Betting interest expected to be down with NBA, NHL finals lacking marquee matchups

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, center, jokes around with forwards Vlatko Cancar, left, and Jeff Green during practice ahead of Game 1 of the NBA basketball finals against the Miami Heat Wednesday, May 31, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

LAS VEGAS — The NBA Finals could’ve featured glamour teams like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, and conventional thinking before the NHL playoffs stated the dominant Boston Bruins and star-studded Edmonton Oilers were on a near-collision course to meet in the Stanley Cup Final.

All four teams are out, and what could’ve been enormous betting interest has largely waned.

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On the NBA side, No. 8 seed Miami Heat will face an NBA Finals newcomer in the Denver Nuggets, an enormous minus-460 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Christian Cipollini, BetMGM trading manager, said a Celtics-Lakers matchup would have created much more betting action, but the sportsbook was on the hook for many futures bets on those teams.

“A Celtics-Lakers series is nine times out of 10 going to be a losing series for the book,” Cipollini said. “Everyone bets the Lakers-Celtics. Our Lakers money was bad. We didn’t want the Lakers to go any farther than they did.”

A Celtics appearance in the Finals, however, wouldn’t have been bad for all sportsbooks. David Lieberman, who oversees NBA betting for Caesars, said the Celtics didn’t attract a lot of futures action, limiting the book’s liability. Like BetMGM, though, a Lakers championship would have proved a nightmare scenario.

“It would’ve been quite the sweat if they had the chance to win it all,” Lieberman said.

The Stanley Cup Final matches up the last team into the Eastern Conference playoffs in the Florida Panthers against a Vegas Golden Knights team that, in six short years, is making their second championship appearance.

Adding Las Vegas to the NHL was an initial betting boost for the league, but that effect is less noticeable with the spread of legalized sports betting. The Knights are minus-125 favorites, according to FanDuel.

“People kind of fell off this Golden Knights bandwagon this season,” Cipollini said. “We take a little bit less bets than we have in the past. When they started, people were all over them.”

Minnesota-based Alex B. Smith, one of the top NHL handicapping experts, said the Knights’ effect on elevating the league’s standing among bettors should not be minimized. The NHL is noticeably behind the NFL and NBA in betting interest, but is in the next tier, largely thanks to the Knights’ run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

“Now it’s something they’re really watching and kind of follow, especially from a betting aspect,” Smith said. “That started off of the back with that season of Vegas. That season really kind of changed the way the betting landscape would open up and adapt.”

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