultimately cover all things hockey in Vegas.
Despite growing up in Chicago with the Blackhawks, he was never much of a hockey fan until he launched SinBin. But he’s all in now, seeing firsthand the amped-up atmosphere at T-Mobile a couple dozen times already, while also traveling to several Knights road games, giving him the ability to compare venues.
Of his hometown Chicago, Boehlke says, “The national anthem is on another level. Who else screams during the national anthem? It’s a battle between the crowd to belt it out and the vocalist to sing over them.”
He was at the Knights’ season opener in Dallas.
“Not a bad atmosphere, but it wasn’t memorable, which really surprised me, because it was opening night for a Stars team that made some offseason moves. Not dead, but not memorable.”
Perennial Western Conference contender Anaheim’s home atmosphere was nothing to write home about, either, on Boehlke’s two visits. Nor was a Super Bowl Sunday clash between the Knights and Capitals in Washington, D.C.
“It was a library,” he says.
The only arena atmosphere that came close to measuring up was the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Boehlke visited for the Dec. 28 Knights-Kings contest, in which Vegas notched a 3-2 overtime victory.
“That was the exact opposite. It was electric, the closest thing I’ve been to compared with T-Mobile Arena,” Boehlke says. “But even that, it just wasn’t the same. I haven’t experienced anything close to the atmosphere at T-Mobile for the Golden Knights.”
So from someone familiar with T-Mobile and many other NHL venues, does the ability to legally wager help drive that atmosphere?
“I think it absolutely has some sort of effect,” Boehlke says. “I know plenty of fans who go to the games and bet on the games. I know two people, season-ticket holders, their tickets are $38 apiece (per game). And they bet to try to win that back each game.”
That’s certainly paid off when betting on the Knights, who are a league-leading 22-5-1-1 in their home building. However, Las Vegas native and Knights season-ticket holder Vince Rampa takes a different approach to his wagering, going for the win-win situation.
“The price on Vegas at home has been super high sometimes,” Rampa says, noting the Knights’ money-line odds can approach or even exceed -200 (wager $200 to win $100) with that home-ice success earning hockey bettors +12.14 units (or $1,214 if you wagered $100 on each of those home stands) heading into the weekend. “So I’ve got kind of like a running gag, a superstition. I have this thing where I bet on the road team. If the Knights win, that’s great, and if the road team wins, I pick up a nice chunk of change on a big dog. If the Knights lose, they paid for my evening out, beers and all, because of my bet on the road dog.”
Like Boehlke, Rampa has seen NHL games in several venues. Before Las Vegas got its team, he’d always been a Flyers fan, so he’s attended games in Philadelphia, and he travels to Flyers road games against Arizona, Anaheim, and Los Angeles.
"The other arenas, I’m not saying they’re morgues, but it’s noticeably different," he says. “Here, you’ve got the crowd, the entertainment, the betting element. That’s definitely got something to do with it. The crowd is more into it. Obviously, if you’ve got some juice on the game, you’re more into the game all the way, you’re forced to pay attention the whole way. When I’m at games in different states and I can’t load my mobile app to bet, it’s disheartening.”
Covers reached out via phone call and email to the Golden Knights for comment on the influence gambling has on their home atmosphere — and possible home-ice success — but has yet to receive an answer from the team at the time of publication.
Boehlke, Rampa, Ryan, and Chambers represent only a few examples, perhaps not enough to say that fans — with wagers on Vegas and the road team alike — really contribute to the roof-raising atmosphere at Golden Knights home games. But where the vulcanized rubber meets the road is in the statistics-don’t-lie business of Las Vegas sportsbooks.
Jason Simbal, vice president of CG Technology, says his company’s sportsbooks — particularly at The Cosmopolitan a couple blocks from T-Mobile, but also away from the Strip in shops such as the M and Palms — have seen the fans and their money firsthand.
“The betting activity on Golden Knights games is higher, as a percentage, than any team in any sport that I’ve ever seen,” Simbal says. “Twenty-seven percent of every NHL bet we’ve taken this season has been on games involving the Golden Knights. No other team in any other sport comes close to that.”
In the NHL, no other team is drawing more than 8 percent of tickets at CG sportsbooks, including the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins (6 percent) and the perennial contender Blackhawks (7.6 percent). And the percentage of money on Knights games isn’t far behind the ticket percentage.
“It’s 25 percent of dollars wagered on the NHL, betting on the game – moneyline, totals, puckline,” Simbal says. “So, one of every four dollars bet is on Knights games.”
And Vegas is such a magnet for fans of road teams — particularly on 65-degree mid-winter days, when it’s perhaps below zero in Chicago or New York or any number of Canadian cities — that action on the opponent is a big driver for the books.
“At our tourist locations, mainly at The Cosmopolitan, the property is littered with those jerseys, and they’re betting on those teams,” Simbal says, specifically pointing to the Jan. 7 Rangers-Knights game. “I was at the book at 4 p.m. that day, a lot of Rangers fans making bets on the Rangers.”
Lest anyone think that leads to the Knights losing home-ice and home-betting advantage, Simbal quells such a theory.
“I know for a fact that at our local books, they’re betting the Knights, because we need the other team almost every game,” he says. “Especially when we do proposition bets. It’s all local books and local accounts betting on the Knights players.”
With all those wagers coming in on both teams, it’s fair to assume many bettors — locals and visitors — ultimately make their way to the arena to help create a mind-blowing hockey climate. Simbal admits the Vegas franchise is bolstered by the perfect storm of, first, being a quality team, coming to town at the right time in an upward-trending economy, and also as a rallying point for the community, with its first season starting less than a week after the Oct. 1 tragedy.
But no doubt, being the gambling capital of the world also contributes to the T-Mobile temperament.
“I would imagine when it’s your team, and you have your hard-earned money on that team, you might yell a little longer and a little louder,” Simbal says, noting he’s attended several Knights games. “You’re seeing that with fans of teams for 20 years and with new fans of the Knights, putting a few bucks on them as part of a fun night out. What’s another 20 to 50 bucks to bet on the team you’re gonna root for? The fact that anybody who wants to bet on the game legally can is clearly adding to the atmosphere of the game and generally how popular the team has become.”
Jeffrey Price and Angel Sparks have hit four Knights games so far, traveling all the way from Lethbridge, Alberta, to do so. On this night, Price is in his Oilers jersey and girlfriend Sparks is donning the Knights gear, though both are fans of the Vegas franchise. Price hasn’t put down a bet yet, but having been in the middle of Vegas’ historic first season, he agrees that fans with a little money on the line help add to the in-game aura.
“Oh absolutely. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” Price says. “The energy is absolutely incredible. It’s Vegas. I’m sure there are tons of people throwing down money, because they want to get another part of the Vegas experience.”
Boehlke says betting surely makes those away fans a bit more boisterous, so Vegas fans have to match or beat that enthusiasm level. It becomes something of a competition, settled not only by the final score, but by who gets to a cash a ticket after exiting the arena.
“Is there anything worse than sitting in the sportsbook, having $500 on a team, and the guy behind you is screaming for the other team? Not only do you want to win that bet, you want to shut that guy up,” Boehlke says, noting the same situation exists inside T-Mobile Arena, with Knights bettors very often getting the best of the guests. “Not only are you gonna walk out of the arena glad, but you get to cash a ticket on their sadness.”
Chambers perhaps best summarizes that experience with his bottom-line comment.
“Any moment in the game can affect the outcome of income.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.